Feature

Mill milestone

Written by Allison Jenkins on .

 

Consider it lucky No. 7. This fall, the feed mill at AGChoice Feed and Grain in Emporia, Kan., became MFA Incorporated’s seventh site to be certified under the Safe Feed/Safe Food program administered by the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA).

That means all feed-manufacturing facilities operated by MFA Incorporated’s Feed Division now carry this prestigious designation. MFA has more Safe Feed/Safe Food mills than any other company in Missouri, according to AFIA, and the Emporia location is the only full-line dry feed manufacturer in Kansas to carry the certification.

“The feed industry, like most others, has been subject to increases in regulatory oversight,” MFA Feed Division Vice President Dr. Alan Wessler said. “Safe Feed/Safe Food gives companies like MFA an opportunity to lead with what we are already doing. We’ve made it our culture to continually improve our manufacturing process. Safe Feed/Safe Food allows us to move up one more notch and be recognized for our efforts.”

The Safe Feed/Safe Food certification is only given to facilities that demonstrate best-in-class manufacturing practices that protect workers from harm and produce safe food for animals in compliance with current regulations, explained Joel G. Newman, president and CEO of AFIA, the world’s largest organization devoted exclusively to representing the interests of the U.S. animal food industry and its suppliers.

“MFA and its employees should be commended for showing outstanding leadership and excellence in making safe manufacturing their No. 1 priority,” Newman said. “Our industry prides itself on serving our local customers and supporting safe manufacturing practices in accordance with federal regulations.”

Safe Feed/Safe Food uses a third-party organization—the Safe Quality Food Institute—to administer the program. Launched in 2004, the voluntary program is regularly updated to help industry comply with new and emerging federal guidelines, such as the recent Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Since being signed into law in 2011 by President Obama, FSMA has been phased in throughout the feed and food industry until the final draft was enacted in 2017.

The centerpiece of the act is the requirement for all food, feed, ingredient and pet food facilities to identify food/feed safety hazards and develop written guidelines to control them—procedures MFA proactively put in place by participating in the Safe Feed/Safe Food program six years ago. MFA’s feed mill in Gerald, Mo., was the first to be certified in 2011, followed by the rest of the cooperative’s Missouri mills within a year. MFA began the process of getting the Emporia, Kan., mill certified after purchasing the facility in 2012.

“This is a huge accomplishment for the Emporia feed mill and for MFA,” said Tom Staudt, director of feed manufacturing for MFA Incorporated. “Since the Safe Feed/Safe Food program was adopted, we’ve been working toward this goal to get all of our quality control and regulatory programs up to the standards that meet certification. We’ve always manufactured safe feed, but this program gives us third-party verification. It’s another set of eyes coming into evaluate your facilities and procedures and provide that reassurance to our customers.”

Although beef feed is its predominant product, the mill at AGChoice Feed and Grain also manufactures a variety of feeds for other livestock, including dairy, swine, poultry, goats and rabbits. All the feed originating at the facility is bulk, but MFA bagged feed is available in its warehouse. The unique operation sells feed both wholesale to other AGChoice locations and retail to farmers and ranchers in eastern Kansas, northern Oklahoma and western Missouri. The mill’s 20 full-time employees will produce and deliver around 45,000 tons of feed this year.

“I’ve been here a little over 12 years now, and this is the best group of employees we’ve had,” said Darin Boline, mill manager. “Everybody understands what our goals are, and they’re working toward them.”

The Emporia mill has “come a long way” since MFA Incorporated purchased the facility in 2012, added Boline.

“When MFA bought us, we were still operating with a lot of old equipment—some of it original from when the mill was built in 1956,” he said. “MFA knew they had a challenge here, but they’re not afraid to invest in a facility. One of the first things they did was put in an automated mixing system and a brand-new mixer, which helps with efficiencies and getting feed mixed to specifications. We also have better rolling stock, so we can stay on the road and serve our customers.”

While adding Safe Feed/Safe Food stipulations didn’t mean drastic changes to the mill’s quality-control procedures, Boline said it has ramped up recordkeeping.

“It means a lot more paperwork and more sets of eyes on things, but what I keep telling my employees is that this will prevent mistakes from becoming problems,” Boline said. “We’re human, so we’re not going to be perfect, but if we can keep those mistakes internal, it’s something we can identify and fix. If it gets out to the farmer, it will be a much bigger issue.”

