Craig Andersen is where he is supposed to be — whether he’s comfortable or not.
He’s most comfortable in his side-by-side, heading to his two finishing barns in Centerville in southeastern South Dakota. But he’s also ventured outside his comfort zone into various leadership positions at the local, state and national levels. His latest post is on the National Pork Producers Council as a board member for his second term.
“I tell my minister that my leadership style is kind of like Jonah and the whale,” he says. “I just feel like I’ve been trying to run away from some of that stuff [leadership positions], but I just keep getting put where I need to be.”
Right place, right time
Being where he was needed became evident to Andersen shortly into his term as president of the South Dakota Pork Producers Council. He was elected in January 2020, and a few months later, COVID-19 began impacting pork harvest and processing facilities, thrusting Andersen into the spotlight as news outlets sought information.
Andersen answered questions on how the pandemic was affecting the industry by shutting down or slowing operations due to workers becoming infected with the virus. He was already serving on the NPPC board, which helped supply him with information to handle those interviews. “That prepared me to handle the tough questions, very tough questions,” he says.
Reflecting on that tumultuous period early in the pandemic, Andersen sees it as “being put in a place I needed to be.” He says he was comforted that none of his finishing hogs had to be euthanized, as did so many across the country due to the harvest and processing backups. After serving one term as president, he is currently serving as past president of the South Dakota Pork Producers Council.
Courtesy of National Pork Board
FAMILY FARM: Emily Andersen helps her father when she can on the farm. Emily’s siblings, Tyler and Jacob, are also in the area and involved in agriculture.
Andersen has two feeder-to-finish barns, getting in 1,300 feeder pigs in one barn and 1,100 feeder pigs in the other. He finishes out about 12,000 hogs a year, and his son Tyler also has a feeder-to-finish barn across the road. The Andersens also raise corn, soybeans, and occasionally, wheat and alfalfa.
NPPC has term limits, and Andersen’s time on the board will end in a year and a half. Andersen says he will continue to speak on behalf of the pork industry. He is on Facebook, but he says he is not a social media influencer. Instead, he presents to student and civic groups through the National Pork Board’s speakers bureau called Operation Main Street.
“I’m more of an influencer within the ag community, with a little bit of the tentacles going out,” he says.
For his work in the industry, Andersen was recognized as South Dakota’s Pork Promotor of the Year in 2018. In 2015, he was awarded as a South Dakota Master Pork Producer, and a year later, he was a finalist for the America’s Pig Farmer award.
Though he will continue to speak out on behalf of the industry that has earned him a living, he knows he won’t do it forever and says the next generation will need to step up to be the industry’s future leaders.
“The farm is what gets me up and going every morning. I’ve always wanted to be a farmer,” Andersen says. He says his involvement in the pork organizations helps him make a difference. “Then that makes me want to make a difference for my kids and my grandkids. I’m not doing it for me; I’m not doing it for my generation. We need to get it, so our kids can keep doing what they need to do.”
HOME PLACE: Gail and Craig Andersen live on the farm homesteaded by Craig’s great-grandfather in 1883. In addition to finishing pigs, the family also raises corn and soybeans, with occasional wheat and alfalfa. They have also raised beef cattle on a feedlot.
Andersen sees the need for more people to step forward and become social media influencers on behalf of agriculture, rather than having agriculture’s story told by those with little or no knowledge of the industry, or with an anti-agriculture agenda.
Andersen’s trek to where he needed to be began about 20 years ago when he was encouraged by the Lincoln County Planning and Zoning director to join the board. “He said they needed someone who knew livestock, especially pigs,” Andersen recalls. “He knew that I had cattle and hogs at that time.”
More coaxing from a couple of county commissioners persuaded Andersen to finally join the board. “And that was the start to see the fruits of your labor for being involved,” he says, adding that he was able to “talk to somebody a little bit higher up” to make his case and “get them to understand that this is why we do certain things a certain way.”
Andersen says he follows the leadership qualities instilled in him by his parents Vernon and Beverly, as Vernon helped establish the Lincoln County Pork Producers, and Beverly was a president of the South Dakota Porkettes, the ladies auxiliary group to the South Dakota Pork Producers Council.
Leadership has been a trait of the Andersens for generations, as he relates the story of his grandfather, whom he never met. An area senior shared a story indicative of the respect locals had for the elder Andersen, putting him in charge of estates.
Andersen recalls the senior said, “Your grandpa took us all into the lawyer’s office. Before the lawyer came in, he told the family, ‘You’re family when you came in here; you’re going to be family when you leave.’”
That story was relayed to Andersen in the late 1980s, 30 to 40 years after it had actually taken place. “For him to remember that, to have that much respect for my grandpa,” Andersen says. “My grandpa made that kind of impression.”
That is a legacy the younger Andersen hopes to leave in his wake, looking for the next generation to take over in leadership roles.
Anderson and wife Gail have two other children, Jacob and Emily, and two grandchildren. Andersen says he would love to have his children follow in his footsteps of leading and speaking out for pork, but he also encourages anyone to answer that call.
“Get involved for the right reasons,” he says. “If you know that you can make a difference, do it. If we don’t tell our stories, if we don’t get out and get involved and let somebody else do it, it’s going to be a different message than if we do it ourselves.
“That’s what I try to make younger people understand, and even people our age, who are like I was, not getting involved. Somebody has to step to and get involved; otherwise, we aren’t going to be able to a lot of things that we do.”