Aaron Ott – Country View Family Farms
Aaron Ott is part of the tradition of family farming. His father raised pigs and cattle, and Ott and his family live on the 160-year-old farmstead he bought from his grandmother and then restored and refurbished.
Ott raises some beef cattle and has two swine nursery farms—raising 9,600 pigs weighing 13-55 pounds at each one. However, his greater role as president of Country View Family Farms, one of the largest producers of pork products in the U.S., is ensuring it embraces implementing sustainable practices throughout its network of family-operated farms.
As part of the Clemens Food Group, CVFF production supports four brands of pork products. Ott ensures innovation is part of the process, including leading the way on sow housing standards, responsible use of antibiotics and investing in feed milling and nutrition.
‘We are driven by fundamental core values of ethics, integrity and stewardship that have stood the test of time,” Ott says. “We’re not short-term thinkers. We think long term and we’re investing in the future so that we can add value to our customers.”
A farming network
Headquartered in Middletown, Pennsylvania, CVFF is actually a network of more than 350 farms in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, North Carolina and Indiana.
Clemens Food Group has operated for more than 125 years, making the Hatfield brand, as well as antibiotic-free Farm Promise, Hatfield Premium Reserve Pork and Prima Porta sausages. It processes the pork products at facilities in Michigan and Pennsylvania.
CVFF was established in 2003 by acquiring the first of its hog management companies, according to the company website. It also has a transportation company, PV Transport, created in 2006, which manages logistics including hauling pigs and delivering pork products.
By contracting with farmers to raise the pigs it owns, CVFF helps family farms diversify and create a sustainable cash flow so the farm can be passed from one generation to the next, Ott says.
The network makes CVFF one of the top 15 hog production companies in the U.S. with more than 2.7 million pigs raised annually. The company has 400 team members, as well.
Ott says controlling the feed supply chain is crucial to ensuring quality products. As he chatted with Terra Firma in March, CVFF had broken ground on a new feed mill in New Columbia, Pennsylvania.
He expects the feed mill, which is being built by contractors Todd & Sargent, to be operating in fall 2024. It will mix and produce 8,000 tons of feed pellets per week. That’s enough to meet the needs for about two-thirds of the central Pennsylvania farms, Ott says.
CVFF also bought a feed mill in Indiana in 2019 to support its production in the Hoosier State. The company also has contracts with several independently owned feed mills, Ott says.
“This is to control more of our inputs in an effort to control our costs,” he says. “Not only that, but it’s also about putting in a more robust quality control program to optimize our animals’ performance.”
It’s more than just milling its own feed, too. In 2022, CVFF hired an in-house nutritionist and Ott says the company is creating a procurement team to ensure it gets the best ingredients for feed.
Ott says the nutritionist services could have been outsourced, but because CVFF is constantly considering factors such as nutrient values of the different feed ingredients and a changing market, having someone in-house allows diet changes to occur more quickly.
“You can’t build a feed mill without the ingredients to put through it,” Ott says. “What you gain by having this yourself is that you have someone in house that is in the market every day and is responsible for making sure that we have what we need when we need it, and the quality is up to our standards.”
Throughout CVFF operations, the hogs are raised in what’s known as group housing, not confined to individual pens where movement is limited. However, Ott says converting all the farms to group housing took 15 years—it was completed in 2022. He adds the company is the only processor that has integrated group housing to the Ohio Livestock Care Standard. The sow housing standard means sows are bred in stalls until confirmed pregnant and then moved to pens or in groups until they give birth.
“The movement back to group sow housing is more about customer interest in how food is raised,” Ott says. “Our team has done a nice job of finding industry best leaders to challenge the system with new thinking.”
Long before coming to Country View Family Farms, Ott was cultivating a career in agriculture. He earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural sciences with a minor in extension education from Penn State University in 1993.
Ott joined CVFF in 1999 as a farm manager. He’s since enjoyed a variety of roles in production management and was promoted to his current position in June 2020.
He’s been married for 26 years and he and his wife have raised two daughters. Together, they enjoy traveling as well as boating and going to the beach, and he also enjoys bowhunting.
The company is growing, too. Ott is always on the lookout for team members to work on farms, in support services and leadership roles; as well as farm families to partner as contract growers. The work is about faith as well as farming, he says.
“We have a special team and culture here and we want people to be part of it,” Ott says. “It is important that our team members not only know the values but can live by them.”
View this feature in the Terra Firma Vol. II 2023 Edition here.
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