Feature

Hydration innovation

Written by Allison Jenkins on .

The U.S. energy crisis of the 1970s had a lasting impact. Oil supplies became a critical political issue. Environmentalism reached new heights. Smaller, more fuel-efficient cars were produced. The search for alternative fuels intensified.

Out of this crisis, innovation was born.

In 1974, feeling the effects of higher power bills on his farm in Grinnell, Iowa, Claude Aherns began looking for a more energy-efficient way to water his cattle. Like most farmers of the time, he used traditional metal tanks heated with electricity to keep water from freezing in the winter.

Aherns, who also owned Miracle Recreation, a playground equipment-manufacturing company, purchased the patent on an insulated water closure device for ponds and adapted the concept for livestock watering. He established Miraco Livestock Water Systems and began producing the industry’s first energy-free, insulated poly waterers.

“It was a totally new concept at the time,” said Mike Witt, Miraco CEO, who is married to Aherns’ granddaughter, Susan. “Claude already had the manufacturing ability, so he started making waterers, too, and marketed them along with his playground equipment.”

The two companies eventually separated but remained in the Aherns family. Miraco stayed in Grinnell, while Miracle Recreation moved to Monett, Mo. The first Miraco product, a MiraFount 3320, is still in the company’s catalog, which now includes some 40 waterers in different sizes and styles to meet the needs of varying farm operations.

“There’s such a diverse clientele in the ag industry out there, and each farm has a little bit different application or different size they might use,” Witt said. “Whether you have one head or 100 head, we can accommodate those needs.”

No matter what type or size of waterer, Miraco products are all made with the same sturdy, energy-efficient design using a “Roto-Mold” system. This process involves a heated hollow mold that is filled with powdered polyethylene resin and then rotated continually during the heating and cooling phases. The poly material is impact-resistant and withstands rusting, deterioration and general wear and tear. The tanks are double-walled and filled with urethane foam insulation.

Think of it as a Thermos or Yeti cooler for livestock, explained Miraco Vice President Denny Durr, who’s been with the company 32 years.

“Yeti is only a few years old, but we’ve been doing this for more than 40 years,” Durr said. “Like their coolers, the key to our waterers is that they are very well insulated and have the durability of poly construction. These things are built to last.”

To be “energy-free,” the waterers tap into geothermal heat through a tube inserted in the ground under the tank, keeping lines thawed in the winter. Water flows into the tank at ground temperature, which means it’s warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Water can be pumped from a well, pulled from a stream or pond, or supplied by a municipal water source.

“It’s a simple concept,” said Brent Wells, Miraco territorial manager, also a 32-year employee. “Water comes into the unit, the animals drink it, displace the water and more water comes in. Water turnover is the key. That’s what keeps this thing going.”

After the success of the first MiraFount model, Miraco patented another hydration innovation—waterers with rollaway ball closures. The tank openings stay covered until cattle put pressure on the float and move it out of their way to drink.

Afterwards, the ball returns to the opening to keep the water inside the tank warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

The concept is working well on Steve Stone’s beef farm in Galena, Mo., where he relies on automatic ball waterers in his rotational grazing system. In 2006, he installed 11 MiraFount four-hole waterers from Ozark MFA Agri Services to provide a fresh, clean water source for his cattle in each paddock.

“Before, when we just had ponds here and there, we had trouble getting water for the cattle any time we had a drought situation,” Stone said. “And to do the grazing system, you just about had to have them. We didn’t have enough ponds. The other added benefit is never having to break ice.”

While Miraco waterers are now marketed through dealers such as MFA and its affiliates, the first ones were sold the old-fashioned way—by door-to-door salesmen.

“They went farm to farm selling waterers directly to producers,” Witt said. “It was a hard sell at first. This was something totally different, and farmers had to be convinced to try something that was pretty expensive at the time. It was a slow start, but they stuck with it, and our business has grown tremendously.”

Miraco’s biggest market remains in the Midwest, Witt said, but the company now sells waterers all over North America and overseas, with international sales making up 10 to 15 percent of the business. Some 15,000 units are turned out each year by the factory’s 50 employees.

“We’re a small company, very ag-oriented,” Witt said. “Many of our employees have farm backgrounds, so they understand the needs of our customers and apply that thinking on the job. We have very little employee turnover because we maintain a low-stress environment here and treat everybody like family. Even our temporary employees have good longevity.”

