Shane Sylvester worked part-time in high school for Wikner Family Farms, an independent breed-to-wean sow operation near Farmersburg. After graduation, he moved on to other things, but a couple of years later—in 2005—farm owner Clark Wikner called him “out of the blue.” Wikner was looking to expand his business, and invited Shane to come back.

“I took the opportunity not really knowing what I was going to be getting into,” recalls Shane, 41. “And here I am, 15 years later, doing what I love.”

As the sow unit operation manager, Shane oversees eight employees. He is passionate about low turnover rates, especially in an industry with labor shortages, and he speaks fluent Spanish to effectively communicate with Latino team members. Having grown with the operation, Shane feels like part of the Wikner family. Clark started the farm in 1986.

Shane Sylvester of Elkader, Iowa, was named a Master Pork Producer during Iowa Pork Congress on Jan. 26, 2021.

Shane was raised on a farm that included 60 dairy cows and 40 sows, which they batch-farrowed. He remembers climbing into the crates to catch pigs for his mom and their veterinarian to clip teeth and dock tails. He didn’t particularly like hogs at the time, and “never thought in a million years I’d be doing this later in life.” Now, he takes a great deal of pride in helping to feed the world.

The pork industry has changed a lot since he was young, especially in the area of biosecurity. In November, the Wikner farm installed a shower facility for employees, and a few years ago built a wash bay that includes heating, or “baking,” to ensure higher sanitation of trucks and trailers. They also limit foot traffic inside the barns, as well as vehicles driving up and down the driveway.

In addition, Shane helps harvest 600 acres of corn and 100 acres of soybeans. Recently, the farm invested in dragline manure application equipment to improve efficiency and reduce environmental concerns.

Shane is a member of the Clayton County Pork Producers, and is active with 4-H and youth sports teams.

He and his wife have four children.