IONIA — Leon Sheets doesn’t mind if he doesn’t win the title of America’s Pig Farmer of the Year.
But people can still vote for the Ionia farmer through Friday to be the next public face of the National Pork Board, promoting pork and conservation practices across the country. And he’d likely be good at it — talk to Sheets for even a few minutes on the phone, and his passion for pigs shines through.
“It’s a great day to be a pig farmer,” the former president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association said. “Wait, every day is.”
Sheets’ infectious enthusiasm for the job is likely one of the reasons he was asked to run for Pig Farmer of the Year, and why he’s now made it all the way to the finals, vying for the title against three other farmers from Indiana and Nebraska.
The online public vote, at americaspigfarmer.com, counts for about 10 percent of the final score, and Sheets stood in second place on that vote as of Wednesday, behind farmer Maria Mauer of Indiana.
But whether he wins the title or not, he said that’s not his main concern.
“It’s more important to talk about pigs than winning,” Sheets said.
Sheets does a good job talking about pig farming in his YouTube finalist video, accompanied by plenty of footage of piglets. He notes in the video he’s loved pig farming since “as soon as I could walk from the house behind Mom or Dad to go to the pig barn,” and has been raising pigs for more than 40 years.
“If you don’t love and enjoy what you’re doing — life is too short,” Sheets told The Courier. “Farming and being a pig farmer, I enjoy that. It’s got good days and bad days like anything.”
He also talks about raising pigs safely and ethically, from the correct barn temperature to different conservation practices on his farm. That’s the main point of the annual contest, to get the word out about the “Ethical Principles” the National Pork Board approved in 2008 to address concerns about food safety, animal well-being and environment.
“It’s an opportunity to remind and inform those that are looking online what we do with the pig every day,” Sheets said. “The pig is important and a nutritious and delicious product.”
The winner receives a $15,000 honorarium to go on several public speaking engagements across the country between October and next September, according to the contest rules.