Photo: Kris Kathmann
Nicollet pork producer pleasing picky palates from St. Paul to Singapore.
“It’s the Black Angus of pork, well known for superior quality,” said Jim Compart, president of Compart Family Farms in Nicollet, referring to the custom meat his family’s hogs produce. “Tests performed by the National Pork Producers show the Duroc breed excels for meat quality and eating characteristics. Our Compart Duroc branded pork is served at ‘white tablecloth’ restaurants like the Radisson in Minneapolis and Caesar’s Palace and Bellagio in Las Vegas. It’s also served in many Chicago restaurants and in Florida, Washington, D.C., Dallas, San Diego, Alaska, Hawaii, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Our customers buy from distributors in the majority of large cities.”
He continued on. “We have some retail sales as well, including Lund’s and Byerly’s, and we sponsor five professional barbecue teams at competitions across the country. These guys have a following that is almost like NASCAR. The team we sponsored in this year’s ‘Memphis in May’ event barbecued our pig in a standing position. It got first place in the Kingsford Challenge, the most prestigious award there. Our newest product, Premium Compart Duroc Dry Aged Pork, has taken the company to the next level—into steak houses with its Dry Aged Pork Porterhouse and Dry Aged Ribeye.”
Sitting at the conference table at his in-home office in Nicollet County, Compart explained he’s one of several family members involved in the branded pork production program. He farms with brothers Dean and Chris, growing corn and soybeans on 2,400 acres and continuing a Compart family Duroc breed legacy of more than 60 years. The breed itself has been around a century.
“Compart Durocs optimize growth performance and meat quality,” Compart said. “We produce pork that tastes like pork used to taste. Although pork is known as ‘the other white meat,’ reddish-pink pork is more desirable because it’s usually higher in pH, and higher pH pork is usually more tender. We have actually doubled the amount of marbling in our product compared to five years ago. This was accomplished through intense genetic selection of Compart Duroc sires. We scan every purebred male and female for loin eye area, backfat thickness and marbling. Just like a well-marbled ribeye steak, we need marbling in pork to give it flavor, juiciness and taste if it is a natural product. All this flavor, and still it’s 96 percent lean, with no water or chemicals added. Most commodity pork is injected and/or marinated with 12-30 percent water and chemicals.”
The Compart Family Farms story actually begins in 1952, when Jim’s father, Richard, met his future wife, Bonnie, at the Minnesota State Fair, where he was showing a Duroc gilt. (Her entry was a Hampshire gilt.) He served in the U.S. Army and then married, and returned to the diversified farm operation after his father fell from a hayrack and broke his hip.
“My father (who passed away in March) was the only son, so he came home to keep the farm operating,” Compart said. “In 1964, they sold the cows and expanded the hog operation with an additional breed, Hampshires, as another genetic choice for Compart customers. Mom was instrumental to the success of our operation. While my father and brothers worked the pigs, Mom would answer phone calls from customers and sell a lot of the boars. She knew every pig like the back of her hand and knew what every customer had bought the last time. My three brothers, my sister, and I all worked together on the farm from the time we could walk. We were in 4-H all our lives.”
In 1965, Compart’s parents built an on-farm test station, where they weighed the pigs “on test” and weighed them “off test” after they were grown to measure how much feed it took to produce a pound of gain. They had a technician measure back fat and loin depth. They became involved with progeny testing at the Minnesota Swine Evaluation station in New Ulm.
“Now we practice total herd testing,” Compart said, “where virtually all pureline boars and gilts are tested for growth, leanness, loin eye and muscle quality traits. Maternal performance data is collected, including number of pigs born, number weaned, and 21-day litter weights. The data is sent to the National Swine Registry and becomes part of the largest database of its kind in the world. Marc (a brother) and I added Yorkshires in 1977, when I was 15. We did very well, and we worked hard, even delivering pigs to Montana with a pickup and a 16-foot bumper trailer. In 1979, we built a barn, at 18 percent interest—and then came the farm crisis. Many people my age would not have made it through.”
