One little environmental giant

Written by James Fashing on .

MFA Agri Services in Centralia, Mo., looks like many other ag retailers that crown the skyline with rural skyscrapers. The complex includes a mix of the traditional concrete grain elevator, new shiny metal grain bins and pole barns, all fitting snugly between the two railroad tracks that bisect this community.

Near the retail office, spray trucks are undergoing maintenance at the shop and grain trucks are on the move. Each evening by sundown, the equipment will again all be parked neatly in a row, ready for the next day.

Despite its mild-mannered appearance, this location has unique bragging rights. Centralia MFA Agri Services won the 2017 Environmental Respect Award from Crop Life Magazine, a respected ag-industry publication owned by Meister Media. Getting the award is tough. It has been more than a decade since an MFA location placed in the contest, which has been sponsored by DuPont for 27 years. The last time MFA was recognized was in 1997 as a state winner with its then-new facility in Chaffee, Mo.

Centralia MFA assistant manager Brad Toedebusch accepted the award during a July 20 ceremony in Wilmington, Del. Although Centralia had already won the regional award along with three other retailers, the MFA location was also named “Ambassador of Respect” for all of North America. That title is only bestowed on the “best of the best,” award officials stated.

“Usually you hear people say that it is an honor to just be nominated. That was truly the case here, especially after meeting the other nominees and winners from all over the world,” Toedebusch said. “I didn’t think we had a chance while at the meeting. All of the people I met were from these huge agribusinesses, and many were our competitors in the contest.”

To even be considered for such a prestigious award, a business must be state-of-the-art in all areas, be proactive on safety and training, be serious about containment and have the latest available application technology. Check, check, check and check for Centralia MFA.

Built in 1956, Centralia MFA Agri Services has been renovated many times over the years. The most recent renovation added to its grain facility capacity and speed. Among other upgrades were the building of a new maintenance shop to service equipment and keep its dry fertilizer under a roof. To further protect the area’s watershed, MFA Centralia insists on using automatic shut-off valves and direct-injection systems on its sprayers.

These updates and its employees’ commitment to environmentally friendly practices helped the older facility stand out in a crowd of larger and newer locations from across the U.S. and Canada, said Crop Life magazine editor Eric Sfiligoj. He said that over the 17 years that he has been meeting Environmental Respect award winners, the common denominator is the desire to go “above and beyond” when it comes to stewardship and protecting the community in which they do business.

“Lots of the winners are very positive about ag retail,” said Sfiligoj. “However, Jim [Gesling, Centralia MFA general manager] seemed extra special with his ability to stay calm under pressure.”

Sfiligoj interviewed Gesling for the contest the same week Centralia employees had dealt with a fire at the nearby branch in Clark, Mo. The editor was impressed with Gesling’s eagerness to make time to talk about the location’s environmental efforts. He even wrote about it in his July 2017 magazine column here: www.croplife.com/editorial/the-resilience-of-ag-retailers/.

The Environmental Respect awards process examines the facilities, fertilizer practices, water-rinsing procedures, safety, security, training/improvement, emergency preparedness, best-management practices and community outreach.

Maybe the small-town team shouldn’t have been so surprised to win the award. The location and its employees are intricately woven into the town. The Centralia MFA group works with 4-H and FFA, serves as ag experts for the local press, supports local water quality initiatives and was recently named business of the year by the local economic development group, CREDI.

Centralia MFA employees meet regularly with local firefighters to review safety, procedures and emergency plans, and the police department patrols daily, even after hours.

Employees also helped revamp the city baseball fields and perform regular maintenance. They assist the local FFA chapter with its annual mock job interviews and supervised agricultural education project judging. Centralia MFA employees also co-host the town’s annual Young Farmer’s Christmas Parade.  

The Centralia team has adopted new technology as it becomes available. They were one of the first to switch to direct-inject spray systems on the trucks, which keeps them from transporting “hot” loads of chemicals. Although the location wasn’t the first to start offering variable-rate application, employees jumped into precision when local customers and members were ready. Now, one-third of the location’s fertilizer acres are spread with some kind of variable-rate technology. Centralia also has a growing crop-consulting business.

Along with adding new technology, Gesling has focused on growing business relationships with farmers and planning for the future since becoming manager of the location in 2000.

