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  • Stewardship is a word we will hear more often as increasing world population puts a strain on our resources. We will all need to find ways to squeeze more out of what we have in a sustainable way. As individuals, we make stewardship decisions daily based on how it will affect our personal sustainability—whether that be related to our health, relationships, finances, environment and anything else that is important for us to continue “forever.”

    Industries don’t have the luxury of focusing on individual sustainability. They must produce the goods and services that billions of people require for their personal sustainability, yet remain good stewards of the environment, their balance sheet, work force, etc. No doubt, agriculture is at the top of the list of industries that shoulder the biggest part of this responsibility. There isn’t anything more important to our personal sustainability than enough clean air to breathe, nutritious food to eat and safe water to drink. Farmers directly influence each of those.

    Many industries don’t clearly understand their ties to the land and, as a result, only become good stewards of the environment and natural resources when forced by government regulation. In contrast, generations of farmers and ranchers have been good stewards because they recognize that maintaining a healthy environment and abundant natural resources is the only way to ensure their land is productive today and for future generations. Practices such as using crop rotations and contour farming are so common they often go unmentioned as good stewardship practices but are very important to remain sustainable.

    MFA has been working alongside our customers for over a century to increase the production of your operation while being good stewards of our resources. These days, Crop-Trak consultants frequently scout enrolled acres, identifying issues early with the crop, which allows efficient use of pesticides only when and where they are needed. MFA’s Nutri-Track program develops location-specific fertilizer recommendations based on grid soil samples and yield data to ensure you don’t apply more fertilizer than can be used by the crop. This saves you money while keeping excess nutrients from washing into streams and rivers or leaching into groundwater.

    MFA has recently reemphasized our commitment to stewardship, naming it as one of the company’s six core values. This helps to ensure that the responsible use of resources will weigh in on all decisions and recommendations made by MFA employees. We also created my position, the industry’s first dedicated natural resource conservation specialist. Working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), I will be focused on helping you incorporate conservation practices in your operation to improve production while protecting the natural resources.

    If you have questions about available conservation programs, stop by your local NRCS or MDC office. You will find there is funding available for conservation programs to address almost any concern or objectives you have for your operation. Some really great opportunities in Missouri are planting cover crops to reduce soil erosion and improve biological activity in the soil, or planting a portion of your pastures to deep-rooted native grasses to have a high-quality forage during the summer and take advantage of nutrients deep in the soil profile. I also believe that there are opportunities to identify acres that perform poorly each year and install a conservation practice that provides quality pollinator, monarch butterfly and small game habitat while producing an annual payment. In the end, these practices make those acres more profitable.

    No matter what best fits your situation, you can be sure that MFA will be there to answer questions about how these programs might affect your operation or get you the supplies needed to implement the practices.

  • In January, 18 couples completed the second of two comprehensive sessions in MFA Incorporated’s Leadership Corps program. Established in 1988, the program is designed for civic-minded couples interested in furthering their leadership expertise.

    Participants attended weekend events in July 2017 and January 2018, in Columbia, Mo., where they heard firsthand from speakers with expertise in leadership and agricultural advocacy. The agenda covered cooperative education, communication, leadership development and technical workshops aimed to provide value to participants’ farming operations.

    “We were happy to be selected to participate,” said Monty Willoughby of North Little Rock, Ark., who attended with his wife, Nancy. “Anytime that you can learn more about yourself and meet others in the agribusiness industry is great. We really enjoyed our time here.”

    Leadership Corps activities also included tours of the MFA home office, the Christopher S. Bond Life Science Center at the University of Missouri, the Lyceum Theater in Historic Arrow Rock and Les Bourgeois winery and restaurant on the bluffs overlooking the Missouri River.

    The Leadership Corps program is held every two years. If you are interested or know a promising couple who may want to participate in the next session, planned for July 2019 and January 2020, visit with your local MFA manager.

  • A $300,000 federal grant will be used to help the University of Missouri create the National Center for Applied Reproduction and Genomics in Beef Cattle.

    The project is a collaboration among USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, MU’s Division of Animal Sciences and MU’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

    The focus, the university reported, will be on giving farmers and ranchers the answer to the question, “What is the return on investment if I invest in reproductive or genomic technologies?”

    “We’re not just trying to fill people’s heads with new knowledge—it’s more about lighting a fire,” said Extension beef geneticist Jared Decker. “We’re focused on helping farmers and ranchers understand the technology, but, more than that, to trust the technology and identify ways they can use it. We want to educate producers and help them take that next leap.”

    The project will provide continuing education for veterinarians and educational and training opportunities for veterinary students, graduate students, farmers, ranchers and allied industry professionals.

    The university is still seeking a specific location for the center, which is in the beginning stages of development.