The Compart family remains connected not only by commitment, but also proximity. Jim lives on the southeast corner of his grandmother’s family farm, Dean occupies the original Compart farm, and Chris resides where their father’s uncle lived. Marc, who joined his wife on her family farm in Iowa, has raised hogs for the Compart operation. Their sister, Heidi, doesn’t work with hogs, but as a State Farm Insurance agent in Le Center.
The family continues to grow with the farm operation. Although Compart’s 30-year-old son, Rudy (who had the Champion Barrow at the 1997 Minnesota State Fair), works as an Auto Cad designer of trade show booths in Chicago, he has brothers involved in the hog business. Robbie (28) lives on a Princeton, Minn. farm, where he raises breeding stock. Daniel and David, 24-year-old twins, are Compart’s youngest sons, both graduates of the University of Minnesota. Daniel manages Pinpoint Research, the company’s research farm located at Norseland, while his wife pursues a Ph.D. in beef nutrition. David works at a St. Paul bank and is engaged to a woman working on a Ph.D. in meat science at the University of Minnesota.
“My brothers and sons and I all work physically with the pigs, as does Dean’s son Kyle, and the wives are active in the operation, too,” Compart said. “My wife, Diana, works on our accounting, with the help of two other employees. I’m more involved with the business side of things—marketing, hedging, contracting, purchasing grain and inputs, sales and marketing, and tradeshows. I head up the branded meat program. We have a great team that we have put together with Compart Family Farms and work well from many locations. We have another Minnesota sales representative and an employee in Las Vegas selling our meat west of the Mississippi. In Sioux City, Iowa, where 600 to 900 head per week are slaughtered and the meat is packaged, an employee oversees quality, including special requests from chefs. We also market additional pigs to commercial processors in neighboring states. An Owatonna employee handles orders, logistics and transport. Last year, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, my brother, Chris, and his wife, Rochelle, put together gift boxes of our branded pork products for individuals and large companies across the United States.”
Compart said, “I work 60-plus hours a week. When I have time off, I take the phone and my laptop. It’s hard to ignore the phone when I’ve worked hard to make it ring. When we started, our philosophy was to have the best breeding stock available. In the ‘90s, we had a contract with a packer who said, ‘We’ll have to see what’s available from our bigger producers before we’ll know if we can take your pigs next week.’ That reinforced the fact we needed to create a product the consumer wants and the packer wants to buy. We considered starting our program in the late ‘90s, but a consultant said the time wasn’t right, so rather than fight it, we waited for consumer push-back. The products of that time were too processed, and we knew that eventually people would look for something more natural. Now there’s a trend toward more natural products. Our goal is to provide the best possible products and not take shortcuts to achieve it.”
Compart isn’t concerned about competition. “There’s a Berkshire line that also fits into ‘white tablecloth‘ restaurants, but their cost of production is higher, hence their cost to the buyer is higher,” he said. They don’t have the benefits of the genetics and science that we have.”
All the pigs butchered for the branded pork are bred, born and raised on family farms, as is the breeding stock sold to other hog producers. Duroc sires are used for their meat quality, growth rate, feed efficiency, and low cost of production. York and Landrace sows are used because they’re maternal. Producers who are part of the Compart Family Farms Premium Compart Duroc program have their facilities and management evaluated by one of the Compart brothers and a veterinarian for herd health and nutrition, caretaker training, animal observation, facilities, and handling and movement.
“In addition to Compart-owned facilities, we contract with other producers to supply high health breeding stock across Minnesota,” Compart said. “Our breeding stock is raised in total confinement facilities similar to modern commercial production. Veterinarians monitor all farms to meet state and federal health regulations. We’re concerned about producing pork in a manner profitable for the producer and that will result in a satisfied consumer. About ten other farms supply pigs for our branded meat program. The pigs are fed specific rations that are a result of intense nutritional testing at our Pinpoint Research facility.”
The Pinpoint Research nursery and finisher facility began in 1997. It is designed to help the Comparts understand the nutritional requirement of their genetic lines. They formed a partnership in swine nutrition research with Hubbard Feeds in 1999. Over time, the partnership began to focus on meat quality as well as growth rate. The facility does research on more than 10,000 pigs per year.