During a recent farm tour, while visiting with Brazilian farmers who wanted to see some top Missouri farms, Gesling slipped away from the group and started tossing a football with the hosting farmer’s eighth-grade son.

“The future of Centralia football is looking good—that rascal has an arm,” he laughed after a good half-hour of playtime. “I love my job!”

When asked what the future of agriculture looks like with respect to the environment, Gesling gets a little philosophical.

“Well I’m a grandfather now, and I believe what we leave for the next generations really matters,” Gesling said. “We have a lot of challenges ahead of us in ag. Here at MFA, we focus on doing things right and putting things where they need to be, like nutrients, seed and chemicals. It should never be difficult to do the right thing.”

Minding your business

Written by Nancy Jorgensen on .

This article covers the pros and cons of various types of farm organizational structures. We provide a few general definitions and guidelines below, but we are not offering tax or legal advice. You should consult tax, legal and other experts before modifying your structure. Keep in mind that corporate law varies by state. It’s also important to note that no matter what their organizational structure, families continue to own the vast majority of U.S. farms.

Jeff Casten raised corn, soybeans, wheat, sorghum and four daughters on the family’s Quenemo, Kan., farm. He planned to farm his entire life but never thought the girls would continue the operation when he retired.

When his wife of 40 years, Joyce, died unexpectedly in 2012, plans changed.

“When my mom passed, everything turned on its head,” said Jill Casten, Jeff and Joyce’s daughter. “That tragedy changed all our lives from a personal standpoint. Dad went through the whole process of creating and establishing a trust so that if something happened to him, he would know things were taken care of from the farm perspective.”

Since then, her father has remarried, retired and reprioritized his life, Jill said. The 2017 crop will be the last one he harvests, but it won’t be the last one on the family’s farm. In the future, the farm will be operated by Jeff’s children and in-laws—Jill; Janae and her husband, Caleb McNally; and Jarah and her husband, Mike Hauger. Together, they have formed a limited liability company to keep the 1,000-acre operation in the family for a sixth generation. Their other sister, Jennifer, and her husband, Pete Roy, own a veterinary practice and decided not to join the LLC.

“I think dad realized life is short, and he wants to enjoy his new marriage in a way that doesn’t involve full-time farming,” Jill said. “He called a family meeting and told us he was going to step down. We began having conversations about what we could do, talked to an attorney about our options and consulted with people who specialize in farm transitions until we felt comfortable moving forward with forming an LLC.”

The Castens are among many other farming families who are changing or formalizing their business structure to protect their assets and operations as they grow or transition to new owners. There are several ways to go about it, but an LLC is one of the most popular options, according to Michael Sykuta, associate professor of agricultural and applied economics at the University of Missouri.

“Until about 40 years ago, the only alternatives to sole proprietorships or partnerships were C or S corporations,” Sykuta said. “In 1977, the state of Wyoming introduced a new organizational structure that offered the benefits of corporate limited liability and the income pass-through of an S corporation without all the strings of an S corporation involved. After a slow start, by 1996, LLCs became an option throughout the U.S. and quickly grew in popularity. A lot of farmers are creating LLCs. It’s easy to do.”

Another factor prompted interest in LLCs, he said.

“Farm-related liabilities have grown,” Sykuta said. “For example, environmental laws related to things like a leaking manure lagoon weren’t as stringent 20 years ago.”  

According to USDA’s 2012 Census of Agriculture, 83 percent of all U.S. farms remain sole proprietorships and another 6 percent are partnerships. But Mary Sobba, an agriculture business specialist with the University of Missouri extension, said the trend is toward more complex farm structures.

“If you look at the data from the 2002 Census of Agriculture and the 2012 Census, you see the number and percentage of sole proprietors has declined,” she said.

Roger McEowen, Kansas Farm Bureau professor of agricultural law and taxation at Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kan., literally wrote the book on the pros and cons of various structures in his Principles of Agricultural Law.

“Many small farms remain sole proprietorships, but many larger farms are changing their structure for various reasons,” McEowen said. “For example, a different structure could help maximize government program payments.”

For farmers who want to create a new enterprise to add value to a product, Sobba sees advantages to changing structure.

“A formal business structure can cover liability related to contracts, food safety and people on the property,” she said.   

Here are basic descriptions of the various types of structures available.

