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Mark and Christine York built farm from scratch

Slideshow: This Master Farmer couple saw an opportunity and developed a pork operation.

Mark and Christine York’s path to becoming respected, established pork producers reads more like a fairy tale than a typical story about a couple who became established in farming. There’s just one major difference: Characters in fairy tales usually get lucky or rely on magic. Mark and Christine, 2018 Master Farmers, relied on hard work, vision, grit and determination instead. When someone told Mark, “No, your idea won’t work,” he heard “time to try another option” instead.

Mark’s father, Jim, was a regional fieldman for Indiana Farm Bureau Inc. Although the family had a small amount of acreage, they weren’t farmers. Christine grew up in a town near Holland, Mich. She had a business degree and a career in banking, but no farming experience.

“I’ve used the business degree more since we developed our pork operation than I ever did in banking,” Christine quips. She might never have gotten that chance if she hadn’t met Mark, who was stationed as a hog buyer in Michigan, just a few years out of college.

Early days
Mark had a dream to return to Indiana someday, buy a farm and run a swine operation. But the first time he ran the idea by a lender, he told Mark it was just that — a dream.

Besides meeting the love of his life in Michigan, Mark ran across Bob Dykhuis, who was doing something that was still new in the hog business: contracting with other people to grow hogs for him. Mark liked Dykhuis’ business model. However, the idea was so new that most lenders didn’t see it as a feasible, long-term enterprise.

“I was told ‘no’ by many people, but I knew the time was right and the idea was sound,” Mark says. “Interest rates were low, and construction costs were manageable.”

So Mark and Christine bought their current home farm in Wabash County in 1997 and persuaded a second lender to loan them money to put up barns to contract-feed hogs in a wean-to-finish operation. People were just starting to talk about wean-to-finish operations at the time.

“We built four 1,000-head finishing houses in 1998, and started with wean-to-finish feeder pigs in 1999,” Mark says.

If you know your ag history, you know 1998 wasn’t the best of times in the hog business. The market had tanked to record lows. Nevertheless, once their barns were finished, the Yorks received pigs from Dykhuis Farms near Holland, Mich.

Meanwhile, Mark worked full time as a salesman for Hog Slat Inc., helping other pork producers, and Christine also worked at an industry-related job during the early years before children arrived.

They added two more barns in 2003, increasing their capacity again.

Operation today
The Yorks expanded again in 2016, doubling their capacity. They now can produce 35,200 market hogs per year. “We like to think of it as how many pounds of pork we produce, and how many people we feed,” Mark says. ‘We’ve calculated that we provide pork to meet annual needs of 135,000 people each year.”

Both Mark and Christine share that message when they participate in programs such as Ag in the Classroom and Tell Our Story, sponsored by Indiana Farm Bureau and Wabash County Farm Bureau.

“We also emphasize that we try to be as environmentally friendly as possible,” Mark says. “It starts with how and where you site your buildings, and builds from there. We have a responsibility to be good neighbors and promoters for agriculture, and we do our best to fulfill those roles.”

Mark and Christine York at a glance

Age: Mark, 53
Location: Roann, Wabash County
Education: Mark — Purdue University, B.S. in ag economics; Christine — Central Michigan University, B.S. in business
Crops: Corn, soybeans and hay
Livestock: Wean-to-finish contract-feeding operation at three locations; they receive 15- to 16-pound pigs and market 35,200 pigs per year
Employees: One full-time employee, Steven Lopez
Tillage methods: Land is custom-farmed so they can concentrate on swine units; they manage manure application and soil fertility levels carefully
Children: Parker York, senior, Manchester High School; Liam York, eighth-grader, Manchester Middle School
Leadership: Mark — served on Indiana Pork board of directors beginning in 2005 and was president in 2010; president of Wabash County Farm Bureau; both — named first Wabash County Farm Family of the Year by local chamber of commerce in 2010; Indiana Certified Livestock Producers in 2006; part of IFB Tell Our Story program at 2017 Indiana State Fair; heavily involved in local Farmers Who Care program that supports local food banks
Nominator: Curt Campbell, Wabash County Extension ag educator
Notable: Moved original house on their property several miles to another location where they also have hog barns and built a new house on banks of Eel River

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