    “We’re taking the model we’ve developed in Missouri over the past 20 years and making it a national center,” Decker said. “We’re hoping to spread the model of integrating research and extension in genetics, reproduction and economics and putting that together. That’s worked really well in Missouri. Now, let’s spread it nationally.”

  • Expect an expanding global economy, strong U.S. consumer confidence and persistent economic recovery in many rural areas, but temper that optimism with another year of on-farm belt tightening due to low commodity prices.

    That’s the 2018 outlook from a wide-ranging report compiled by CoBank, a $124-billion cooperative bank serving rural America.

    “The rural economy is uniquely impacted by what happens in Washington, the broader U.S. economy and around the world,” said Dan Kowalski, vice president of CoBank’s Knowledge Exchange Division. “This year, rural America will rise with the broader economic tide, but it will also contend with persistent barriers to prosperity.”

    The report offers a look at these 10 key factors that will shape rural communities and the market sectors that support them:

    1. Global economy — The challenge for the world’s economies will be how to properly manage the expansion at hand and address structural impediments that have been ignored during the decade-long recovery.
    2. Monetary policy — Central banks around the world will strategize around the question of whether wage and consumer prices will accelerate. Foreign banks sound more hawkish in early 2018, and the Federal Reserve will continue to raise interest rates amidst larger fiscal deficits and leadership transition.
    3. U.S. economy — Consumer confidence and unemployment rates are at their best levels since 2000, and inflation-adjusted wages have been growing faster than historical averages since 2014. Consumers are saving less and spending more. Business investment will rise in 2018 to keep up with growing demand.
    4. Rural economy — Rural America has lagged urban areas in recovering from the 2008 economic crisis, but rural population, jobs and incomes are all trending in the right direction. Current efforts to improve rural broadband access offers an opportunity to make a significant dent in the rural/urban economic divide.
    5. Federal policy — Tax reform has brought changes to individual and corporate tax rates and ushered in the 199A deduction, which benefits agriculture co-ops and their members. The deduction, however, is controversial and is being reviewed by the Senate. Congress will also attempt to pass an infrastructure package and the Farm Bill before the mid-term election.  
    6. Rural infrastructure — The power and energy industry faces an environment of uncertainty due to tax reform, possible import tariffs on wind and solar equipment and oversupply in power markets. Meanwhile, weak sales and rising costs are contributing to financial strain across water utilities. And in communications, competition is heating up over who controls the infrastructure that distributes data through broadband. Rural communities can expect further investment in broadband and towers in 2018.
    7. Agricultural economy — The agricultural commodity surplus will continue to depress prices and shrink farmer working capital. Farm debt loads will continue to climb as prices fall short of high production costs. Market conditions have also resulted in a sharp divergence between farm income and farm asset values. The timing and extent of the market’s correction will be determined by much more than commodity prices and cash flow.
    8. Agricultural trade — NAFTA will be the primary focus for agriculture in the first half of 2018. All three countries involved will be incentivized to come to an agreement before the Mexican presidential election in July. Other trade deals in flux that could greatly affect U.S. agriculture exports include the rebooted Trans-Pacific Partnership and the U.S.-Korea trade agreement.
    9. Grain, farm supply and biofuels — The grain, farm supply and biofuels sectors face a turbulent year ahead as the industry further adjusts to a protracted cyclical downturn. Abundant supplies, low market volatility and rising interest rates will constrain farm finances and accelerate the forces of consolidation.
    10. Dairy and animal protein — The same abundant grain supplies that have harmed crop farmers have boosted profitability and spurred expansion in the U.S. livestock sectors. And more good news is expected in 2018. Price pressure will be an issue as the expansion continues, and trade uncertainties will loom large.

    The full report is available at

  • Conservation is at the forefront of many agricultural conversations from the dinner table to D.C., and now farmers and ranchers have a new resource at MFA to help lead those discussions.

    On Dec. 1, Matt Hill began his new job as MFA Incorporated’s first-ever natural resources conservation specialist—a position established through a partnership among MFA, the Missouri Department of Conservation and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

    “Conservation is very important to our producers, therefore it’s important to MFA,” Jason Weirich, MFA director of agronomy, said. “The ultimate goal by establishing this position is to increase conservation and look at ways to have a greater impact on stewardship. Matt will be working with our partnering organizations and growers to find programs and cost-share money that helps with soil, water, nutrient and wildlife management.”

    Through this partnership, Hill will provide MDC and NRCS feedback on their programs and how they work for producers. This one-of-a-kind role suits Hill perfectly, who spent the last 14 years managing 45,000 acres of public land for MDC.