Sole proprietorship

This is the simplest structure. You are the owner and the operator, and you retain all profits. The downside: “You are personally liable for any debts and legal actions,” Sykuta said. For example, if a farmhand sustains an injury while driving your tractor on the job, the employee can sue you, placing your personal assets at risk—including your home, vehicles and investments.


Two or more people—often family members or neighboring farmers—own this type of operation. Partnerships are easy to set up and can come with benefits.

“If you join in a partnership with your brother, for example, you can build more collateral to buy land,” Sykuta said. He recommends written agreements to assure fairness when it comes to splitting income and work responsibilities. When partnerships involve a large number of people, you probably want to name a managing partner, he added.

On the downside, Sykuta says, general partnerships offer even less liability protection than a sole proprietorship. Again, there’s no legal separation between the partners and the business.

“In addition, your share of the business’s assets may be used to satisfy a partner’s personal debts,” he said.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

According to Sykuta, the LLC structure builds a firewall between your business assets and personal assets such as your home, vehicles and investments.

LLC governance differs from a partnership agreement primarily in that it limits the investor/partner’s liability to the amount of their investment. As Sykuta explained, LLC owners are shareholders. The owners can construct whatever type of operating agreement they think best suits their investment interests and the needs of the business operation, much like a general partnership.

“LLCs are not usually large, but they can be unwieldy,” Sykuta said, adding that the typical operating agreement looks more like a partnership than a corporation. “The beauty of an LLC is that you have more flexibility in designing the operating agreement than with a corporation.”

LLCs can also bring tax benefits. Your income may pass through the company, which means your income as the business owner is taxed just once, at the individual level, similar to a partnership or an S corporation, Sykuta said.

The LLC structure suited the Castens because the siblings and husbands plan to keep working in their full-time jobs as they run the farm together. Jeff retains ownership of the farm, leasing his land and equipment to his daughters and sons-in-law.

“Our dad has set it up in a trust so that when he passes, it gets split among us four sisters. He’s been very transparent about it,” Jill explained. “Years and years and years from now, we know the four of us will be owners of the land and assets, and we will keep on farming it in the meantime.”

S corporation

Our experts agree that, like LLCs, S corporations allow you to choose a tax structure that passes income through the corporation—shareowners are taxed only for their portion of corporate earnings at their personal income level. This structure may benefit owner-managers, Sykuta said.

“Employee taxes and benefits are taken out of your salary by the company,” he said. “Taking less in salary so that your profit income is higher allows you to move some of your earnings to non-self-employment-tax income. However, you have to be paid a reasonable salary for services rendered—you can’t just pay yourself a dollar a year to avoid taxes.”

According to Sykuta and McEowen, S corporations come with rules on who can be shareholders. The company must be based in the U.S. and shareholders must be U.S. citizens, although certain types of trusts and estates can own shares. An S corporation can have no more than 100 shareholders. In addition, S corporations restrict stock types. They may only issue one class of stock, but differences in voting rights are allowed.

“This can create problems for farm families as farms are passed from one generation to the next and more recent generations grow more separated from the farm,” Sykuta said. “Restrictions on voting shares may address some of these concerns, but such restrictions reduce the value of those shares relative to voting shares. Being able to have different classes of shares might allow for other ways of balancing the interests of actively engaged and non-actively engaged family members.”

Since S corporations must pay out dividends regularly, “it can be more difficult to build cash and equity needed to borrow funds,” Sykuta added.

McEowen sees more farming operations switching to LLCs, as S corporations carry a number of negatives.

“Accounting can be more difficult, reasonable compensation for owners is a huge IRS audit issue, and there’s not as much flexibility in allocating income and loss among shareholders,” he said. “Stock ownership restrictions come into play, particularly if the associated estate plan involves a trust.”

C corporation

In this case, Sykuta says, you are taxed twice—on your business level and on your corporate dividends as a shareholder.

On the plus side, you can create different classes of shareholders. “Extended families may choose a C corporation as it allows for different levels of voting rights,” Sykuta says.

No matter what type of structure you choose, consult with tax, legal and other experts—including your banker—before making a decision.   

“It’s important to talk with lawyers and tax experts, but they don’t always appreciate the economic impact of governance and decision-making,” said Sykuta, who works with agricultural organizations on structure issues and researches how different types affect company behavior.   

Settling on the right structure can be complex, and it can take time. Sykuta has been working with one family for four years as they work through transitioning the farm to the next generation.

