More than two decades later, Tom retired in May 2020 as the swine field specialist covering southeast Iowa, based out of the Washington County office.
Tom earned a bachelor’s in animal science from ISU in 1979. After graduation, he spent two years at Farm Credit before returning to his family farm near Winfield for the next 18 years.
Then came the late ‘90s. In 1998, southeast Iowa was severely damaged by a mesocyclone—a rotation in a severe thunderstorm. Tom, a seedstock producer, was depopulating his herd because of a porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) outbreak. That fall delivered another punch when hog prices collapsed. With only 130 pigs left, Tom wondered if any producers would still be around to buy gilts. He worked into the next year demolishing and repairing storm-ravaged buildings.
So, Tom was all ears when approached about a steadier income later in 1999. Byron Leu, a livestock field specialist at ISU, wanted to concentrate on the beef industry, and invited Tom to apply for a temporary, part-time position as Extension’s swine field specialist. Tom was hired in December 1999 and continued until those initial grant funds were exhausted.
Not ready to see Tom go, Dr. John Mabry was heading up the Iowa Pork Industry Center at the time, and helped secure money to retain him long term. Tom’s position evolved into nearly a full-time job.
John said Tom’s “positive attitude and ability to work with almost anyone is a skillset not found in many people these days. He has not looked for or expected personal gain or recognition, he just wants pork producers to survive and prosper.” Amy Green, a 4-H and youth coordinator, called Tom a go-to resource. According to Dr. Jay Harmon, the Extension’s director for agriculture and natural resources, Tom stays impressively in tune with the needs of producers and coworkers, as he listens to their problems and concerns.
Tom and his wife, Sharon, have two daughters: Lindsay (Kent) Thoreson, who live near Pella, and Elizabeth (Jake) Thompson, of West Des Moines. In retirement, Tom is enjoying his four grandchildren and continuing his “farming habit.” He hopes to travel more once COVID-19 subsides.