Our robot future

Written by TF Staff on .

Driving in straight rows used to be a sign of skill on the farm. When the corn came up, it was a point of pride to have the straightest rows in the neighborhood. In the past two decades, that skill has become less important. Nowadays it’s more important to know how to download the latest software driver for the GPS gear to make the guidance system work. And that’s a skill set that looks to remain important in the coming years, because in the not-too-distant future, farmers might not climb onto their tractors to plant. The robot future is closer than you think.

At the 2016 Farm Progress Show, CNH Industrial announced its latest concept tractors, the Concept Case IH Magnum and New Holland T8 NHDrive Autonomous. The former needs no onboard fleshy pilot to do its work. The latter gives its human interface the nod by providing a cab so that farmers won’t feel completely useless and might be needed to handle less routine jobs such as road transport.

In either format, the company claims the machines can be seamlessly integrated into existing fleets. Aside from the driverless technology, they use a conventional engine, transmission, chassis and implement couplings. According to CNH Industrial, the process of operating either tractor begins with inputting field boundary maps into the system, and then using the integrated path planning software to plot the most efficient field paths for machines. Autonomous technology is most suited to jobs that make this possible, and which require minimal complex operator intervention, such as cultivation, planting, spraying and mowing. This system automatically accounts for implement widths and plots the most efficient paths when working with multiple machines, including those operating with different implement widths and with varying operating requirements. Manual path plotting can also be carried out for refueling or when custom paths are required.

Once path plotting has finished, the user can choose a job from a pre-programmed menu by selecting the vehicle, choosing the field and then setting the tractor out on its task.

Subsequently, the machine and implement can be monitored and controlled either via a desktop computer or via a portable tablet interface, which can both display three operating screens.

Both designs use LiDAR (range finding lasers) and video cameras to ensure obstacles or obstructions in the tractor’s path or that of the implement are detected and avoided. CNH Industrial has worked with Autonomous Solutions Incorporated, a Utah-based company to develop and refine this concept autonomous technology.

According to CNH Industrial’s crystal ball, the skills farmers will need in the future will be less about straight rows and more about the cash flow management needed to buy the best robot.

A farm-to-desk adventure

Written by Austin Black on .

Third-grade students across Missouri are learning about agriculture in a fun and exciting way. Agriculture Education on the Move (AEOTM) provides hands-on and interactive learning that highlights the importance of agriculture and farm families.

AEOTM began in 2011 through the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council and the soy checkoff. The council saw a need for hands-on ag education and built a program that targeted elementary school classrooms. By 2015, the program represented all sectors of Missouri agriculture. To provide support for continued expansion, the MSMC partnered with Missouri Farmers Care. Today, the program is in over 100 schools across the state. More than 200,000 students and their families have experienced hands-on agriculture education.

“Ag Education on the Move is an excellent way to communicate with the next generation all the good things that farmers and ranchers are doing to make our lives better. With their leadership and passion for this information, and the difference that it makes regardless of whether you live in the city or on the farm, the AEOTM program is making a difference. Missouri Farmers Care is proud to have the AEOTM program as part of our toolbox to tell the real stories about modern day agriculture in Missouri,” said Dr. Alan Wessler, MFC Chairman.

AEOTM is a 10-week classroom program. Lessons cover row crop and livestock production, soil and water management and Ag careers. The goal is increasing the consumer’s general knowledge of agriculture production.

Trained educators visit third-grade classrooms for one hour each week. Many of them have a background in agriculture, and some have prior teaching experience. “We want to identify passionate educators, so they can act as a vehicle and ensure the existing quality resources are getting into the classroom and making an impact,” said Luella Gregory, AEOTM program director.

Students receive a handbook and educators use PowerPoint presentations and hands-on activities. The PowerPoint presentations have quizzes, photos and videos that cater to all types of learners. All lessons have a STEM component, using science, technology, engineering and math. State commodity groups provide the curriculum, so every school receives standardized material. “They worked hard to improve the text so it goes along with state standards,” said Buchanan County 3rd grade teacher Kimberly Weigel.

“Ag Education of the Move’s strength is in delivering components of our members’ effective agriculture education curriculum directly to students,” said Ashley McCarty, MFC Executive Director.

But the lessons go beyond science. “Not only do we focus on science, but we try to incorporate family farm characteristics and show the faces behind everyday products,” Gregory said. Educators stress the fact that farmers work 365 days each year.

“Even if [the students] don’t remember the details of the lesson, they remember the sacrifice made when livestock farmers wake up on Christmas morning and have to feed the animals first,” she said.