The Castens know firsthand just how much paperwork and decision-making is involved in changing business structure, but they encourage other farmers to put a defined plan in place so they can avoid family drama when it comes to the operation’s succession.

“I realize how fortunate we are because we are all close as a family but also pragmatic in our approach,” Jill said. “We all want to see the success of our family farm. It’s not going to be perfect, but we have all the business aspects in place to protect ourselves. We’re optimistically looking forward to building Casten Farms in the future and maybe having our nephews and nieces be part of it someday, if they want to.”

For more information, McEowen’s chart, The Relative Advantages and Disadvantages of Various Business Forms, can be found here.

In the Oct. 2017 Issue

Written by webadmin on .

Country Corner
Who are the heroes in your life?
by Allison Jenkins

UpFront / Blog
Something for everyone at Ozark Farmfest
Livestock project premium program rewards hard work
Hops are the newest crop to be studied at MU
Hard day’s night

All aboard the grain train
Central Missouri AGRIService’s new shuttle-loader keeps pace with production
by Allison Jenkins

Agriculture pulls together for Missouri’s hungry children
Industry collaboration yields 1.8 million meals for families, school backpack programs

Elevator for everyone
Clinton cooperative celebrates 100 years 
of serving farming community
by Allison Jenkins

The future of agriculture
Ag leaders share perspectives on what’s ahead for the industry
by Nancy Jorgensen

All for eight seconds  (COVER STORY)
It’s tough to stay on top in riding, raising rodeo bulls
Extended photo slideshow online
by Kerri Lotven

Going viral
Insecticide seed treatments can help prevent damaging wheat diseases
by Jason Worthington
What we’re learning from the dicamba dilemma
New crop protection technology brings both pros and cons
by Dr. Jason Weirich

Lush pastures can equal lung problems for cattle
Take care when moving beef herds from dormant forage to green grasses
by Dr. Jim White

Power tool
Beta-testers praise the utility, versatility of the new PowerCalf Mobile App
by Kerri Lotven

Corn: South American 
competition keeps prices low
Soybeans: Soybean oil 
demand may boost price
Cattle: Cattle herd is largest since 2008
Wheat: World supplies 
continue to influence price

Pigging out
Printed Version
TF's NEW Digital Food Page

BUY, sell, trade

October is cooperative month
by Ernie Verslues

You may view the magazine as printed by CLICKING HERE or
click on the magazine image below to view a flip book of the magazine.









All for eight seconds

Written by Kerri Lotven on .

Eight seconds. That’s the amount of time it takes to complete a qualified bull ride. Eight blood-rushing, heart-pounding seconds in which anything could go awry.

This is where training, talent and tenacity collide. Both the rider and bull have been prepared for those eight seconds, when perseverance pays off and hard work is put to the test. Reach that magic mark, and the rider has done something very few have achieved. The bull? Well, he’s done his job, too.

“When that whistle goes off, it’s just a rush,” said 22-year-old Cole Bass, a bull rider and fighter from Jonesburg, Mo. “It’s like everything you’ve worked for is clicking and coming together.”

It takes a certain kind of person to climb on a 2,000-pound bucking bull, strap one hand by a rope to the animal’s back and try to stay on top for those eight seconds. Though “crazy” may come to mind, it’s not the word that truly describes these cowboys. Tough. Determined. Daring. Fearless. That’s more like it.

“Bull riding is just like any other extreme sport,” said Isaiah Dunn of Warrensburg, Mo., a former rider and current owner of Amped Up Productions Pro Bull Riding Tour. “It’s something that most people wouldn’t do, and there’s something about knowing that you can.”

Bass began riding at 9 years old worked his way up through the age divisions. Through his career, he’s earned the titles of reserve state champion, state champion and National Federation of Professional Bull Riders Rookie of the Year, and he’s taken home 22 buckles and one saddle.

His laundry list of awards is only surpassed by his laundry list of injuries, something he has in common with most of his fellow bull riders. In fact, Bass has retired due to the injuries he’s sustained. He tore a ligament in his riding hand that required multiple surgeries. He has two foot-long scars along each side of his right arm from compartment syndrome, which is dangerously excessive pressure inside his muscles. He’s broken both ankles, his jaw, his ribs and his nose.

He’s now taken up bullfighting, which allows him to continue to be around the sport. Turns out, he’s good at it.