For several years, Miraco exclusively manufactured ball waterers along with the original models but kept experimenting with product design. Responding to customer requests, the company began offering open-top waterers in its BigSpring and LilSpring lines. They are equipped with a submersible heater to keep water from freezing. Even though they require power, these units are considered “energy efficient” waterers because they have the same double-wall poly construction and foam insulation as MiraFounts.

“Some people wanted an open water design, and some wanted the ball design,” Witt said. “So we decided to offer both.”

Miraco no longer has an exclusive patent on its energy-free waterer, but Wells said customer service, longevity and consistent quality help distinguish the 44-year-old company from the competition.

“We’ve had a lot of companies follow suit, but we’re the originators, the pioneers,” he said. “We’ve figured out a lot of the things other companies may be struggling with, and we focus on waterers. That’s all we do.”

Another advantage for Miraco, Durr said, is that the company has adapted to changes in agriculture through the years. For example, as dairies expanded, farmers needed larger waterers to provide more lineal drinking space per cow. In response, Miraco now makes the biggest poly waterer on the market—a 14-foot model used mainly at larger dairies and feedlots. On the flip side, the company has also seen growing demand for smaller waterers by goat producers, horse owners, organic operations and hobby farmers who have a few head of livestock.

As the industry continues to evolve, diversity and flexibility will drive Miraco’s offerings in the future, Witt said.  

“When new ideas and new issues come along, we’ll work to solve those needs for our customers, but we don’t plan on deviating from making waterers,” Witt said. “It’s a niche market, but as long as it’s working, we’re going to continue.”

For more information on Miraco waterers, visit with the farm supply specialists at your local MFA affiliate. Several different models are included in MFA’s June sale. To see a video that explains more about the products and the manufacturing process, visit http://mfa.ag/miraco.

May 2018 Today's Farmer Magazine

Written by webadmin on .

Show business

Written by Allison Jenkins on .

Many youth livestock exhibitors measure success by the number of ribbons and trophies they accumulate. Alex and Caroline Rhode, however, literally measure their success in pounds.

Winning rate-of-gain awards is the ultimate goal of this young brother-sister team, who take a solid business approach to their 4-H and FFA livestock projects. They choose their show heifers and steers from the family farm in Prairie Home, Mo., and raise them to be returned to the herd or the freezer at the end of the season.

“I enjoy showing my own cattle and then bringing them to the market,” 16-year-old Alex said. “It shows what we can do here on the farm. I get to see that calf from Day 1 all the way to my plate.”

Their father, Ryan Rhode, MFA Agri Services retail sales representative, and his brothers raised and showed cattle in a similar fashion when they were growing up. In fact, Ryan said he exhibited livestock from the time he was 8 years old until he was 21, the last year to be eligible to compete as an FFA member.

“When I was Alex’s age, we were breaking six steers and three heifers to lead every year,” Ryan said. “Dad had a farrow-to-finish hog operation, 150 mama cows and 1,500 acres of row crops. He didn’t have time to mess with it, but he encouraged us to show. So that was our hobby.”

Like his father, Alex, a sophomore at Prairie Home High School, began showing when he was 8. He’s a member of the Boonville FFA Chapter. Caroline, a sixth-grader and 4-H member at Zion Lutheran School in Lone Elm, started two years ago at age 10. They will both show Angus-cross steers and bred heifers in this year’s competitions, including their local Prairie Home Fair and the Cooper County Fair. They also plan to show the heifers at the Missouri State Fair.

The Rhode siblings picked out their show animals in February and will work with them daily throughout the show season, which truly gears up for them in July. Their feeding program includes a ration of cracked corn and MFA Super Beef 40 Pellets for the steers and MFA Trendsetter Developer for the heifers along with quality free-choice hay.

“Rate of gain is what I really like to shoot for,” Alex said. “They may not look the best, but they’ll gain better and grade out better than the other steers. I’ve had a steer gain almost five pounds a day, but they average about 3.5.”
The objective, Ryan said, is to put as many pounds as possible on the steers while developing the heifers to be full but not fleshy.

“When choosing their projects, we want them to be 750 to 800 pounds on March 1,” he explained. “We’re going to feed them for 120 to 150 days. We’re looking for a finished product that’s ready for the packer in July. That’s not everyone’s strategy, but it’s a strategy that works for us.”

By taking this approach, Alex and Caroline have more to show for their efforts than awards at the end of the show season. They have the satisfaction of knowing they raised cattle that can not only compete in the show circuit but also be quality examples of sound animal agriculture. That’s important, Ryan said, because both siblings want to have their own herds some day. They’re already on their way to that goal.