    “There are a lot of programs available through MDC and NRCS that offer financial assistance,” Hill said. “Most farmers and ranchers are already doing things voluntarily because they know it’s the right thing to do for the environment and for the sustainability of their operation. But there may be money available to help offset some of the costs. I just hope to shed some light on some of those opportunities.”

    According to Brent Vandeloecht, MDC agriculture liaison, this position and partnership is a first in Missouri.

    “As far as I know, this position marks the first time the state and federal agencies have partnered with private enterprise,” Vandeloecht said. “MFA is a natural choice because it is a leader and trusted entity by many row-crop and cattle producers across Missouri. The hope is that MFA, the agencies and the producers can all benefit by increased communications and learning more about balancing conservation and profitability.”

    Missouri State Conservationist J.R. Flores agreed that this partnership will increase the availability of technical knowledge and assistance for Missouri farmers and ranchers.  

    “No better place exists for conservation opportunities than in Missouri,” Flores said. “This position is exciting because we’ll be increasing the awareness of those opportunities and, more importantly, how conservation practices can translate to benefits in natural resources, such as soil, water, plants and animals.”

    A native of Bowling Green, Mo., Hill said he spent summers on his family’s farm, both working and enjoying outdoor pastimes such as hunting and fishing. He is a 2003 graduate of the University of Missouri at Columbia, where he specialized in fisheries and wildlife management. Soon after, he landed a position in the wildlife division of MDC.

    “Some public land management areas in the state still have a high percentage of native tallgrass prairies,” Hill said. “A large part of our work focused on managing these special conservation areas that contain populations of prairie insects and grassland birds that are declining worldwide. There are a lot of landowners who are conservation-minded and have a real interest in managing their property in such a way for it to still remain productive and profitable but also provide wildlife habitat.”

    Likewise, Weirich said, when looking at a cost-per-acre breakdown, implementing conservation practices and taking advantage of cost-share initiatives make sense on low-yielding or otherwise unusable acreage.

    “In the near future, we’ll be looking at a cost analysis on a per-acre basis,” he said. “If there are areas of a field that are continually losing money, then we should consider programs or practices that can help producers maximize profitability while implementing common-sense conservation.”

    Hill and his wife, Lori, have two sons, Carson, 8, and Blake, 5.

    Today’s Farmer readers will hear more from Hill in regular columns and articles covering conservation topics. If you have questions about conservation practices or potential cost-share benefits, contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

  • Farmers and ranchers throughout the Midwest can see the latest agricultural products and technologies to help boost productivity when the 2018 Western Farm Show returns to the American Royal Complex in Kansas City, Mo., Friday through Sunday, Feb. 23-25.

    Now in its 57th season, the Western Farm Show features one of the region’s largest indoor displays of farm and ranch products. More than 500 exhibitors, including MFA Incorporated, will feature farm equipment, crop production and livestock products, farm structures, numerous ag services and much more.

    Other highlights include:

    • The Stockmanship and Stewardship Low-Stress Livestock Handling Demonstration, sponsored by MFA Incorporated, will be held at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 24, in the Scott Pavilion adjacent to the American Royal Complex. The demonstrations are included in the show admission price and focus on improving the well-being of beef and dairy cattle, as well as their handlers, through humane animal care.
    • The Health & Safety Roundup, coordinated by Missouri Farm Bureau, features blood pressure, hearing and skin cancer screenings at no cost and cholesterol screenings for a nominal fee. Also offered will be free children’s vision tests. Highway safety will be presented by the Missouri and Kansas Highway Patrols, while other organizations will offer displays and demonstrations covering such topics as gun safety, crime prevention and FAA security/hazardous materials.
    • A cooking demonstration by the Culinary Center of Kansas City will be Saturday 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., sponsored by American Family Insurance. Tickets to the cooking shows are free, available in advance from American Family Insurance agents and at the company’s booth while supplies last. 
    • During FFA Day on Friday, Feb. 23, an expected 3,000 FFA students from Missouri and Kansas will compete for bragging rights in the annual Food Drive “Border War.” Collections are donated to the Harvesters Community Food Network serving western Missouri and eastern Kansas. FFA youth also have the opportunity at the show to expand their knowledge about agriculture and learn about career options.
    • The Family Living Center, a special area of the show, will feature clothing, crafts, and food, health and home décor items.
    • Sunday, Feb. 25, will be Military Appreciation Day, providing free show admission for veterans and active-duty service personnel with appropriate identification.

    Show hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Adult admission is $8 and free for children 12 and under. For more information visit or follow on Facebook and Twitter.


March 2018 Today's Farmer magazine

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Grain to glass

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Stewardship is more than just a buzzword

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Stewardship is a word we will hear more often as increasing world population puts a strain on our resources. We will all need to find ways to squeeze more out...

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