Education that excites

Since teaming up with MFC, AEOTM has seen rapid growth and interest. Most of it is due to teachers recommending the program to each other. “The program speaks for itself,” Gregory said. AEOTM offers its programs to schools free of charge, which is a large contributor to the organization’s growth. “Students love hands-on learning and teachers love the material,” Gregory said. “We want teachers to feel like this is an added program to enhance what they are currently doing, not a sacrifice of their time. Educators often comment that students are on the edge of their seat the whole hour,” she added.

Teachers tend to have a full workload keeping up with curricula and the art of teaching itself. Asking them to learn, incorporate and implement a curriculum on an unfamiliar subject is likely to fail.

The strategy with AEOTM is to provide the experts. That’s an aspect St. Joseph third grade teacher Bridget Wells appreciates. “It helps when the kids have an expert in the classroom, they believe them more than they believe me. It’s more exciting for them,” Wells said.
Students in Weigel’s class always ask when the educator is coming next. “The kids just love it and look forward to it. It’s a good way to get kids excited about science and math,” she said.

Wells has also learned a few things from watching the educators.

“They’re very well organized and knowledgeable. For me, it has benefited me by helping review what the kids learned about plants and lifecycles. The women teaching show me a different way to explain things in future years to come,” said Wells, whose favorite unit is the lesson on dairy production.

“I don’t think kids understand there are different types of cows. They are blown away learning that different cows have different uses,” Wells said. She likes getting to make ice cream in that lesson also.

In the 2015-2016 school year, AEOTM placed 26 educators in more than 100 classrooms across the state of Missouri.

But AEOTM isn’t planning to stop there. Gregory said they are working to increase activity in urban areas, including St. Louis, Springfield, Kirksville, Cape Girardeau and Columbia and the more densely populated counties that surround these cities. And, Gregory pointed out, students lack general agriculture knowledge even in rural school districts.

Last fall, AEOTM placed educators in schools throughout Kansas City.

Schools there offer different challenges, but the results are just as rewarding. Gregory said most of the students aren’t exposed to anything outside of their neighborhood. “These students have never seen a cow, corn stalk or soybean,” she said. There are more language barriers too, so educators have to use hands-on methods to teach.

As it expands, AEOTM is partnering with selected FFA chapters to find educators. FFA members in these chapters can apply to be an educator in their community. The program provides FFA members with interview training and classroom experience.

Hands-on learning

While implementing a successful classroom program, AEOTM expanded its efforts outside the school building. In the fall of 2014, AEOTM conducted Ag Day tours on local farms. These tours provided hands-on learning experience for students not involved in the classroom program. Schools treat the tours like a field trip, so teachers and parents also attend. The tour rotates through three or four stations, discussing topics related to the operation.

One of the Ag Day tours visited a beef farm where attendees took a hayride out to the pasture to see cattle. At another station, they learned about nutrition and saw the feed ingredients used on the farm.

Most tours occur upon request of local schools and feature farms in the immediate area. “Ag Day tours target students we might not otherwise have,” Gregory said. The tour offers networking opportunities as well, connecting teachers with the AEOTM program.

“Everybody loves it,” Gregory said. “A lot of teachers say sometimes they are limited when teaching science. They love the opportunity to expose science in a different way.”

For some kids, the Ag Day tours offer them the opportunity to see livestock in real life for the first time. “We all know what kind of impact an animal can have on kids,” Gregory said.

Last year, AEOTM conducted three tours in Columbia, St. Joseph and Cape Girardeau. Between 100-600 students attended each tour. This May, they plan to host an Ag Day tour in the Kansas City area.

Focus on teachers

In addition to students, AEOTM also focuses on educating the teachers. “In the fall of 2014 we started talking about building relationships with these teachers,” Gregory said. During the classroom sessions, the teacher often asks as many questions as the students. To provide support for teachers, AEOTM started conducting Teacher to the Farm tours.

The tours occur in the summer and showcase area agriculture businesses and farms. Teachers see agriculture production firsthand and get answers to their questions. “I think we have a lot of people with good intentions that want to know the facts,” Gregory said. During the tour, teachers are invited to tweet comments and share what they learned. Gregory said several teachers were impressed with the amount of technology used in farming. “It helps rebrand their idea of what farming is. That’s one of the biggest comments,” she said.

Last summer, Weigel attended one of the tours in Northwest Missouri. She visited Shatto Dairy in Osborn, Mo., and BioZyme, a feed supplement plant. “At the dairy, I learned about the process of how milk is produced from start to finish,” Weigel said. Her husband is a farmer, but they didn’t have much experience with running a dairy. “It gave me respect for that family. They had to keep that family farm going and restructure their business,” she said.

