Seeking to bridge a gap between city and country, Mitchell leaders organized a new event held Thursday that showed off some of the area’s top rural producers and to display modern advances in agriculture.

The inaugural event was called AgConnections and was organized by the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce. Participants from various community businesses and organizations were invited to take part in a tour of the Greenway Farm swine facilities near Mount Vernon, received a presentation on the current agronomy and equipment, and a tour of Custom Genetic Solutions, a custom bull semen collection business located in rural Mitchell.

Chamber Events Coordinator Abbey Guenther said the idea came from the city of Mitchell’s Forward 2040 community visioning and strategic planning efforts, and specifically, discussions during the think tank events. Guenther said many participants agreed that agriculture would be a key part of the community’s future, and could help drive new businesses in the region, but some participants didn’t fully understand what was truly happening on farms and in the ag industry.

“There was a lot of discussions that have followed in that there’s a huge disconnect between the city and the farm, sort of where the pavement meets the gravel,” Guenther said. “By opening up these dates and inviting some of our city and school board members, business leaders, community members, we’re hoping that we can give people more of an educational experience, and also break down some of the stereotypes that people might have about what’s happening on the farm.”

For Brad and Peggy Greenway, who were the hosts of the first two stops on the trip, educating the public is something they relish and see as an important part of their jobs. The group of about 25 people visited the Greenway’s wean-to-finishing barns, and also toured the nearby Bluestem Family Farms farrowing facility, which is owned collectively by area pork producers and is where many area pigs are farrowed. Brad Greenway said an estimated 100,000 pigs come out of the facility each year.

“There’s really nothing we feel stronger about than doing what’s best for the animals, and creating something that is sustainable for the future generations,” he said. “That’s always going to be first and foremost, and we try to live that every day.”

Biosecurity is one of the biggest focuses in the swine industry today. Filters on the ends of the gestation barns at the farrowing facility are used to help eliminate possible contamination of young pigs, who can be susceptible to disease in the first three weeks. Even though the barns are 10-plus years old, the Greenways have never been in the barns when they've been filled, and any employee at the facility who has visited another hog operation has a three-day wait before they can return to the Bluestem facility.

The main disease concerns come through Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome, or PRRS, which can infect sows and pigs leading to reproductive failure, and the African Swine Fever, which is currently impacting swine operations in China. That disease hasn’t made it to the U.S., but Greenway said the fatal disease would cripple American hog farmers if it did.

A changing world

In addition to the hog operations, participants were shown how technology has advanced planting and crop monitoring. Corey Thelen, who is the store manager of C&B Operations’ John Deere farm equipment location in Mitchell, spoke about how mapping is now precise to an area as small as 15 inches and that variable rate equipment has helped producers save on crop and chemical inputs. Apps allow farmers to drop virtual pins with notes or pictures to others, and because so much data is automated, it has made record-keeping much easier.

“The data validates a lot of longheld thoughts over many years,” Thelen said. “We understand where the break-even points are and we can take a few chances because of what we know.”

Brad Greenway said the technology has only helped the land that has been in his family for nearly 100 years

“I know I’m someone who feels strongly, but I truly believe that our land around here, it’s in the best shape it’s ever been in,” he said.

The group also traveled to Custom Genetic Solutions, a customized bull semen collection, processing and preservation company that ships around the world. The business, which has been open since November 2017, is located about 8 miles southwest of Mitchell. It operates at the former location of Genex CRI, but has been renovated and new lab equipment in place.

The business’ office manager, Alexis Ostrom, showed how the company uses liquid nitrogen to preserve sperm cells to allow for breeding materials to be sent to nearly all 50 states and around the world. Liquid nitrogen has an extremely low boiling point of minus-321 degrees Fahrenheit.

She joked that she has a very good relationship with the local package pickup person, and every foreign country has different requirements for testing and how the samples need to be preserved. Last month, CGS -- which is owned by a group of local investors -- had more than 55,000 units it processed. One advancement that is becoming a bigger part of the business is dairy farmers mating a portion of their dairy herd to beef sires, which can increase marketability.

“There’s other collection companies out there, but there’s not many that do them with the level of customization that we do,” she said.