CARLYLE, Ill. — The Maschhoff family has been involved in
agriculture for more than a century, but the past 20 years have seen the farm
become big business. Still, family is key.
The Maschhoffs LLC now is the largest family-owned pork
production business in North America and the third-largest pork producer
overall, behind only Smithfield and Farmland Foods. That is due largely to the
vision of the four owners: brothers Ken and Dave Maschhoff and their wives,
Julie and Karen, respectively.
The recent purchase of GNP Co., a major poultry producer in
Minnesota, represents the first foray into poultry for the company. But it is by
no means the only acquisition.
The enterprise includes 460 independent pork producers in
nine Midwestern states — dubbed “production partners” by Julie Maschhoff.
“What set the tone was our very first production partners
were extremely ambitious, young producers who wanted to do things right,” she
said. “They were willing to invest their own dollars into an asset of their own,
but still partner with us and trust that we would bring them the additional
resources to make them successful.
“We began working with a lot of young farmers. As they
became successful they became the role models for people in their communities.
That word of mouth spread, and we attracted more people like that. Today we have
an exceptional production partner base because we’ve always had the more
ambitious-minded farm families looking for new ways to grow, prosper and bring
that next generation to the farm.”
The Maschhoffs offer independent producers the opportunity
to farm at the scale necessary in today’s “get big or get out” agriculture
“There is a lot of realization in agriculture that things
can’t necessarily be the way they used to be,” Ken Maschhoff said. “The
technologies are evolving and we have to feed a growing population around the
world. If they want to keep that next generation on the farm they have to think
He added that the vast majority of farms under the Maschhoff
umbrella are comprised of multiple family members — usually two or more
brothers. Joining the company allows them to grow their farms without sinking
into massive debt.
“It is a way for them to broaden their income base other
than their grain operation,” Maschhoff said. “Today, getting into beef, poultry,
dairy or pork on your own is almost unheard of. Their options are to look at
producers like ourselves and say, ‘Who would I like to hitch my wagon to?’ Early
on, we found that there were some of those producers were a little leery. Once
they got to know us, our reputation has helped us along.”
The Maschhoffs have a solid footing in agriculture. John and
Mary Maschhoff immigrated to the U.S. from Germany in 1851 and established a
farm in southern Illinois. The family has been in Washington County ever
The Maschhoffs produce 4.8 million pigs annually. Primary
customers are Hormel, Cargill, Farmland and Swift.
About 6 percent of total production goes to a plant the
company operates in Des Moines, Iowa. That product is sold as The Maschhoff
Family brand in area supermarket chains.
“We’re the largest producer in the world that does not have
our own packing plants,” Ken Maschhoff said. “We’ve chosen not to because we
have very good relationship with our customers. It would put our customers in a
bind if we weren’t able to supply them. It really hasn’t been necessary.”
While the GNP purchase represents the first expansion into a
protein market outside pork, it isn’t the first outside acquisition. The
Maschhoffs also own two other non-ag companies.
It purchased First-Light USA, a flashlight manufacturer, in
2004. That company markets products invented by a University of Illinois
agriculture student and has found important markets.
Initially sold to law enforcement groups, the flashlights
have since been marketed to the U.S. military. They now are present in all 1,580
of the Army’s Abrams tanks. Another acquisition is Las Vegas-based American
“That’s true diversification,” Maschhoff said. “The people
here know we have those companies, but that’s all. They don’t deal with it.
(GNP) is a different strategy. It does truly connect and tie into things we
The Maschhoffs recently opened an office in St. Louis,
largely in order to accommodate customers from around the country and
internationally. That office is populated by 27 employees.
The company employs 38 people in its environmental
department and recently added a full-time lawyer to its legal staff.
“We’re the only one of the top 10 pork producers who haven’t
had a lot of mud on us,” Ken Maschhoff said.
While the family business has come a long way from the
hands-on pork operation of 20 years ago, the focus is similar.
Ken Maschhoff serves as chairman of the board and sits on
boards of companies owned by The Maschhoffs. Dave Maschhoff also spends a lot of
time at the Carlyle headquarters, though he also travels as a consultant to feed
“We’re all here most days,” Ken Maschhoff said. “All four of
us are basically doing the same things we did 20 years ago.”
Obviously, the owners have had to adjust to some differences
in their daily schedules. Julie Maschhoff, who heads up the company’s public
relations arm, also spends time on the road through education and lobbying
The idea of going public is not one that the Maschhoff
family is seriously contemplating.
“Only if there were an opportunity from synergies standpoint
and growth opportunity that made so much sense that we should do that,” Ken
Maschhoff said. “There is probably enough downside to making that choice. I
would not want to say never. But at the same token, we’ve enjoyed being private
and we continue to grow that way. There are no outside investors. It’s just
Julie and me, and Dave and Karen.”