Mission Hill couple honored for green farming

Farm Forum

MISSION HILL – Maintaining an environmentally friendly farm has made Ray and Pam Epp winners.

When Ray found out he would be honored with an award, he was surprised and humbled.

Ray and his wife Pam from Epp Farms of Mission Hill were recently selected as winners of the fifth annual Pork Environmental Stewardship Award, as chosen by the South Dakota Pork Producers Council. The award goes to a pork farmer to recognize his or her dedication to the industry through their environmental stewardship practices and community relations.

“I heard that we would receive the honor in the first part of January,” Ray said. “I was surprised when I found out we had gotten the award and I didn’t really realize that so many people were paying attention to what we are doing, which was humbling.”

Nominees for the award

were evaluated on their manure management systems, conservation practices, farm aesthetics, wildlife habitat promotion, odor-control strategies and innovative ideas used to protect the environment.

“Your name gets submitted for the award, then you get called and asked to answer some questions and eventually the winner gets selected through that process,” Epp said. “The questions we had to answer were in regards to the precautions I take to make the farm more pleasant to the environment.”

In addition to having hogs on the farm, the Epps also farm about 1,100 acres of alfalfa, corn and soybeans.

“To be diversified is an asset for a farm. If something is not hitting in one place, it can hit elsewhere so it helps in maintaining the farm,” Epp said.

The Epps first began their hog enterprise in 1998, two years after Ray came to work on the farm. He had worked in a factory but said he got tired of that job.

“We built our hog barn when the hog industry was really at a dire time,” he said. “We came into hog production at a tough time but we managed through it because our farm is so diversified.”

In addition to applicants needing to help out the environment on their farm, they also must be involved with the community.

Ray is involved with a program run out of Gayville called “Field to Table” where grade school children from the community learn about agriculture, livestock production and other aspects of farming. He is also involved with the National Hay Growers, Soybean Council, Corn Growers and says he tries to stay involved with what’s going on in farming. He also serves on a township board and the Clay and Yankton County Irrigators Association.

However, he said one of the most important things he can do as a farmer is to protect the environment through the practices he utilizes.

“We use odor-controlling products in our feed so there is not too much of a smell for the area,” Epp said. “A lot of the time people think of odor issues when they think of hogs and the environment.”

He added that when you put odor-controlling products through feed, it helps break down feed in the body of the hog, therefore they are able to extract more nourishment from the feed and have a better rate of gain because of it.

“We also incorporate odor-controlling products into soil. If you apply these in heavier grounds it will eventually help loosen up soils so that your roots will grow deeper into the ground and be able to reach more soil,” Epp said.

Judges also look at the surroundings of the building when determining a winner, and Epp said he tries to keep the surroundings of his facility well groomed by keeping weeds down and putting rocks around the foundation to help keep rodents away.

The Epps will be nominated for the National Pork Environmental Steward Award, which is given by the National Pork Board.

“I do this because I enjoy it,” Epp said. “I want people to have a safe product, but I just didn’t think that people were paying that close attention to our farm. But it’s humbling to get the recognition.”