In addition to an emphasis on recordkeeping, the Safe Feed/Safe Food program also provides guidelines in the areas of employee training; facility planning and control; manufacturing and processing; use of monitoring devices; building, equipment, and grounds; ingredient purchasing and controls; identification and traceability; and controls of non-conforming products.

“It starts at the beginning, from the ingredients that come in from our suppliers all the way through production until the product goes out the door,” Staudt explained. “It even involves transportation. Our trucks are cleaned and inspected before we put product in them.”

Before joining the AGChoice staff two years ago, Arlen Ashburn, who manages the warehouse and bagged feed side of the business, spent more than 30 years in quality-control positions for concrete, asphalt, soils and structural steel industries. He said that his past experience proved just how important safe procedures are to a company.

“Quality control is a big issue, and it’s getting even bigger in the feed industry,” Ashburn said. “It makes a lot of difference to our customers to know that we care about what we do, and I think this certification will help give us a step up on the competition.”

By receiving its certification, AGChoice Feed and Grain joins more than 500 facilities across the country that have earned Safe Feed/Safe Food status. Livestock feed and pet food manufacturers, ingredient suppliers, integrated producers, meat processors, feed purchasers, livestock producers, renderers and others can participate. Facilities with the Safe Feed/Safe Food seal must be inspected and recertified every two years in addition to annual self-inspections. These audits include everything from pest control to traceability documentation to biosecurity measures. 

“This isn’t something you do once and move on,” Staudt said. “You have to do it daily. It’s an ongoing process.”

Joining the exclusive group of Safe Feed/Safe Food facilities takes time, effort and teamwork by employees at each plant, said David Weidmaier, MFA quality control and feed regulatory specialist.

“No doubt, it is a challenge,” Weidmaier said. “It takes everyone at our feed mills to make this happen. The program is completely employee-driven. We give them the roadmap, and it’s up to them to follow it. No matter what MFA feed mill you visit, you’ll see a prime example of employees taking pride in what they’re making and what they’re doing.”

For more information, visit safefeedsafefood.org.

2018 Survival Guide

Written by Nancy Jorgensen on .

Like most producers these days, Sam Dove, who grows corn, soybeans and wheat on 2,000 acres near Green Ridge, Mo., is keeping a wary eye on the current state of the agricultural economy. After all, this first-generation row-crop farmer has a lot at stake.

Dove has worked hard to build his farm from scratch, starting near the end of the farm crisis in the late 1980s. When he and wife, Nancey, married in 1990, he was farming around 300 acres while working three jobs to make ends meet. The most recent down-cycle isn’t the family’s first experience with belt-tightening times, and they know it won’t be the last. But the Doves also know they’d like the operation to be around for the next generation if their sons—Ryan and Logan—and daughters—Libby and Emily—choose to farm.

“The ’80s, when I was trying to get started, were terrible,” Dove said. “Banks wouldn’t even loan money to established farmers, much less young farmers trying to get started. I did whatever I could to pay the bills and kept picking up acreage here and there. All through the years, there have been cycles, both up and down. We had some good years recently, but grain prices are down now, and we’re feeling that like everyone else. But hopefully, they’ll rebound.”

The irony is that for Dove and many of his fellow farmers in MFA country, 2017 was a great growing year. Yields came in well above average in most places, with corn reaching 200-plus bushels per acre and soybeans pushing 55 to 65 bushels, according to MFA Incorporated Senior Staff Agronomist Jason Worthington. Such positive production tends to push prices downward, and many agricultural experts, including CoBank’s Tanner Ehmke, believe that U.S. farmers will continue to struggle to generate net income in 2018—the fourth year in a row of a weakened farm economy.

“USDA predicts net farm incomes will be up slightly in 2017, thanks mostly to improved profitability in the livestock sector,” said Ehmke, senior economist at CoBank, a $126-billion cooperative bank serving rural America. “Unless market prices for corn and soybeans post significant increases—which is highly unlikely given current commodities surpluses—then farm profitability likely will remain flat in 2018.”

Despite record exports in 2017, expanding production in both crop and livestock sectors as well as large carryover grain stocks make it difficult to be bullish on improvements in farm profitability anytime soon, Ehmke continued. The good news, however, is that “we’ve likely reached bottom” in commodity prices, he said.

“Unless there’s a significant weather-induced supply shock somewhere around the world, prices will continue trading in a fairly sideways pattern,” Ehmke predicted. “Otherwise, net farm income will be in the hands of the farmer and his ability control costs, increase yield and take advantage of brief market rallies.”

