— Bob Christensen was raised on a cattle, hog and crop farm near Sleepy Eye, and though his formal education ended with high school, his real-world acumen was just getting started.
Christensen, who died Monday of an apparent heart attack at age 51, started his agricultural business empire as a 4-H youth with three sows and grew it into one of the largest family-owned livestock production operations in the world.
The head of Christensen Farms oversaw hog operations in six states, had more than 1,000 employees and took in revenues of about $500 million annually.
A self-described non-traditional thinker, Christensen is being lauded for his ability to think a step ahead of the volatile farm-commodity industry.
“Without a doubt, he was an innovator. He was constantly learning,” said Minnesota Pork Producers Association Director David Preisler.
Said Mankato-based AgStar financial services head Paul DeBriyn, “Bob was a very intense individual and very much a visionary. It’s like he had one eye on the future and one eye on the operations of the organization. He was truly a pioneer in the swine industry.”
During the 1985 farm crisis, many hog confinement facilities were forced to close. Christensen’s non-tradionalist muse told him those vacant structures represented opportunity knocking.
He began paying area farmers to finish pigs in the buildings, a gambit that worked so well it led Christensen’s company to get into contract production.
He and business partner brother Glen also went down another unorthodox path. Recognizing that feeding pigs is a pork operation’s largest cost, the company built its own feed mill.
“You clearly have to be on the leading edge,” Christensen told National Hog Farmer magazine a few years ago. “But first and foremost, you need to understand the difference between the leading edge and the bleeding edge. Sometimes that’s a real fine line.”