“That’s the way I was brought up, and that’s what I want to teach my kids,” Ryan said. “If you go out and buy your animal just to win a show, that’s not really teaching them anything. If you raise your own and demonstrate what you can bring to the market, it gives you a different aspect of life.”

But awards are nice, too, and the Rhodes have won their fair share. Last year, Alex exhibited the champion Charolais female at their local fairs and won his class at the state fair. He also competed in the American International Junior Charolais Association National Show and won his class. Both he and his sister placed in the top three for rate of gain in 2016 and 2017, and they earned champion showmanship awards in their respective divisions, too.

The top point of pride for Ryan and his wife, Beth, however, is the fact that both Alex and Caroline have been named “Herdsman of the Year” at the Cooper County Fair. That award is not given simply for the animal’s appearance or the show performance but a culmination of factors that speak more to the exhibitor’s character.

“The Herdsman award takes into account how you treat others and your animals, how dedicated you are, how you take care of your animals and how you show them,” Ryan said. “Knowing both our kids have won that award tells me that what we teach them here at home carries with them. It thrills me to see them doing so well.”

Premiums and Contest Cash
Using MFA feeds can pay off in more ways than one

Not only do MFA feeds help get 4-H and FFA livestock projects in show-ring shape, but they can also earn exhibitors extra monetary rewards.

The MFA Feed Division’s Livestock Project Premium Program offers special incentives to 4-H and FFA members who use MFA feed for their show animals. The Rhode family participates in the program every year. Last show season, both Alex and Caroline earned a $50 premium for their beef cattle, and Caroline took home $80 in contest cash for placing second in the county rate-of-gain competition.

“It may not seem like a huge payback, but it means a lot to these kids, and it’s something MFA can give back,” said their father, Ryan Rhode. “I promote this program when I visit with other people who are showing at the fair. MFA has all the products you need, so why not get on board?”

This year’s project premiums are $50 for a steer, beef heifer or dairy heifer and $20 for a market hog, market lamb, goat or bucket calf. Contest cash is awarded for first through fourth places in county rate-of-gain competition and for grand champion and reserve grand champion at the Missouri State Fair. Other state fair and national carcass contests may qualify for cash rewards as well.

MFA also offers a “Project Journal” to help exhibitors keep detailed records about their show animals.

To be eligible for rewards, animals must be fed a qualifying MFA feed product from weigh-in at recommended amounts throughout the project. There is one project premium and one contest cash prize allowed per participant.

Visit http://www.mfa-inc.com/Youth.aspx to find the forms, a list of qualifying feeds, program guidelines, the project journal and more information.

Economically sound stewardship

Written by Kerri Lotven on .

Economics and the environment don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Chuck and Darin Dunlop have proven that fact on their 6,800-acre row-crop operation, which spans four counties in southeast Kansas. Stewardship and efficiency go hand in hand on Dunlop Farms, where the cousins have implemented best management practices such as grid soil sampling, variable-rate nutrient applications and precision planting.

In 2013, the Dunlops began working with AGChoice in Moran, Kan., to establish those practices. For their ongoing work, the farmers and AGChoice were recently honored as 4R Advocates by The Fertilizer Institute at the 2018 Commodity Classic in Anaheim, Calif.

“When we first started working with Darin and Chuck on grid-sampling, we were doing it from an economic standpoint,” MFA Precision Farming Specialist Jason Sutterby said. “We wanted to help these guys achieve optimum yields, do a better job of putting fertilizer where it needed to be in the fields, even up crops and so forth. Because we’re looking at creating economic efficiencies, we often forget these practices are also best for the environment.”

Chuck and Darin are fourth-generation farmers, and the fifth generation is beginning to enter the business. The farm now employs seven family members full time. The cousins’ great-grandfather initially purchased a small tract of land near Parker, Kan., in 1899 after immigrating from Ireland. As the farm has changed hands through the generations, it also changed shape and scale.

“At one time or another, we’ve done a little bit of everything,” Chuck said. “Our dads ran the local elevator in town, and they had a feed store. We had a peach and apple orchard with about 3,000 peach trees. We raised farrow-to-
finish hogs, cattle and row crops.”

When the previous generation ran the operation in the 1970s, the farm was a lot smaller, between 1,500-2,000 acres, and the labor was significantly more intense, Darin said.