To help his farm survive the economic downturn, Dove says he watches expenses and looks for efficiencies, practices and services that will not only save him time and money but also maximize production.

He’s purchased add-on GPS-based equipment for his planters and combine and uses precision agronomy and application services, including MFA’s Nutri-Track program. Dove started by having his soil grid-sampled by MFA Agri Services in Sedalia, and four years ago the farmer began applying nutrients and chemicals at variable rates.

“It all adds up, and my investment has paid off,” Dove said. “There so much soil diversity here. I’ve seen yield even out on my fields since I started using precision tools. It also helps me be more efficient with inputs like fertilizer because I’m only applying what’s needed, where it’s needed. Same thing with seed. I have automatic row shutoffs on my planter to prevent overlap.”

“The equipment also helps with record-keeping,” he added. “I can track seed varieties and planting dates, adding info such as when and where I side-dress corn, and plug in yield information.”

Blaine Beissenherz, MFA agronomist and crop consultant, helps interpret soil samples for Dove and scouts his fields enrolled in the Crop-Trak program. With this program, Beissenherz evaluates fields after plants emerge to take counts and determine if replanting is needed. As the growing season progresses, he checks fields weekly for signs of disease, insects and weed pressure and provides recommendations to Dove on how to address issues.

“We work with Sam to develop a four-year plan to build nutrients in the soil,” Beissenherz said. “We go over cropping plans with him each winter to make sure we are making the best decisions for the given fields and we are on the same page for timing of applications during the growing season.”

In addition, Dove uses treated seeds, purchases crop insurance and hires grain marketing experts—all investments that help protect his farm profitability. Planting cover crops has also helped improve yields, weed control and erosion.

“Year in, year out, we find that cover crops are good for the soil,” he said, “and taking care of the ground just makes good sense.”

Mike Catron, operations supervisor at MFA Agri Services, says that Dove is a good farmer and “progressive in adopting new technology.” Dove deflects that praise and credits his partnership with MFA for helping him along the way.

“A lot of guys do more than I do with precision tools,” Dove said. “I focus on planting and harvesting, and depend on MFA to do most of the agronomy and application. MFA has been good to work with.”

The practices Dove employs on his farm are among those recommended by the ag experts we interviewed for this “Survival Guide.” Here are 10 ways producers can improve efficiencies, profitability and performance on the farm in today’s challenging environment.

1. Cut costs. It’s crucial to work with your accountant to analyze your cost of production and fix inefficient farm practices, CoBank’s Ehmke emphasized. “History tells us the low-cost producer wins,” he said. For example, if you can buy used machinery or delay the replacement of your current machinery line, that’s an easy win on lowering cost. Also, consider negotiating to cut rent and financing costs.

2. Increase yield. Increasing yield is the fastest way to lower your per-bushel breakeven cost of production, Ehmke said. “I’m not a fan of cutting corners on yield-enhancing technologies like traited seed or crop protection.”

3. Advance your marketing plan. Work with a market advisor to develop and execute a marketing plan based on your cost of production. “The market almost always provides an opportunity to sell at a profit, so it comes down to a farmer’s willingness to let go of commodities,” Ehmke said. “That’s often an emotional rollercoaster. If you’re good at farming and growing crops and livestock, focus on that.” He added that it may be a good idea to put someone else in charge of executing the marketing plan, such as a spouse or other family member.

4. Purchase crop insurance. The crop insurance safety net helps assure that you can survive to farm another year in the event of a catastrophe, said Mike Smith, MFA Crop Insurance principal agent, who oversees MFA’s crop insurance program launched in 2017. In addition, you can use crop insurance products to place floors on market prices for grain and livestock. To learn more, including sign-up deadlines, talk with your local MFA crop insurance agent or visit www.mfa-inc.com/Services/MFA-Crop-Insurance.

5. Ensure proper field fertility. Every time you harvest, you remove nutrients from the soil, and recent high yields especially hammered fertility levels, said Thad Becker, MFA precision agronomy manager. “Proper fertility plays an essential role in reaching full yield potential across the field and from year to year,” he said. “A field with good soil test levels better handles adverse conditions.” According Becker, 25 percent of MFA producers have adopted technology that combines soil testing with precision nutrient application, and the trend continues to grow. Although knowing an average yield can allow agronomists to estimate the level of nutrient removal, yield monitors allow for more accurate measurement. “We can combine the data with soil tests to recommend the best nutrient replacement plan,” Becker added.