“Having ridden bulls prior to fighting them, I know a lot of things to look out for,” Bass said. “I’ve been in the situations. I know what’s going to happen. I know where I need to be and the timing part of it. It all comes naturally.”

Occasionally, Bass still rides. At the Sept. 2 Riding for Our Veterans event hosted by Amped Up Productions in Lathrop, Mo., Bass filled in for a rider who didn’t show. It was one of a handful of times he’s ridden since his last surgery two years ago. He took home a buckle that night.

“I love the sport,” Bass said. “And I want to be around it the rest of my life, whether I’m riding or fighting.”

Trey Holston, an 18-year-old rider from Fort Scott, Kan., echoed that sentiment.

“It’s not the safest job you can have, but like any other extreme sport, it’s fun, and the danger is part of that,” Holston said. “You’re not going to avoid injury, but there is technique to staying as safe as possible, and you’ve got to just keep getting back on.”

Indeed, a rider’s technique plays a major part in his ability to complete a qualified ride, and that technique must become second nature. While mastering the skills can be achieved in different ways, the primary principle is to move with the bull, Holston explained. When the bull rears back, the rider needs to lean forward. When the bull kicks, the rider should sit down and lean his chest back. If the bull is moving toward the left, a rider puts his weight on the left leg, and vice versa.

During it all, the rider tries to keep his mind clear and rely on instinct.

“If you’re thinking about the way you’re supposed to be riding while the bull is bucking, you’re already behind,” Holston said. “It takes too long to think when you’re dealing with something that happens in a matter of seconds. You have to practice so much that it’s just a reaction to make the correct moves to stay on. It’s such a reaction-based sport that it’s best to just let things happen.”

Most riders tell a version of this. Isaac Toliver, now 21, started riding bulls when he was 12 and works with Dunn on his ranch.

“Every ride is different, but bull riding is one of the sports where you really want to stay out of your head,” Toliver said. “You just want to let your body react.”

It takes a tremendous amount of training to get to the point of instinctive reaction. Staying on a bucking bull amounts to balance and strength. Riders focus on their core and leg muscles to maintain that balance. They may also practice with a barrel, which is often mechanical to simulate the bull’s moves. Bass said he believes the best method is riding a horse bareback.

“Riding a horse feels pretty similar to riding a bull, and you can practice your motions,” he said. “It’s the best thing for you.”

While it takes a special type of person to ride a bucking bull, it takes a special kind of animal to be a bucking bull. Raising a top-performing rodeo bull takes both nature and nurture, according to Ernest Brauch, who handles the bucking bulls for Lucas Cattle Company in Wheatland, Mo. Lucas sponsors Amped Up events, and Brauch enters the ranch’s bulls as a stock contractor.

“An elite-level bucking bull is kind of like an elite-level race horse,” Brauch said. “In my opinion, it’s almost just a freak of genetics. That’s what everyone tries to do in raising bucking bulls. They’re trying to find that special one.”

Brauch began raising bucking bulls in 2013 and is currently caring for nine bulls, 10 heifers and seven calves, four of which are bulls. He also oversees the commercial herd on Lucas Ranch, which is owned by Lucas Oil Products founder Forrest Lucas and his wife, Charlotte. Soon, Brauch will begin to see if those bull calves are bound for future rodeos.

“Not every bull calf turns out to be a bucking bull,” Brauch said, “because not every calf will buck. It’s just instinct.”

When a bull is about 1 year old, Brauch will place a soft cotton rope around the calf’s flank. This flank strap lightly brushes against the animal’s lower abdomen, letting him know there’s something there. The calf will either buck against the rope, or he won’t. Brauch repeats this process on a couple of different occasions to determine each calf’s potential.

Bucking bulls are raised similarly to their commercial cattle counterparts, which means nutrition is just as important. While the calves are growing in their first year, Brauch feeds them 1 percent of their body weight daily, and they all receive MFA Shield Technology in their ration.

“I want to put some muscle mass on them for a little while before we start to lean them up for bucking,” Brauch explained.

Once Brauch determines the calves’ potential, he uses a dummy to simulate a rider on the bull’s back. Around 3 years old, the bulls will begin competing with a live rider. At that point, the bull will know his job. When that rodeo chute opens, the bull is judged and receives a score, just like his rider.

“They’re athletes,” Brauch said. “They know when they get into the arena, they’re part of the performance.”

