JBS hog buyer retires after 45½ years
WORTHINGTON — While growing up on a farm outside the tiny town of Myrtle, southeast of Albert Lea, Paul Schilling’s chores included helping with the family’s purebred Duroc hog operation. He showed hogs as a 4-H’er, participated on the general livestock judging team in the FFA, and earned a trip to the Minnesota FFA Convention each of the four years he was a member. He also kept records on hog production to earn his State FFA Degree.
By the time he graduated from Glenville High School, Schilling knew his career would somehow be connected to the hog industry. He studied agribusiness and animal science at then-Austin Junior College and, after two years, applied for a job as a hog buyer for Armour & Co.’s South St. Paul division.
“I always had it in the back of my mind to be a hog buyer,” said Schilling, reflecting on his 45½ years in hog procurement. He will retire on Friday from his post as procurement manager for the Worthington plant — a role he has filled for the past decade. He has also notched 20 years of perfect attendance.
“Procurement is procuring the hogs that are needed to supply the harvest floor daily, weekly and yearly,” he explained.
Schilling’s career began on Aug. 20, 1968, with Armour, and continued under Swift Independent (October 1983-1988), Monfort (1988-1995), Swift & Co. (1995-2007) and JBS (2007 to present).
Much has changed in the hog industry during that time.
When Schilling was hired by the South St. Paul plant, he was based at a hog-buying station at Harmony.
“There were three buyers there,” he recalled, adding that he went through the training program there.
“Back then, there were a lot of hog-buying stations — farmers hauled them with straight trucks or gooseneck trailers,” Schilling explained.
For a time, his job was solely to secure NFO hogs — hogs raised by members of the National Farmers Organization — for Armour’s South St. Paul processing facility.
Then, in 1974, he was transferred to Hanska, where he managed the hog-buying station for 19 years. In January 1994, he was transferred to Worthington to fill the role of assistant procurement manager. By then, the hogs he’d been buying through the Hanska station had been going to Worthington’s plant for a decade.
When Schilling began buying hogs for processing, the top weight hogs were 190 to 210 pounds.
“As years went along and genetics got better, the meat quality improved immensely,” Schilling said. “You could get them up to 300 pounds.”
Today, the ideal grade and yield comes from hogs harvested at 275 to 280 pounds, he added.
With hog production such “big business” today, Schilling said hog buyers no longer do farm visits — mostly due to biosecurity.
“We’re communicating via phones or meeting in areas where we don’t have to worry about diseases,” he said.
The JBS facility in Worthington buys hogs from producers within a 200-mile radius of Worthington, with 80 percent of the hogs coming from 100 miles away.
Looking back on the past 45 years, Schilling said the biggest changes in the hog industry have been in the last 20 years.
“Years ago, farmers had a few hogs and a few cattle,” he said. “Now, it’s strictly a business of hogs.”
Hog confinement barns have led to a steady stream of supply for processors like JBS, who operate 24 hours a day with three shifts.
“The big thing nowadays is humane hog handling. That’s a top priority at our plant,” Schilling added. Safety is even more important, he said.
As he reflected on his career, Schilling said it went by “really, really fast.”
“The part I really enjoyed before was going out to the farms and visiting the different suppliers,” he said. “It wasn’t long and you learned about their families and you learned their personalities. You could write a book about all of the different personalities — that’s what you call memories.”
Schilling and his wife, Becky, reside in Worthington. They have two grown children — a daughter in Rochester and a son in Atlanta, Ga., and two grandchildren in Atlanta.
At the end of the work day Friday — and his retirement official — Schilling said he and his wife are looking forward to doing some traveling, as well as volunteer work in the community.
“I just figured (after) that many years, I need to enjoy life a little bit,” he said with a laugh, adding that he plans to volunteer in the community. “(Becky) does a lot of volunteer work with Love INC, Meals on Wheels and the hospital auxiliary.”
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.