6. Precision plant. Whether you’re planting, applying nutrients and chemicals or monitoring yield, you don’t need to purchase brand-new machinery to improve accuracy, Becker said. “This is especially true of planters,” he explained. “With add-on aftermarket products from AgLeader, Precision Planting and others, as long as the planter’s frame remains in good shape, you can rebuild a 30-year-old planter to make the most efficient use of seed. More accurate seed placement boosts yield, and you save costs by reducing overlap.” Row shutoffs on your planter generate some of the fastest payback, Becker added.

7. Choose the right seed. Today, seed represents some of the most innovative technology and profitability opportunities available, MFA’s Worthington said. Every year, new hybrids and varieties provide greater yield and more protection from the environment. MFA crop specialists can help producers navigate those choices and make the right decisions for their soil type and disease risk. Seed treatments also add protection against disease threats, he said.

8. Hire expert agronomists. Working with crop scouts and consultants can help growers identify areas where inputs can be used most effectively and profitably. MFA’s Crop-Trak program takes those services to the next level, said Worthington. “We go beyond normal field inspections to evaluate stands as well as weed, insect and disease pressure,” he explained. “Proper timing of nutrient and chemical applications makes a huge impact on crop performance. Too often, poor product selection takes all the credit or blame when, actually, proper timing of herbicides, for example, can often be the difference between a clean field and a disaster.”

9. Improve cattle health and feed efficiency. Disease and death losses in livestock production are expensive. Preconditioning programs such as MFA Health Track can help build immunity through timely vaccination, high-quality nutrition and parasite control. It also reduces sale-day shrink and helps eliminate discounts that can accompany unweaned calves. “When you combine today’s lower feed prices with feed efficiency provided by MFA Health Track, your cost of gain can run below 60 cents a pound,” said Mike John, MFA director of Health Track. In addition, feeds and supplements with MFA’s proprietary Shield Technology can improve livestock health and performance with less dependence on antibiotics. “Shield and Shield Plus have shown benefits such as improved feed efficiency, daily gain, immunity and rumen function,” said Mike Spidle, MFA director of product sales and feed. “Shield Technology leads to fewer open cows, more full-term pregnancies and newborns that get up faster. Dairy cows produce more milk in summer with more protein and butterfat. Swine producers see more pigs per litter, and some have cut back 80 to 100 percent on antibiotics.”

10. Keep better records. Whether you’re growing crops, raising cattle or doing both, record-keeping is an essential tool on the farm. “You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” said John. MFA offers tools to make record-keeping more convenient and useful. For example, MFA’s PowerCalf app allows producers to record data in the field on a mobile device—even without wifi or cell service—including breeding, pregnancy checks, weaning and preconditioning information. “You can sort, edit and analyze the data, including profitability measures such as pounds weaned per cow,” John explained. “The analysis helps you improve conception, calving and weaning rates and stay ahead of the competition via benchmarking tools.” For row-crop producers, MFA’s Nutri-Track web portal provides access to all the information agronomists gather on producers’ farms, such as GPS-based soil test results along with nutrient recommendations. “If you provide planting and yield-monitoring information, we can organize and display that as well,” Becker said.

November 2017 Today's Farmer

Written by webadmin on .

From prototype to production line

Written by Kerri Lotven on .

When Bob Lutz built a prototype for the Feed Train back in 1997, he was solving a problem on his own family farm. At the time, he and his nephew, Jeff Lutz, had implemented a rotational grazing system, and it often took hours to move their 30 feed bunks among 14 paddocks. Bob thought if he could make the bunks portable, he could cut down the process from hours to minutes.

So he did it. He created the first Feed Train—a system of mobile feeders that couple together similar to train cars—and now owns and operates the factory where they are manufactured.

“The idea was basically born out of necessity,” Bob said. “It was something we needed for ourselves around the farm.”

Though some may consider the task daunting, Bob said this type of construction and design has always come naturally. As a kid, he would while away time building the toy sailboats and scooters he saw in his brother’s Popular Mechanics magazines.

“I grew up on the family farm, and money was tight back then,” Bob said. “I knew that if I wanted something, I would have to build it.”