The truly elite bulls are difficult to come by, he said. No amount of training can account for raw talent. And like racehorses, elite level bucking bulls can make the owner a significant amount of money, both in winnings and worth. Most bucking bulls can sell anywhere from $3,000-$10,000, but Brauch said he’s seen one go for $250,000.

“At that point, it’s whatever a buyer is willing to pay,” he said. “And you never know when a bull is going to reach his prime. It could be when they’re 6 years old. It could be when they’re 3.”

For participants, bull riding is more than just talent and training, he added. It’s tradition.

“It’s our history,” said Brauch. “Cattle made this country, in my opinion. If it weren’t for people setting up homesteads and raising cattle in the 1800s, we wouldn’t be here. Cattle put us on the map, and rodeos started as contests to test ranchers’ skills. It was something to do to have fun.”

In the spirit of this tradition, many riders have their sights set on a professional rodeo career, while some, such as Colton Michael of Kearney, Mo., would rather follow Brauch’s path.

“Everyone wants to do what you love for a living,” Michael said, “but you can’t ride forever. A lot of bull riders, when they retire, start raising bucking bulls. It only comes natural. That’s what I’d like to do, eventually. But right now, I’m just going to concentrate on making it to finals.”

The future of agriculture

Written by Nancy Jorgensen on .

Verslues outlines future challenges for producers and MFA

Ernie Verslues has been president and CEO of MFA Incorporated since 2015. He has 29 years of cooperative business experience at MFA, including stints as a regional manager and chief financial officer. MFA Incorporated provides products, services and professional advice to 45,000 farmers and ranchers in five states. Verslues was raised on a dairy farm near Taos, Mo.

1. What significant issues does MFA face?
No. 1 is the farm economy. Given today’s commodity prices and input costs, it’s a tough time for producers, and that impacts agribusiness. MFA’s success will always be tied to the success of our member-owners. Next, our success is tied to the strength of our workforce. MFA employees are talented and passionate, but it’s becoming more challenging to fill some key positions—particularly drivers and applicators. Thirdly, regulations continue to add costs to our operations that can’t be recouped.

2. Is MFA changing to meet the needs of farmers?
MFA offers robust precision farming and livestock programs and a strong farm supply and grain marketing presence. We continue to push boundaries as new technology becomes available. Our precision team has experience with the equipment and data analysis it takes to make variable-rate planting a reality. While that’s not widely adopted in our trade territory yet, we know the technology’s value. We have also seen substantial growth in pasture and hay acres enrolled in precision programs. For livestock producers, PowerCalf is a new approach to herd management that uses data collection and processing to improve production. We recently announced a new component in our Health Track program that includes genetic information to give buyers even more confidence in the potential of calves in the program. MFA Shield Technology delivers health benefits to livestock without needing a Veterinary Feed Directive. We are leaders in this technology.

3. Why does MFA continue to thrive?
All of our services came about because of a need in the marketplace. MFA was formed more than 100 years ago to fill a void. Our longevity can be attributed to a commitment to change, and change will keep occurring at a faster pace. Every day, employees throughout MFA anticipate the next challenges and opportunities facing our member-owners. We will continue to innovate and focus on increasing our market share in the areas we serve, evaluating costs and becoming more efficient.

4. How important are cooperatives like MFA?
One of the principles of a cooperative is to provide economic benefit to member owners. You won’t always see this in our day-to-day transactions, but cooperatives provide a competitive environment for producers. We provide rural jobs, distribute earnings to members and invest in local communities. To remain strong, we must stay in touch with member-owners to maintain interest in local operations and cooperative governance.

5. What do you see for agriculture under President Trump?
I believe the outlook is positive, but time will tell. Despite his limited background in agriculture, the President filled the Secretary of Agriculture and the EPA Administrator positions with business- and agriculture-friendly individuals. Both bring experience and common sense to their roles. However, producers remain concerned about the next farm bill, renewable fuel standards, crop insurance and trade policies.

6. What’s your financial forecast for U.S. producers?
Most producers entered this downturn in fairly good financial shape, but the last few years ate into working capital and equity. As with any business, those who manage costs stand the best chance of success. Can the producer increase production, spread costs over more acres and animals, postpone equipment purchases, walk away from excessive cash rents or find other ways to increase efficiencies? These are tough strategic decisions. If this environment continues, creditors will force decisions. It’s an especially difficult time for young farmers and ranchers to get started.

