4-H champions

Written by Nancy Jorgensen on .

Riley Tade is just 17, but he has a stack of ribbons to show for his work in 4-H livestock projects. Even though cerebral palsy renders him unable to stand independently, he still goes into the ring. A friend ties his Boer goats behind his walker when Riley shows them. His parents work in town and raise goats and horses on a small farm near Ashland, Mo.

Another 17-year-old 4-Her, Corbin Bell’s resume runs as long as some presidential candidates’. He shows steers at 4-H events with enviable success, selecting the best prospects from his family’s cattle operation near Higginsville, Mo.

Riley and Corbin are two of the nation’s 6.3 million 4-H participants. 4-H, which claims to be the nation’s largest youth organization, was formed through cooperative Extension programs and land grant universities more than 100 years ago to teach rural youth agricultural skills. Today the program embraces urban kids, too. Across the globe, young people participate in everything from rocketry to nutrition.

But Riley and Corbin prove that farm kids continue to benefit.

For Riley, goats are the right fit

Riley Tade’s story is as impressive as any 4-H competitor, especially when you consider the obstacles he’s overcome in his five years in Boone County 4-H. Riley doesn’t talk much, so we heard his story from his parents, Jennifer and Steve Tade.

For Riley, handling a steer would be daunting, but Boer goats are just the right size. The breed, raised for meat across the globe, has become popular in 4-H over the past 25 years. “They’re smaller than cattle and sheep,” Steve Tade explained. In addition, the gestation period for a cow is nine months, and most cows drop one calf each time while goats gestate for five months and usually produce twins.

When we spoke to Steve in February, the family was selecting the baby goats Riley will show at the county fair in late July.

Riley has a buck and 14 does, and he raises approximately 25 kids a year,” Steve said. “We do not eat the goats—we sell them, mainly to local 4-Hers.” Riley specializes in wether-producing does. Also, Riley sold two wethers at a consignment sale this spring.

Riley takes the money he earns from goat sales and reinvests in his herd. “We are always improving genetics,” Steve said. “We have invested in artificial insemination on some does, and tried embryo transfers. Riley needs his goats to be gentle, and he starts working on them at a young age to tame them.” Goats can be difficult to contain. “We have electric fence, which is key,” Steve said.

Every day, Riley spends at least an hour after school feeding and caring for the goats. The time lengthens as the fair approaches. “A lot of things are a challenge for Riley, but he wants to do as much himself as he can,” Steve said.

The University of Missouri Extension recently interviewed Riley for a story about the growing number of 4-H members with special needs. The article explained how Riley moves through the barn on a rolling stool, scoops feed, scrubs water buckets and trains baby goats to lead before they’re weaned. “I’m tough as nails,” Riley told the interviewer.

Riley is the Tades’ only child. Steve, who sells insurance and Jennifer, a corporate insurance trainer, are dedicated to Riley’s goat project. Steve designed and fabricated a hook for Riley’s walker that allows Riley to lead the goats. The family border collie, Myrty, moves the goats through an exercise pen to build their muscles.

Creighton Sapp, a former member of Riley’s 4-H club, has helped out at shows by attaching Riley’s goats to his walker, even when he was competing with Riley. He takes them off the lead and sets them up for the judge to feel their muscles.

“Riley always has a positive attitude and has fun,” Steve said. During the county fair, which runs Monday through Saturday, Riley stays in the family trailer’s living quarters at the fairgrounds. “He hangs out in the barn, plays cards with his friends, has water fights, that type of thing,” Steve said. “We make him go home for a few hours once in a while to take a nap and chill.”

Last October, Riley showed his goats at the American Royal Livestock Show in Kansas City. “The quality of animals ran deep; it was the toughest show Riley has participated in,” Jennifer said. “He placed fifth in one class.” The family also took Riley to Denver’s National Western Stock Show goat event in January. “Riley has his sights set on Denver for 2017.”

Besides showing goats, Riley cures country hams that he enters in the county fair. In 2015, his ham qualified for the state fair.

“We love 4-H because of the amazing people we have met,” Jennifer said. “Riley looks forward every month to the meetings. He enjoys visiting with friends about his projects.”

After high school, Riley plans to stay on the farm. He also dreams of becoming an auctioneer. He records his favorite auctioneers on TV and treks to the local sale barn the first Thursday of each month. Every Monday night, he practices his auctioneering skills at home.