“Another component to the business is Compart’s Elite Genes A.I., which is managed by my brother, Dean, and his wife, Kaye,” Compart said. This part of the business offers semen from some of the most elite Duroc, York and Landrace boars available in the world. We use the top 2 percent of sires. Some excel for 21-day growth rate, others for marbling. European and Asian countries have turned to Duroc as their terminal sire of choice. Buyers from Japan and Korea, as well as from Mexico, Canada, and the United States, make genetic selections from our nucleus-level breeding farms. Most breeding companies don’t allow people outside of their organization to access their nucleus sires, selling sons and grandsons instead. But it’s at the nucleus level where the greatest genetic improvement is made, so staying close to the elite sires assures the customer of maximum genetic improvement.”
Imperial Swine Genetics, Inc., is the Comparts’ F-1 gilt line breeding stock service. They sell mainly Yorkshire x Landrace F1 females for commercial production.
Compart said branded meat sales exceed sales of boars, gilts and artificial insemination product, but declined to quote a dollar amount.
“The end users want our meat, and that helped grow the business,” he said. “We’ve also had recommendations by chefs and various articles in restaurant magazines such as National Barbecue News and in City Pages. I call distributors, and we work hard to develop and maintain the volume with each distributor. There’s a lot of legwork and traveling, especially to trade shows.
“I was in Des Moines, Iowa in late June, working with a retailer who wants to put Compart pork in his supermarkets. Then I went on to Dallas to set up at the Texas Restaurant Association show. I displayed our products and gave away samples, along with another sales person who met me there. In checked luggage we flew down the items needed not only to display our products, but also to cook them. From Dallas I flew to New York to meet with brokers, distributors and retailers, and then got home for July 4th. I don’t mind the plane rides and hotels, but I’d rather be getting my hands dirty with the pigs–or fishing. On July 4, I went with family to our cabin on Lake Mille Lacs, where I cooked out and went fishing. When I was a boy, Dad always said, ‘If you get done with your work, you can go fishing.’”
With an ever-growing farm operation and family, the Comparts face the usual challenges of a family business. Compart offers this advice: “Give people space when they need it and understand their perspective. There always will be questions, and as the family gets larger, the dynamics will become greater.
“We’re going through succession planning now. Although I’d like to go fishing more often, I’ll keep working because I enjoy doing what I’m doing. I enjoy interacting with people and giving them what they enjoy. A larger corporation doesn’t take the time to ‘make it natural.’ It will be interesting to see changes over the next 10 years. Even with the bad economy the last five years, our meat sales have gone from growing 25 percent annually to growing 75 percent. I wish I were 20 years younger. If I knew then what I know now, I could really roll. The last 20 years have gone by so fast, and it has been a fun ride.”
Meaty Matters: Jim Compart
- Past president, Nicollet County Pork Producers Association
- Executive Board member, Minnesota Pork Producers Association (president for two terms)
- Graduate of a National Pork Producers program on communicating with legislators; has lobbied in St. Paul and Washington, D.C.
- Member of Lions Club, Nicollet Chamber of Commerce, and Trinity Lutheran Church (Nicollet)
The Lean Facts: Jim Compart
- Childhood: The middle one of five children.
- Favorite school subject: “Math; I like numbers.”
- Education: Graduate of Nicollet High School, then the College of Auctioneering in Mason City, Iowa (both 1979). No agricultural business degree, but “It would have been fun to go to college and have networked with people.”
- First jobs: “My dad also had a manufacturing business building hog gates and farrowing crates, so I worked there at night when I was in high school. When little, we walked beans for neighbors.”
- Childhood dream: “I thought about being a pilot. We were active traveling to shows in the Midwest. My dad, brothers and I took lessons, and I got my pilot’s license when I was 17. I belong to a flying club in Mankato, where I share a Piper Archer with 20 other pilots.”
- Hobbies: “Fishing, and I like to hunt when I have time. I just bought Sadie, a yellow lab puppy.”
- Proudest accomplishment: “Building the business with our extended family.”
- Words that describe you: “Very passionate about excellence.”
Compart Family Farms
Location: 45198 400th Street
Rural Nicollet, MN 56074