Bob’s first Feed Train was made up of 30 mobile bunks he built mostly in his farm shop. Each feed bunk sits on a two-wheel axle. The first bunk attaches to the trailer hitch of a truck, and each subsequent bunk links to the one before it, making it easy to lengthen or shorten the train as desired. In addition to its mobility, the steering system also makes the Feed Train unique. Each feed bunk closely tracks the one in front of it, making navigating turns and narrow entrances, such as gates, easy.

The original 30 cars are still being used on the family farm today, though many modifications have since been made to the original design. For example, Bob now uses a heavier-gauge steel. He jokingly blames that change on his wife, Irene. She previously worked as a steel salesperson, and that’s how the two met.

“I sold him the wrong steel,” Irene said with a grin.

Bob and Irene married shortly before they started their business, Feed Train, LLC, named after their flagship product. She now manages the front office and does the company’s accounting.

Though countless hours went into setting up a manufacturing business from the ground up, Bob said it was simply more problem-solving. In 1999, he applied for a patent on the Feed Train steering system, and in 2001 his application was granted. When the time came to set up shop and produce en masse, Bob searched near and far to locate and test the equipment that would make up his assembly line.  

“I would travel to find the people that had these machines to make the prototypes in the first run,” he explained. “I had to go all the way to Boone, Iowa, to find someone who could roll and form the bunks. Once we knew what we needed and that it would work for our purposes, we bought the equipment. The first prototypes were quite a bit different than what we manufacture today.”

When the Lutzes started the business, their 20,000-square-foot factory in Unionville, Mo., sat mostly empty, housing only one plasma cutting table, a main press break, a cold saw and a few tools Bob brought over from the farm. The factory has since filled with both machinery and workers. Feed Train now employs 21 people full time. In a small rural economy, that number is significant.

In addition to the inaugural Feed Train line, Bob and Irene have expanded their product selection to include creep feeders, ATV and UTV feeders, and mobile and stationary bulk bins and seed tenders. Though the larger items are available exclusively through MFA retailers, the ATV and UTV feeders can be shipped nationwide. Orders have even come in from Canada.

“Most everything is manufactured in house, except for the round pipe and the plastic tanks on the UTV and ATV feeders,” Bob said. “The plastic is formed by another local manufacturer in Missouri. The steel comes in sheets, and we cut it on the plasma table. Then we bend and assemble it.”

What took Bob six weeks to build as a prototype can now be constructed from start to finish in about 45 minutes. Bob said he constructs products like he would want them built for his own use.

“We kind of have the farmer mentality when it comes to construction,” he said. “We probably tend to overbuild, but it lasts.”

Now-retired MFA Farm Supply Division Manager Ben Murray said it was that concern for quality and Bob’s inventive mindset that interested him when he saw the original prototype.

“Bob’s a very innovative individual,” Ben said. “If you look at their feeder, it’s got a lot of little bells and whistles that you won’t see on others. He spends a lot of time on the products to get them where he wants them.”  

While there are cheaper products out there, MFA Farm Supply Product Manager Eric Allen said, “You may have to buy that product many times over, whereas Bob makes products to last.”

Bob said he just wants his customers to be happy.

“We want to produce quality, and we’ll service our products in the field if we need to,” he said. “Customer satisfaction is the most important thing.”

For more information on Feed Train products, contact your local MFA retailer.

Generation dedication

Written by Allison Jenkins on .

On the surface, their farms couldn’t be more different.

Adam Shetley milks 60 cows on his 160-acre dairy farm in southeast Missouri. Brothers Derek and Aaron Lowrey run a large row-crop and beef operation in the northwest corner of the state.

Look deeper, however, and you’ll see how much these young producers have in common.

For starters, they fall into the so-called Millennial Generation, defined as those born between 1980 and 2000. Looked down on by some and praised by others, millennials now exceed the number of baby boomers as the largest generation in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center.

Millennials are one of the most studied age groups as researchers and marketers try to pinpoint what makes this generation tick. They’re often branded with negative labels such as lazy, entitled and narcissistic. None of those traits are to be found on the Shetley and Lowrey farms, however. Hard work, resourcefulness and dedication are on full display.

“My work ethic came from my parents and playing football,” Adam said. “Those values of hard work and respect are ingrained in me. I never wake up and wonder what I’m going to do today. My clock is always ticking.”

While he and the Lowrey brothers defy the stereotypes in many ways, these young farmers do embody more positive millennial mannerisms. They’re entrepreneurial. They’re frugal. They eagerly embrace new technology. They value work-life balance. They’re conscious about sustainability and social responsibility. And they have passion for what they do.