7. How can we turn things around?
Cycles aren’t new to agriculture, and the farm economy will improve. But don’t expect the good times experienced from 2010 to 2014 to return. We continue to increase U.S. production, and growth in usage must come from trade. China may become a new market for beef, but we need to move our carryover of corn, beans and wheat.

8. Can we build support for agriculture?  
Many organizations do a good job of advocating for agriculture, and MFA is one of them. But nothing is more powerful than a producer discussing his or her farming practices and stewardship commitment with the public. Consumers want to know more about food, and their biggest concerns include GMOs, antibiotics and animal welfare. Without more help from producers, we can’t combat the negativity put forward by activists and environmental groups. Agricultural producers make up less than 2 percent of the population; we’ve got to educate the other 98 percent.

9. What’s your dream for the future?
For farmers to be able to continue doing what they love to do—to grow safe, healthy and affordable food. As an industry, we are forced to spend too much time addressing issues that distract us from that and add unnecessary costs to our operations. One day I hope regulators, activists and social media critics understand the value we provide in production agriculture—we are true stewards of the land, air and water.

Fleck and CFI strive to earn consumer trust

The Center for Food Integrity celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, and Terry Fleck has been executive director from the beginning. This not-for-profit organization, based in Gladstone, Mo., helps the food industry earn trust by engaging with the public to provide balanced, credible information on how food is produced. The center is supported by farmers, farm organizations and food companies. Previously, Fleck was with the Indiana Pork Producers Council and the U.S. Grains Council.

1. What’s the focus at the Center for Food Integrity? 
The public is more interested than ever before in how food is produced, who’s producing it, what’s in it and how it impacts health. Skepticism is prevalent, particularly with biotechnology. Our goal is to earn trust.

2. Has consumer trust declined?
CFI research shows that most consumers like and trust farmers, but they don’t trust “big ag.” The perception is that “big ag” and “big food” will put profit ahead of public interest. The latest survey shows that 80 percent have a strong desire to learn more about how food is produced. It’s a golden opportunity for the agriculture community to commit to long-term public engagement. We must demonstrate that while farming has changed, values regarding high standards in animal care, food production and environmental stewardship remain strong.    

3. When did trust levels begin to fall?
When Roundup Ready seed and other biotechnology breakthroughs were introduced in the 1990s, scientific studies and regulatory bodies concluded they were safe. Engaging the public wasn’t given much consideration. This unintentional lack of transparency eroded trust in biotech and the food system.

4. What are you doing to build trust?
The CFI trust model demonstrates that communicating shared values is three-to-five times more important to building trust than simply sharing facts and science. The public wants to know that you’re doing the right things for the right reasons. Here’s how we can help:

  • In our 2017 consumer research, set for release this fall, we uncover perceptions toward information coming from governments, non-profits, traditional media and consumers’ personal tribes as it pertains food. This will help us evaluate to what extent consumers look to reaffirm existing beliefs and how to best engage to earn their trust.
  • Our “Engage” in-person training program equips participants with tools to engage with the public using the power of shared values in one-on-one conversations, online and in media interviews. That same curriculum is now offered through “Engage Online,” our self-paced training program.
  • We also form coalitions on important food topics including the Coalition for Responsible Gene Editing and the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply.

5. What’s your dream for consumer and producer relations?
Agriculture’s goal should be to embrace authentic transparency. We can’t assume that the public knows we prioritize safety and care about health, animal well-being and the environment. Consumers want details so they can decide for themselves. To learn more, visit www.foodintegrity.org.

 Rural communities
Chinn wants to do MORE for agriculture

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens appointed Chris Chinn as Director of Agriculture in January. A fifth-generation Missouri farmer, Chinn has served on the boards of the Missouri Farm Bureau and the Missouri Pork Association and participated in Agriculture Leaders of Tomorrow. She is a long-time advocate of agriculture through social media and public speaking.

1. What’s your focus as Director of Agriculture?
In May, we rolled out our vision for the Department of Agriculture—MORE—which is about enhancing the quality of life in rural Missouri and building on the proud tradition of our farmers and ranchers. The focus is on four pillars: feed MORE, reach MORE, connect MORE and empower MORE.  

