Innovation, diversity at Whiteshire Hamroc

Article by Matt Getts of KPC Media

Albion agribusiness’ construction area expects strong 2018

ALBION — Whiteshire Hamroc is anticipating a big jump in its construction business in 2018.

The rural Albion-based agribusiness, which centers around the swine industry, saw the installation of 13 of its AirWorks swine barn ventilation systems in 2016 and again in 2017, according to company president Rebecca Schroeder.

This year? Schroeder said the company plans on 26 installations.

Charlie Lemmon is AirWorks’ chief operating officer. Mike Lemmon is Whiteshire Hamroc’s chief executive officer. Both are named on AirWorks’ patented system.

The AirWorks system was “designed to create a healthful barn environment for pigs. The vertical ventilation design creates a consistent environment ideal for healthy pig growth,” according to company literature. “Airworks draws in fresh air through a ventilation chamber above, which then flows downward over the pigs, pushing fresh air down to the pigs’ breathing zones, and pulling dust, bacteria, gasses and viruses through the floor.”

Barns that have the older, traditional tunnel ventilation systems have spots in them that are colder or warmer than others, Schroeder said. By keeping all of the animals at a comfortable temperature, growth and overall health are improved.

AirWorks barns are comparable in construction costs to tunnel barns, but require 75 percent less propane to heat once operational, Schroeder said.

Whiteshire Hamroc is constructing barns with its AirWorks ventilation system in China and Canada. It is working in partnership with a group in China that is building facilities for approximately 240,000 hogs.

But Whiteshire Hamroc is about more than innovation when it comes to swine facilities.

According to the company’s website, it farms approximately 4,100 acres of row crops each year, the grain from which is fed to its pigs. It also is big into swine genetics, medicine — some of its specially bred pigs are used for medical research — and it has its own line of retail pork, with a herd that numbers approximately 1,200 sows.

The retail end suffered in 2017, according to Schroeder, but the strong performance of the AirWorks line helped make up for it.

“It was a rough year for us from a production standpoint,” Schroeder said.

Ag-related operations face the constant threat of risks from market value prices, the weather and even animal health issues. Having more than one revenue stream is critical, but presents its own set of challenges, according to Schroeder.

“Whiteshire Hamroc has always thought diversification was important to our valued-added agribusiness,” Schroeder said in an email statement. “Much of those business opportunities, however, are tied to the health/prosperity of the U.S. swine industry [profitability, expansion (barn sales), and investment by producers in better genetics via purchases of improved breeding stock].

“The diversification that has been the most helpful is becoming more geographically diverse. Expanding into the global market place has allowed us to grow sales through export of breeding stock or building systems during less prosperous times in the U.S. market. Of course, one of the detriments of diversification can be a lack of focus, especially in an industry that is mostly commodity driven where margins and resources can run thin. We have come to realize that we must have more structure, focus and react more quickly the more diversified our company becomes.”

In all of its facets of operation, Whiteshire Hamroc employs between 40-50 people, Schroeder said. The majority of those people work in the Albion area.

The bottom line at Whiteshire Hamroc continues to be about not settling.

“There’s always a better way,” she said. “Good enough isn’t good enough.”

While the profit margins may be better in construction, Schroeder said the company will always have its share of swine.

“We’ve got too much invested in buildings and infrastructure,” she said.