Entrepreneurial

These days, the ever-increasing cost of starting an agricultural operation is a huge barrier for first-generation farmers. That didn’t stop Adam from establishing his Little Grassy Dairy in 2014, just a couple of years after earning an animal sciences degree from the University of Missouri.

Now 28, the entrepreneur has built a brand-new dairy on land his grandparents once farmed near Fredericktown, Mo.

His father, Mark, a retired accountant who had moved away from the farm with his family at age 11, joined him in the operation.

“My junior year of college, I decided to study abroad in southern France and lived with a dairy farming family there,” Adam said. “At that point, I decided this was what I wanted to do for a living. Everything I’ve done since then has been to make this happen.”

Building the dairy meant starting from scratch. The Shetleys put in waterers, installed fencing, renovated pastures, ran electricity, built the barns and a 14-stall, swing-style milking parlor, and bought a herd of Friesian-Jersey cows.

“There was nothing here,” Adam said. “Every building you see, every fencepost in the ground, we put it here. But that allowed me to make everything the way we wanted it and not have to retrofit my vision into somebody else’s farm.”

Derek and Aaron, 30 and 28, respectively, have also made their own way in agriculture. The brothers grew up on their family farm in Laredo, Mo., and began working toward their future careers at an early age. Unlike Adam, the Lowreys didn’t have to start from scratch, but they did have to acquire enough land to support two incomes. They rented their first acreage while still in high school, and today the brothers raise corn, soybeans, wheat and hay and background several hundred beef heifers each year as they farm alongside their father, David.

“When we graduated from high school, Dad really wasn’t farming enough acres to support us all, so Aaron and I went to college so we’d have something to fall back on,” Derek said. “We kept picking up more rented ground until we could all farm full time. We knew that’s what we wanted to do, and we’re fortunate enough to get everything worked out.”

Frugal

Millennial-age farmers may be young, but they’re old enough to have seen ups and downs in the agricultural economy. The Lowrey brothers were raised with an extra sense of frugality because David began farming just as the 1980s farm crisis hit. He never forgot how tough it was to stay in business, and he taught his sons to make wise financial decisions.

“We’re not showy. We run old machinery, and we take care of it,” Derek said. “That’s the way Dad has always done it, because it was what he had to do. And we have the same feeling. That’s where a lot of young guys get in trouble. They want all that shiny paint, and it is nice, but it doesn’t pencil. You need to stay calm, keep your head on your shoulders and be proud of what you’ve got—don’t worry about what the neighbor or your buddies have.”
Adam echoes that sentiment. His dairy is designed as a forage-based operation with a rotational grazing system that makes the most efficient use of his land resources.

“To be able to jump right into this industry, especially now when big farms are getting bigger and small farms are going out of business, you really have to have a low-input strategy to succeed,” he said.

He purposely chose Friesian-Jersey dairy cattle because they perform well in a grazing situation. The breed is also known as a “Kiwi cross” because it was developed to suit grass-based dairies in New Zealand.

“Picking the right cow to fit our system was important,” Adam explained. “They have better feed-to-milk conversion than a Holstein, and they also have a smaller stature, which helps with their mobility. These girls have to work. They walk miles a day through the pastures and to and from the parlor. They also have outstanding reproduction, which is No. 1 on any dairy farm.”

Like the Lowreys, Adam has been careful with his expenditures for farm infrastructure and equipment.

“The buildings are new; the milking equipment is new,” he said. “That’s where we wanted to put our money, because that’s what is used every single day. All my farming equipment is used. We put our investments where we needed them the most.”

Tech-savvy

These young farmers are also investing in technology to improve their production and efficiency. Unlike their fathers, they grew up with technology, so it’s not surprising to find this generation embracing new advancements at a rapid pace.

For example, Adam uses a smartphone app to electronically track the herd’s reproductive cycles. Each milk cow is outfitted with a high-tech eartag that measures body temperature, activity, rumination and much more. Think of it as a Fitbit for cows.

“It’s been a game-changer for me,” the young dairyman said. “It’s 24/7 surveillance on the cows. It almost takes the place of an employee. I can tell when a cow goes into heat, so I know she’s cycling when she is bred. In a three-week window this year, I was able to breed 85 percent of the herd.”

On the Lowrey farm, Derek and Aaron have added precision technology to most of their farm equipment, including yield monitors on the combine, row clutches on the planter and automatic shutoffs on their sprayer. David, who had none of this technology before his sons started farming with him, said Derek and Aaron have “taken the farm to the next level.”

