SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — For the past year, Thomas Titus has added “president” to his already lengthy list of titles that include dad, husband, showpig producer and pork producer.
Titus has served as president of the Illinois Pork Producers Association. He followed his mother into leadership at the state’s pork producer association.
“I am a second-generation president of Illinois Pork Producers Association. My mom, Patricia, was president of the Women’s Board, back in the early 1990s,” Titus said.
He and wife, Breann, are parents to daughters Reagan and Lakin. Titus said the next generation of the family looks to be continuing the farming and pork production traditions on both sides of the family.
Breann is the daughter of Dave and Lisa Conrady, the founders and owners of TriPork Inc. Thomas and Breann farm with Dave and Lisa Conrady and their son, Brett, and his wife, Jana.
For Titus, his focus is on showpig production and the family’s RBC Chesters showpig operation.
“Between Breann and I and Brett, Breann’s brother, and his wife, Jana, we have five up-and-coming 4-Hers who are thoroughly enthused about showing pigs. Our kids really enjoy it and that is why we do what we do at RBC Chesters,” Titus said.
“Dave had an established Chester sow herd when we moved back and we just have helped continue to move that needle. We’ve been extremely competitive and fortunate at the national and the state level.”
Titus said that adding the role of IPPA president to an already-full schedule has been a challenge, but one he managed with help from family.
“Taking on a role like this is very time intensive. You have to have that support at home and I feel very thankful for that,” he said.
Titus said he looks at his actions through the lens of a father and husband, along as through the lens of a pork producer.
That perspective was one he thought about as he prepared to make remarks at the recent IPPA Pork Power donation that pushed the program past its 1 million pound donation mark.
“We sometimes take for granted having a freezer full of protein. Not everyone has that luxury and that opportunity. So, being able to provide good, safe, high-quality and delicious protein to these food banks for families who are experiencing food insecurity is so gratifying,” he said.
AgriNews asked Thomas Titus five questions about his year as IPPA president.
1. As you wrap up your year, the Pork Power million-pound milestone certainly has to be a highlight. How has the year as president gone for you?
It’s been a busy year and I feel fortunate to have been able to represent members from across Illinois as president. Illinois State Fair always is a big highlight for our family but, as president, I had a few more activities.
As long as we’re talking about pork donations, we also did the “Give A Ham” challenge, where we challenged the Illinois Department of Agriculture recently to donate hams to local food pantries and then pass the challenge along.
I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to meet with and work with producers from all different types of production backgrounds and focuses.
2. Speaking of next generations, how do organizations like the IPPA keep young farmers, like you, involved and interested in serving on boards?
It’s a challenge, with all the different directions that families and people are pulled in these days. Taking time to participate in boards like the IPPA board is something you have to make a concerted effort toward and understand the commitment involved with it.
At the same time, I feel very fortunate with the board we have. We have a relatively young board with a lot of experience and knowledge on there, as well.
3. What do you think is the biggest challenge for the swine industry, in Illinois and in the United States?
The threat of foreign animal disease is something that keeps you awake at night and then add in the global unrest, input costs and commodity prices. Raising high-dollar corn and beans is fun, but at the same time we are running all that back through the animals that we raise so that is a completely different dynamic.
But the threat of foreign animal disease, specifically African swine fever, is key. We work with our state agencies to help develop a Secure Pork Supply Plan so if there is a foreign animal disease event, our members will be prepared to handle that challenge.
4. With the extensive movement of pigs in the showpig sector, is there an added concern about African swine fever?
National Pork Board does an exceptional job of communication with the industry from a biosecurity standpoint. They are heavily involved in the youth side of things on the larger, national shows.
At the state level, Illinois Pork Producers Association partners with the Illinois State Fair to sponsor a clinic during the swine show at the Illinois State Fair every year, talking about different swine diseases.
The threat of foreign animal disease is always on the docket to discuss with showpig families. If a foreign animal disease does get into the United States, that will change how we exhibit animals for the foreseeable future.
The possibility of what we do as a showpig-loving family might come to a screeching halt because those animal movements just won’t be happening.
5. How important is it for the swine industry in Illinois to have people who are comfortable telling their story and talking to the public?
The approach I take is if we are not telling our own story, someone else is. The best person to tell our story is us. That is a very important part of raising animals and being part of Illinois Pork Producers Association and agriculture in general.
We need to be able to share what we do on our farms, whether that is with our neighbors at the grocery store or at local school events with our kids or with lawmakers in Springfield and Washington, D.C.
Not everyone can step out of their door and step into a pig barn and see how we raise and care for our animals. We have to be able to talk about the great things we are doing on our farms so we can continue to instill and increase the trust in our food system.