The BioZyme plant was a learning experience for Weigel. In addition to touring the plant, they visited the research farm to see how products were tested. “I learned how scientific it is and how much testing they have to put into the product before selling. Stuff that consumers don’t think about,” she said.

Each tour hosts 25-30 teachers. Last summer, AEOTM conducted its first three tours in the Columbia and St. Joseph areas. Three were planned for summer 2016: St. Joseph, Washington and Cape Girardeau. Gregory said they intend to conduct a tour in every region of the state each year.

AEOTM is always seeking help. Gregory said they continually search out new schools and educators interested in volunteering. For more information or to get involved with AEOTM, visit Click on the About page for contact information.

What teachers have to say

Teachers who participate in AEOTM programs love the results. Here are some testimonies that highlight benefits of the program.

“Ag Education on the Move educators make learning fun and exciting for students.” –Erin Caldwell, Alpha Hart Elementary, Columbia

“No other classroom program we have participated in has engaged the kids like this has.” –Jerrone Willoughby, Parkway Elementary, St. Joseph

“The Teacher to the Farm tour was so much more than I expected!” –Diana Deatherage, St. Joseph School District

“In 2015, Whittier Elementary was designated as a Lighthouse School, to facilitate science, technology, engineering and mathematics within its diverse student body. The hands-on activities are perfect to get the kids to apply what they are learning.” –Luis Hinojose, Whittier Elementary Principal, Kansas City

Cooperative enterprises build a better world

Written by Mariah Fox on .

Editor’s note: Fox won the FFA speaking contest at the 2016 Missouri Institute of Cooperatives. Here we print the speech she delivered for the contest, and as winner, to the institute’s member banquet. Fox is the daughter of Phillip and Kristie Fox. She is currently a senior member of the Trenton, Mo., FFA chapter. Her advisors are Kabel Oaks and Brook Kreatz. Fox intends to purse a degree in agriculture.

“BEEP, BEEP, BEEP!” It’s six am and your alarm tells you it is time for you to start your day. You’re tired, but there is a lot to be done before you have to take off for the morning. You may start by turning on a light, going to the bathroom, brushing your teeth, washing your face and getting dressed to have breakfast. For me, before I eat my breakfast I have to go and feed my animals. Either way, you might end up in the kitchen for your first steaming cup of coffee and your breakfast. After this, you head out to begin your day. Many of these activities you just performed are supported by one common thing, an American cooperative. Whether for electricity, feed for livestock, or even having running water in your house, all of these different tasks could not be possible without American cooperatives, and if all of these various cooperatives weren’t working together, we couldn’t live as comfortably as we do.

Cooperatives began as a simple idea. It originally was defined as people working together for a common purpose. Today we all have cooperatives in our communities, but at one time, many did not. My grandpa, who was born in 1929, is a good example of that. My grandpa didn’t receive rural electricity at his home until he was six years old. Considering that he lived on a small Iowa farm, 10 miles out of town, how were any of those cooperatives supposed to get to him? Well, that’s the beauty of cooperatives. They are here to build a better world through their technology and different forms of ingenuity.

Cooperatives are not only our basic utilities; it’s also our fuel sources, feed and other agricultural products. Cooperatives such as the Trenton People’s Co-op gas station or MFA Agri Services provide these resources to everyone. Those few sectors make up one huge group in Missouri. This group is called the Missouri Institute of Cooperatives, commonly referred to as MIC. This institute brings cooperatives from all over Missouri together to achieve their goal of informing everyone on the impact cooperatives have on our community and state.

Cooperatives have seven guiding principles they abide by to be successful. These seven principles are what build a strong cooperative enterprise in a rural town and all around the world.

The first of the seven principles is voluntary and open membership. This means that anyone can join a cooperative. Anyone within the surrounding area has an opportunity to receive the service of a cooperative, such as electricity or water.

The next principle is democratic member control. Every member of that single cooperative has a chance to make decisions. Cooperatives give their members a chance to vote on policies that will affect all members.

The third principle is members’ economic participation. Members of that cooperative have democratic control and can receive an allocation. For instance, when Grundy Electric has surplus profits for that year, they offer their members a capital credit allocation for being a member of their cooperative.

The fourth principle is autonomy and independence. A cooperative is independent and controlled by its members. Members of a cooperative can be elected to their board and can be selected by other members. This gives equal representation to all members so that each person within their cooperative may help to make decisions. Cooperatives pride themselves in allowing members to make decisions.

The fifth principle is education, training and information. Cooperatives are here to contribute to our everyday lives. They perform this act through the training of members, informing their users and keeping the youth involved.