“It evolved a lot over the years,” he said. “When Chuck and I started farming with our dads, we did a lot of tillage—cultivating and mechanical weed control. A hundred hours a week was pretty common.”

As technology and equipment advanced, the Dunlops’ management practices did, too. Reduced tillage has replaced much of their conventional cultivation methods. They now plant approximately two-thirds of their acreage to soybeans using no-till practices. The rest is planted in corn using minimal tillage. Wheat is sometimes also added into the rotation.

Even with these changes, the Dunlops said they still weren’t making the most of their fertilizer applications. Their considerable acreage had significant variability that needed to be managed. They worked with AGChoice to determine what was going on under the surface.

“When I met these guys five years ago, they had basically been applying a flat rate of fertilizer across all their fields,” Jason said. “When we started talking about the Nutri-Track program and variable-rate fertilizer applications, they jumped right on board.”

Grid sampling allowed Chuck and Darin to assess the nutrient levels, pH, cation exchange capacity and organic matter in the fields. Jason took all this information, added the Dunlops’ yield monitor data and developed precise fertilizer recommendations.
While there were areas of the property that were deficient in lime, others were deficient in phosphorus and potassium.

“We were able to apply lime immediately and get that caught up,” Jason said. “We have also inverted the rate of phosphorus and potassium. The soil tests showed we were falling behind in potassium, so we had to figure out how to balance the fertility and, in turn, even up the fields to where they need to be.”

In 2016, the Dunlops also placed 700 acres into a variable-rate, nitrogen top-dress trial, one of MFA Incorporated’s first studies of this kind. The results were positive, the cousins said, and now 100 percent of their corn acres is enrolled in Adapt-N, a variable-rate nitrogen modeling program administered by MFA’s precision specialists through the Nutri-Track program.

“No one wants to waste their nitrogen,” Darin said. “If you look at your soil tests and look at the cation exchange capacity, the soil can only hold so much nitrogen at any given time. If you’re out there putting on 300 pounds, it’s not going to stay there.”

With variable-rate technology, the Dunlops were able to decrease phosphorus application rates by 15 percent as well.

Participating in the Nutri-Track Program and implementing these best management practices equates to less fertilizer waste and increased efficiency, the Dunlops said. They are putting fertilizer where it’s needed and not putting it where it’s not needed, which is the concept behind the 4Rs of nutrient stewardship—using the right source, at the right rate, in the right place, at the right time. According to TFI, the 4Rs use a science-based approach to increase production while improving the sustainability of farming operations and the environment.

“We talk a lot about 4R nutrient stewardship at TFI, but these practices only work if they are used on the farm,” said Chris Jahn, TFI President. “The 4R Advocate program is our way of recognizing good work when we see it.”
Now in the seventh year, TFI’s 4R Advocate program received 32 nominations. According to Lara Moody, vice president of stewardship at TFI, the quality of nominations continues to increase, making it hard to choose just five. The advocates help deliver the 4R message to other farmers and stakeholders.

“Good advocates want to advocate,” Lara said. “Both the retail agronomist and the farmers are equally important to us as advocates. Good advocate pairs are working together to consider, implement and assess fertilizer decisions geared towards getting the 4Rs right in the field. We value farmers who are looked to by their peers as leaders and innovators, and we look for advocates who have a good story to tell with data to back it up.”

Lara said TFI has linked 4R implementation to farm productivity and profitability as well as water quality and other environmental concerns related to nutrient loss. It’s a proven strategy at Dunlop Farms. Chuck Dunlop’s wife, Cheri, keeps track of the numbers for the farm along with Darin’s sister, Dierra Willey, who began working with Cheri about a year ago.

“We talk about the things that happen out in the field, and we focus on that,” Chuck said. “But at least half of what makes us successful is what they do in the office here. We can go out and spend money, but they come back and tell us if what we’re doing is working or not.”

Stewardship is a broad term, Chuck said. There are ways to apply it in many aspects of the farm.

“With these practices, we’re not wasting fertilizer if we happen to get 10 inches of rain,” Chuck said. “It’s not good for the environment, but it’s also not good economically.”

What’s good for the farm, what’s good for the land and what’s good for the longevity of the business drive the Dunlops’ decisions. Each generation has worked to advance the farm for the next.

It’s admirable, Jason said.   

“To me it seems like this generation and previous generations have done a really nice job of setting the structure of the farm up for success and intergenerational transfer,” he said. “There has been a lot of foresight and thought into making sure they’ve set the farm up for the future.”

