Ernie Barnes — Adel, Dallas County

A native of Mississippi, Ernie Barnes started raising Yorkshire hogs in eighth grade. He and his brother got a pair of gilts, and within a couple of years, they were selling maybe a dozen boars and some 30 gilts annually.

They continued until Barnes headed off to judge livestock at Mississippi State University, where he earned a bachelor’s in animal science in 1974. Following graduation, his college professor and mentor Dr. Howard Miller got him started as a Yorkshire fieldman, traveling around southeastern states talking to Yorkshire breeders.

That kicked off Barnes’ lengthy career in the association world, including a stint as CEO for the American Landrace Association (ALA) in Indiana. During his time there, he helped initiate the merging of breed associations, which led to the formation of the National Swine Registry (NSR) in 1994. NSR was the consolidation of the American Yorkshire Club, Hampshire Swine Registry, and United Duroc Swine Registry, with the American Landrace Association joining in 1998.

Barnes would eventually move to Des Moines for a job with the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). When NPPC and the industry’s checkoff later split into independent organizations, Barnes transitioned into a role at the National Pork Board (NPB). He began working with youth pig shows, and in 2002 took over as Swine Barn superintendent at the Iowa State Fair.

Working with kids has become a passion for Barnes. Not all swine exhibitors will grow up to be pork producers or sell feed or be veterinarians, he says, but providing them with an enjoyable experience showing livestock will leave a lasting impression.

“We’re training future leaders, no matter what profession they go into,” he says. “It teaches them a lot of things in terms of responsibilities. The pigs are only an avenue to get to the people and the relationships you build.”

While Barnes retired from NPB in 2023, he continues managing the Swine Barn every August.

Throughout his professional life, Barnes’ wife Paula has been a passionate supporter, as she grew up with hogs, too. The couple met in Iowa at the Yorkshire Type Conference in 1976. Both were part of the American Yorkshire Club at the time.

The Barnes have two kids, Josh and Courtney, and seven grandkids.