The sixth principle is cooperation among cooperatives. This means that cooperatives from all over Missouri and the United States work together to serve their members effectively and efficiently. On May 22, 2011, a massive tornado left Joplin, Mo., in ruins and without many utilities. They needed an extra hand to get the job done. This is where my friend and fellow FFA member Karli’s father came to help. He spent over two weeks in Joplin assisting the local cooperatives to help them restore electricity.

The seventh and final principle of cooperatives is the concern for community. While cooperatives are formed to serve their member’s needs, they are also there to serve the community’s needs. Members can set policies for the community to help in its development.

Out of the seven principles, the seventh is the most critical for each of our communities.

I thought to myself, does the People’s Co-op gas station have a concern for my school? Does Grundy Electric set money aside for my town’s parks and recreation areas? I knew that to get a better understanding of the impact cooperatives have in my town, I had to track down a representative of my local cooperative to speak with.

Cathy McKay, the head office manager at Grundy Electric, spoke about the benefits of cooperatives. She said, “A cooperative is the coming together to form a group for one common purpose,” and that “cooperatives don’t have to be for water or power or even gasoline, they simply provide a sense of community.” As she described the seven principles of a cooperative, I wanted to know more about the aspect of community development. I asked her if Grundy Electric has a concern for our parks and recreation centers in Trenton. She responded with, “At Grundy Electric they set funding aside for different projects and programs in our community.” She mentioned that “Grundy Electric cares about city parks and employee involvement in the community. They provide lights to keep parks lit at night, and they have employees of Grundy Electric serve on school boards or hold office in the city council.” She went on the record stating that, “We want to serve our community and volunteer for our members.” No matter if you are from a small community of 195 people or a large community of 195,000, cooperatives serve every person in many ways.

My hometown is Laredo, and we are a small community of 195 people. Even as small as we are, we still possess a cooperative. Although it only stands 4 feet tall, it serves a large purpose. That’s the MFA gas pump. This old pump is one of the last standing pumps that are only operated by a key, but as simple as that seems, MFA still provides us with the fuel that we need. Not only is MFA providing us with fuel, but with growing opportunities as well. From sponsoring softball shirts for the community softball teams to giving scholarships to seniors, MFA is lending a hand. They influence future opportunities for all of their members.

Cooperatives have impacted my family and my community in countless ways. I went from not knowing what MIC even stood for to realizing that the cooperatives in my community help make each of my mornings better. They may serve a town like Laredo or a place as large as Kansas City. Wherever they are, they are making an impact for us now and in the future. So next time that you hear the beep, beep, beep of your alarm, be sure to appreciate your local cooperatives. If we didn’t have them, we would be like my grandpa, who always said, “Running water is one of the greatest inventions ever!"

Put in a word on atrazine

Written by TF Staff on .

Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency agreed to extend the public comment period on the Preliminary Ecological Risk Assessment for atrazine. The National Corn Growers Association and other organizations worked to earn the extension of the comment period.

If EPA’s draft recommendation stands, atrazine use would likely be banned in most U.S. farming areas.

“Atrazine is a safe and effective crop management tool, and taking away this option will set farming practices back decades. That’s why we need farmers to be engaged on this issue. EPA needs to hear from all of us,” said NCGA President Chip Bowling.

As MFA director of agronomy Dr. Jason Weirich discusses on page 14, atrazine is a widely used herbicide proven to combat the spread of resistant weeds, while also reducing soil erosion and improving wildlife habitats. Atrazine use allows farmers to do less tilling, which can erode soil and lead to nutrient loss. Studies suggest farming without atrazine could cost corn farmers up to $59 per acre, which includes additional herbicide costs.

You can submit comments to EPA and find more information at your local MFA Agri Services, or at The direct link to submit comments to EPA is:

Signals in the ag economy

Written by TF Staff on .

According to the Kansas City Federal Reserve, trends in non-real estate lending activity at commercial banks have been driven by changes in the short term financing needs associated with agricultural production. The share of non-real estate loans for operating expenses gradually has drifted higher since the 1990s, but especially over the past five years. In the first two quarters of 2016, operating expenses accounted for 62 percent of total non-real estate loan volumes, according to the KC Feds survey of ag lenders.

Since the survey began in 1978, operating expenses as a share of the total have eclipsed 60 percent in the first half of the year just once (2009) before 2015, but have remained above 60 percent each of the past two years. The gradual increase over the past five years highlights the persistently weak cash flow that has driven demand for agricultural credit.

Meanwhile, the same conditions that have pushed operating higher have generally softened the ag economy, including land values. The value of nonirrigated, good-quality cropland declined modestly in almost all states in the western Corn Belt, which includes just the northwest of Missouri. However, major corn-producing states, including the rest of Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska and Indiana, also posted modest declines in the first quarter of 2016.


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