If you ask Dean Smith if he ever expected to have one job that lasted right out of college all the way to retirement, he’d say, “yes.”
“I always said I either liked what I was doing or I was too lazy to look for a new job,” Smith said. “I always liked what I did.”
Back in 1977, the J. H. Routh Packing Company of Sandusky, Ohio hired Smith as an assistant hog buyer. From his first day to almost four decades later, Smith would wake up at 4:30 every morning and head to the same building, walk in the same office and sit in the same chair, but many things have changed over the years in the hog industry.
“One of the things that I missed over the years was seeing somebody bring in a small load of 10 to 20 hogs from five or six counties away,” Smith said. “Back then, we knew what the weather was like and how corn was looking by having conversations with the actual farmers from different parts of the state. In the later years, the small guys got out. Now all you see are the truck drivers and the owners stay on their farms.”
Smith has seen 30 million hogs come through the gates at Routh Packing and he thinks that although the end result and the products harvested from a hog haven’t changed much, some things about today’s hog certainly has.
“Over the years, we’ve changed style and have made hogs sounder,” Smith said. “Feed efficiency and growth rates have definitely helped the industry over the years as well.”
Another way that things aren’t quite how they used to be almost 40 years ago, when Smith began his career, is in the number of plants like Routh Packing in the region.
“When I first started at Routh there were probably 10 plants in Ohio processing hogs,” Smith said. “There was the Dinner Bell plant in Troy, Kahn’s in Cincinnati and Superior and Sugardale in Canton were also processing hogs at the time, just to name a few.”
Lower hog numbers and sales volumes forced many of those plants to close up shop. Smith attributes the diversity in products that Routh offers, like bone-in products that are consumer friendly, as a big reason they are still going strong in Sandusky today.
Smith says what he will take away most from his long-time tenure at Routh Packing are the relationships that have been built with not only pork producers, but the Ohio Pork Council.
“You can’t run a packing plant without the producer and the producer can’t survive without the packing industry, so we all need to work together,” Smith said. “As far as Routh is concerned, you have to promote pork to promote yourself so the bond between the packer and the producer is and always will have to be strong in order for the industry to move forward.”
As with most stories of retirement in agriculture, Smith isn’t just going to put on the brakes and take it easy. He plans on utilizing his auctioneering license a bit more and possibly dabbling in commercial real estate in the future. He is hoping to continue to work with some of the great people he has met over the last 38 years, just in a different capacity.