Visit www.nutrientstewardship.com to find out more about 4R Nutrient Stewardship and 4R Advocates. For more information on the Nutri-Track program, contact your local MFA or AGChoice retailer.

Foliars that fit

Written by Allison Jenkins on .

Nutrients when they’re needed the most. That’s the design behind MFA’s new Gold Advantage Foliar Nutrition products. Working in tandem with a sound fertility program, Gold Advantage can give your crops exactly what the name implies—an advantage to reach their full genetic potential.

Unlike a one-size-fits-all approach offered by other foliar fertilizers, Gold Advantage is customized for each crop. Specific formulations are available for corn, soybeans and small grains, each with the precise combination of micronutrients that those plants need. The products are designed to be tank-mixed and applied along with most fungicides, insecticides or herbicides with no compatibility concerns.

“There are several options out there for foliar nutrition, but Gold Advantage is designed like no other,” said Jason Worthington, MFA Incorporated senior staff agronomist. “Generally, growers aren’t going to make a pass through the field just for foliar nutrition. They’re going to piggyback it along with another application. Gold Advantage is tailor-made for each crop at the growth stages when we’re making those other applications anyway.”

Each micronutrient package includes the elements that are in highest demand at the time when they will be applied. Correct timing allows Gold Advantage to improve overall plant health and provide an opportunity for maximum yields, Worthington added. The targeted growth stages and nutrient prescription for each type of crop are:

  • Corn — Apply during the V4 to V7 growth stage. The micronutrient package includes boron, manganese, zinc, magnesium and copper.
  • Soybeans — Apply during the R2 to R4 growth stage. The micronutrient package includes boron, manganese, molybdenum, zinc, iron and sulfur.
  • Wheat (Small Grains) — Apply at green-up and/or after flagleaf emergence. The micronutrient package includes boron, manganese, zinc, sulfur and copper.

Each micronutrient was selected because it plays a role in key processes for each crop. For example, boron is essential to the growth of pollen tubes; zinc aids in the formation of seed; copper is critical to the reproductive process; molybdenum helps convert nitrogen in the plant to a usable form; iron acts as an oxygen carrier; and sulfur promotes nodule formation on legumes.

“You look at some of the micronutrients like molybdenum or copper, for example,” Worthington explained. “They’re needed in such little amounts that it’s hard to effectively broadcast them with the dry fertilizer upfront. That’s why foliar delivery might be a better option.”

Developed and marketed exclusively by MFA, Gold Advantage was introduced in 2017 and evaluated at the MFA Training Camp testing site as well as several on-farm trials before it became available to customers this year. Gold Advantage is the first foliar fertilizer to be added to MFA’s proprietary product line.

“Whenever we’re vetting a new product, we often put them in one of the fields that our Crop-Trak consultants will be scouting every week,” Worthington said. “We set it up in side-by-side plots that give us a good test so we can analyze that product and see whether it provides an advantage or not.”

In 2017, yield data from those trials showed that Gold Advantage provided additional bushels, particularly in high-yielding situations for wheat and corn. The soybean trials didn’t provide a good measurement, Worthington said, so the results couldn’t be analyzed.

“When growers are doing everything right, that’s when the foliar nutrition seemed to be most beneficial,” he explained. “In 100-plus-bushel wheat and 220-plus-bushel corn, we were really seeing that advantage, both visually and from the yield data.”

MFA Director of Agronomy Jason Weirich warned, however, that foliar nutrition should be part of an overall fertility management strategy. The field’s phosphorus, potassium and nitrogen levels must be in check before foliar nutrition should be considered, and the products aren’t meant to be a rescue treatment.

“Foliar nutrition isn’t a replacement for sound soil science,” Weirich said. “If the crop is limited in phosphorus, for example, this probably isn’t going to help you. The micronutrients won’t bring enough additional yield to cover up the lack of P. If you have everything else in place, and you’re in a high-yielding environment, Gold Advantage could help you push those yields even further.”

For growers who want to take their production to that next level, Worthington said Gold Advantage may fit well into their management plan.

“If you’re already in a program like Nutri-Track, have good weed-control practices, someone is looking at your fields every week like we do in Crop-Trak and you’re managing everything right, this foliar nutrition can provide incremental yield increases,” he said. “Get with your MFA location to see if these products work in your situation, and make sure you’re putting them on at the proper time. Remember, it doesn’t replace anything, but it definitely has the potential to add bushels.”

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