2. What other ideas will you advocate?
Rural communities depend on farmers and ranchers as much as farmers and ranchers depend on rural communities. Right now, rural areas have a competitive disadvantage when it comes to business development, healthcare, education and farming techniques because of a lack of high-speed internet. The Federal Communications Commission’s Broadband Progress Report reveals that 20 percent of all Missourians don’t have access to high-speed internet. I will bring the right people together to ensure that broadband access is available every last mile.

3.  How will the department change under your leadership?  
As we launch the MORE vision, we have asked department employees what they think we can do better. We’ll use that feedback and other observations to determine how we can better serve the state’s 99,000 farmers and ranchers. We’ll also encourage feedback on rules in the Code of State Regulations.

4. What do you foresee for departmental regulations?
Gov. Greitens understands that agriculture is an area of strength for Missouri, and he wants to empower farmers and ranchers to do what they do best—raise quality food. He is taking aim at reducing the amount of burdensome and unnecessary rules. Via executive order, he halted the addition of any new rules between Jan. 10 and Feb. 28, 2017, and called for a thorough review of every state agency rule.

5. What can you do to build support for agriculture?
One of the main pillars of MORE is reach MORE. Everyone in the world eats and we as farmers need to connect with consumers. I will continue to be a strong advocate for sharing the farm story through social media and traditional media.  

6. Will agriculture continue as a bright spot in terms of trade? 
In my role as director, I talk with farmers and ranchers as well as consumers about the importance of trade. Missouri agriculture is extremely diverse. From corn and soybeans in the north and cotton and rice in the south, our producers need markets to sell their goods. The department’s marketing staff works every day to help farmers identify and secure new markets.

7. How can you enhance success for tomorrow’s farmers?
I’m passionate about making rural Missouri a place where our children and grandchildren can thrive. My goal is to ensure that my children, Rachelle and Conner, have an opportunity to live in a community with same amenities I had when I moved back.

FFA leader Aaron Mott preps for a future in agriculture

Aaron Mott, 18, is vice president of Missouri FFA. He graduated from David H. Hickman High School in Columbia, Mo., in May 2017 and is studying agricultural education and leadership at the University of Missouri. He hopes to work for a genetics company and raise sheep and cattle. His dad, Jason Mott, is corporate credit manager at MFA Incorporated and his mom, Becky, works for University of Missouri Extension. He partners with his brother, Andy, to raise registered Polled Herefords.

1. Why do you want a career in agriculture?  
I’ve known I would enter this field since I was 4, when I wanted to be a cowboy. Grandpa Mott ran a slaughterhouse in western Missouri, and Grandpa Ridder raises registered Polled Herefords on the east side of the state. I want to make a difference for someone, just like my family influenced me. Feeding people is a huge responsibility, and farmers don’t take it lightly. While we love and care for our animals, we also understand why they are on the earth. It is a job that we love, one that is often not the most recognized or held in the highest regard, but it’s vital.

2. Has your FFA experience prepared you for the future?
FFA developed my leadership skills and brought me out of my shy stage. I gained skills in public speaking, livestock evaluation, animal science, veterinary science and real-life experience.

3. You raised sheep for your FFA Supervised Agricultural Experience. Why sheep?
I own 15 Hampshire sheep, a dual-purpose breed raised for meat and wool. I sell lambs to kids who want to show them at the county fair. I purchased ewes from my great-uncle, Dean, and great-grandad, Houghton, several years ago. My great-uncle, Tom, started the flock in the 1950s as his FFA project, and that heritage is special to me. Sheep have the highest profit margins of any major livestock species and thrive on rougher ground. Through my project, we learned we could companion-graze sheep with our cattle. As farmland availability decreases, companion grazing may be an alternative for producers to consider. 

4.  How will your part-time jobs in the university genetic engineering lab and at a veterinary clinic impact your future?  
Working at the vet clinic helps me learn more about how to care for my own livestock. My experience has already helped me catch early signs of illness, treat it, and prevent a bigger problem. I’m excited about genetic engineering because it solves problems for producers while helping to end world hunger.

5. Can we bridge the gap between farmers and consumers?
Consumer distrust comes from a lack of understanding. Many people in the U.S. are four generations removed from the farm. Agriculture Days at Hickman High School is one of my favorite events. Students who aren’t familiar with animals come face-to-face with a cow, pig or goat. For some of these students, I may be the only livestock producer they’ve ever talked with. Real-life, hands-on experiences can make a difference for consumers.



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