“We run old machinery, but we’ve got quite a bit of technology on them,” Derek said. “It may seem like a big upfront cost, but there’s a pretty quick payback. We’re not doing any variable-rate fertilizing or planting yet, but it’s something we want to work toward.”

The Lowreys have also started keeping electronic records through the Farm Business Management Analysis program, a service offered through the Missouri Young Farmers organization. Derek and Aaron are active in their local chapter.

“Dad had always done records on pen and paper, but we couldn’t keep up as the farm got bigger,” Derek said. “This program has been a great asset for our family. I wish we’d been using it from Day 1. Records are an absolute must. Financially, you have to know where you are and where you’re going. If you’re sliding downhill, and you don’t find out until you’re at the bottom, it’s too late to correct anything.”

Balanced

Research shows that, overall, millennials don’t want to choose between having a successful career and having a fulfilling home life. They want both. Our millennial farmers say the same thing.

Dairies are notorious for being a 365-day-per-year job, but not Little Grassy. Adam purposely runs his operation on a seasonal schedule. He synchronizes breeding so the cows all calve in a tight window in early spring, and then he shuts down the milking operation for six to eight weeks in January and February each year.

“It’s a management choice and a lifestyle choice,” Adam said. “We’re a two-man operation. I need a break. That’s when we can take a deep breath and give ourselves a little bit of down time.”

The importance of balancing work with family life is about to become even more important for Adam and his wife, Becca, a physical therapist. The couple, who married in May 2016, are expecting their first child—a son—in November.

“We are excited to raise children in this lifestyle, instilling those values of responsibility and hard work from an early age,” Adam said. “Hopefully, that will help turn them into good, productive members of society.”

Likewise, the Lowrey brothers both juggle farming and family responsibilities. Derek and his wife, Sarah, have a 3-year-old daughter, Macey, and 10-month-old son, Tyson. Aaron and his wife, Amanda, are parents to sons Cason, 7, and Gannon, 2. Keeping their farming operation to a manageable level gives the young families more quality time together.

“A lot of our management decisions come down to family time,” Derek said. “You can get to the point where the farm is too big and you can’t do a good job or you end up spending all your time working. We just want to be efficient with what we’ve got and use it wisely.”

Conscious

Studies indicate that millennials are the most sustainability-conscious generation. Most of that research is directed at the consumer market, but these farmers are also putting that consciousness into action.

On the Lowrey farm, conservation practices are standard procedure.

“Everything we farm, we treat it like we’re going to farm it forever,” Derek said. “We are 100 percent no-till. We contour- farm everything, we use terraces and we fertilize like we should. We have landowners coming to us, asking if we want to rent their ground, because they know we will farm it like we own it.”

At Little Grassy Dairy, the Shetleys also focus on best management practices such as fertilizing according to soil-test results, sowing cover crops between silage seasons and producing high-quality forages. Adam uses MFA Shield Technology in his feed rations and minerals to help keep the cows healthy and productive without the use of antibiotics, and he and his father take extra care in the milking parlor to ensure their product is as safe as possible.

“Right now, our mentality is that we want to focus on quality over quantity,” Adam said. “I want to make the dairy as efficient as I can with small numbers until I can figure out what works and what doesn’t. If we try to grow too fast, it will just bring in more stress and damper our quality. I’m still learning, and I don’t want to get in over my head.”

Passionate

When surveyed, millennials express their desire find a career that’s more than just a job—it’s something they love. Nowhere is that more evident than with these millennial farmers who have passion for agriculture as a livelihood, a lifestyle and a legacy.

“I wanted to make being around animals my life,” Adam said. “There’s something about dairy farming that drew me in, and I’ve never looked back. I was all in from the beginning. Now I’m living my dream.”

Since they were establishing a dairy from the ground up, the Shetleys could have put down roots anywhere, but they chose to return to family land.

“This is our farm. There are family ties here,” Adam said. “My desire was to be farming this ground. It just wouldn’t mean as much to me somewhere else.”

The Lowrey brothers share that desire to continue a family farming tradition and hope to pass it to the next generation.

“I know it’s a long ways off, but I want my kids and Aaron’s kids to stay around the farm, and I’m excited to see what level they will take it to,” Derek said. “That would be my ultimate goal—to keep building this farm up to where they’ll be able to take over or join in someday.”

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