BUCKLEY — Faced with shrinking profit margins in the traditional market system that had been supporting their way of life for generations, many farmers are completely reinventing their business models to adjust to the economic realities of the 21st Century.
One local farm that has made some big changes recently is Svec Farms in Buckley.
Founded in 1913, the family-owned farm has been raising pigs for about 33 years.
Fourth-generation owner Eric Svec said they currently raise about 2,000 pigs from birth to slaughter — a six-month process — and grow corn, barley and wheat on about 1,100 acres of property just across the Wexford County border on Wilson Road. All the corn and barley they grow is processed in-house and fed to the pigs; the wheat is sold as a cash crop.
The operation is run entirely by Eric, his wife, Kim, and their two sons, 31-year-old Tyler and 28-year-old Jordan.
“We stay pretty busy,‘ Eric laughed.
Through much of its history, Eric said they relied on large corporations such as Tyson Foods to purchase their products, process them, and package them for retail sale to the general public in grocery stores across the country.
They still do about two-thirds of their sales this way but over the years, Eric said they’ve been receiving less and less compensation from the large companies.
In 2019, Tyler suggested they should create a more efficient way of getting their products directly to customers so they didn’t have to rely so much on the national market system. His idea was to create a website where they could market and sell their products.
While such a change seemed radical at the time, Eric and Kim immediately recognized that in order to keep the farm alive for their sons to inherit, they had to embrace forward-thinking ideas. Eric even took it a step further by building a store on their property where they could sell their products to local customers.
“This was a big deal for us,‘ Eric said. “But we developed the idea within a week, without hesitation. We realized we have to be able to move as many (of our products) locally as we can.‘
Kim now runs the store, which is stocked with a variety of finished products, including pork chops, sausage, brats, bacon, ground pork, cutlets, pork steaks and smoked ham, among others.
While they raise the hogs from birth (Eric said piglets are born about once a week on the farm), they truck the pigs to RRR Meat Processing in Buckley, which packages the individual products after slaughter.
Eric said selling finished products on site opens up a whole new market of customers who previously didn’t have room in their freezer or refrigerator for an entire pig. Kim said they’ve had much better profit margins selling directly to customers, and since they have no overhead, are able to keep prices relatively low.
The decision to open their own store couldn’t have come at a better time: 10 months later, in March 2020, the pork industry was turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down processing plants, led to national supply chain problems and price gouging of pork products at many supermarkets.
For about a week, Eric said they couldn’t sell any of their pigs to the national chains because of processing plant closures and other disruptions.
With pork no longer on the shelves and consumers more hesitant to go into grocery stores out of fear of coronavirus exposure, Eric said people from all over came knocking on their door; they sold out of their stock within a week.
Eric predicts that sales directly to customers will only continue to grow in coming years.
“Everybody’s looking for something,‘ Eric said in regard to how agriculture-based businesses have recently been more open to expanding into new markets. “This is our vision for the future.‘
For information about Svec Farms, visit svecfarms.com or call (231) 409-3308.