4-H steers Corbin Bell in the right direction

Corbin showed hogs for six years, raising three grand champions at the Lafayette County Fair and taking a market hog title at the State Fair. In 2012, he switched to steers, and in 2014 won the county grand champion carcass competition.

“There’s a bigger payoff for beef than hogs,” Corbin explained. “We eat the beef I raise and sell some to family members and locals. It helps pay for my gas.”

The secret to his success? “Quality,” Corbin said. “All my steers are finished and conditioned in our family feedlot. We steadily improve by upgrading our bulls and through artificial insemination.”

Corbin also gets help from his big brother Mason, a large animal veterinarian and former member of Oklahoma State’s Livestock Judging team. He’s the 4-H project leader for Corbin’s livestock projects and helps Corbin select four calves as show candidates from the family feedlot.

Corbin’s dad, Steve Bell, farms full-time with his father, Robert. They raise 150 Angus-cross cow/calf pairs and grow soybeans, corn, wheat, hay and pasture. Steve serves on the county fair board. Corbin’s mom Kim, a special education teacher, has been a 4-H volunteer leader for 20 years and runs the concession stand at the county fair. Corbin’s sister Ashley, who works at the University of Kansas Hospital as the Lead Cancer Registrar, also led clubs and projects.

It takes more than family support and quality animals to create a champion, and Corbin is self-driven. “For two months before the county fair, I spend one to two hours each night halter-breaking my steers,” Corbin said. Along the way, he selects the two best steers to show—last year he named them Ben and Jerry. By show time, each weighs about 1,300 pounds, which can be a handful. Mason helps by trimming the steers’ heads, and Corbin washes the animals every other day three weeks before the fair, and every day the week prior.

“No one knows how much effort goes on,” Corbin said. “Hard work pays off.”

It’s not easy to catch Corbin. He takes part in everything from varsity basketball and track to church, choir and the National Honor Society.

Ina Linville, director of Missouri 4-H, reports that the most active ages for 4-H participants run from kindergarten through eighth grade. While she didn’t spell out the reason, the numbers likely tend to fall off in high school as interest turns to other activities. For farm kids, that includes FFA. Corbin is treasurer of his local FFA chapter.

Still, Corbin has stuck with 4-H for 10 years. He participated in projects including livestock judging, forage and grains, public speaking and photography. In 2014, he was crowned Lafayette County 4-H King. He’s past president of the Lafayette County 4-H Council, and those leadership skills took him on an expense-paid trip to the National 4-H Congress in Atlanta last year. This year, he was one of six 4-Hers earning the Missouri Key Award, was named a representative for the Northwest 4-H Region in Missouri, and recently attended the 4-H legislative academy. Next, he hopes to become a state officer.

“Participating in 4-H hasn’t been an option for me,” Corbin said. “My great aunt and great grandmother started our Hazel Dell 4-H Club in 1950. My whole family’s heavily involved, and the roots run deep.” Nationally, 4-H has more than 3,000 volunteer leaders.

Corbin also credits his local Extension 4-H coordinator, Kathy Bondy, now retired, for pushing him to fill out applications and “strive for greatness.” Linville gives county Extension employees a lot of credit. “They are the face of 4-H at the local level,” she said.

For the future, Corbin plans to earn his master’s degree and become an accountant, eventually working in agricultural finance.

Corbin’s family purchases feed and minerals at MFA Agri Services in Higginsville. MFA regularly purchases animals at the county fair from Corbin and other contenders and supports 4-H in other ways.

4-H struggles to change and grow

Across MFA country, almost every county has at least one 4-H Club supported by a small army of volunteers, Extension employees, local sponsors and alumni donors.

“One of every five Missourians between the ages of five and 18 participates in 4-H,” says Ina Linville, state director of 4-H at the University of Missouri. Her organization recently conducted a survey showing that 21 percent of all 4-Hers live on a farm and 41 percent live in a town of fewer than 10,000 people. The rest live in suburban or urban areas.

Linville appreciates how MFA supports 4-H through sponsorships and other contributions. “MFA and its Agri Services locations also buy a lot of animals at fairs,” she said, which helps defer expenses that 4-H kids bear when raising animals. “MFA also supports robotics, and it’s exploding.”

Besides private funds, 4-H charges program participant fees, seeks grants and obtains funds from the government. However, Linville reported that state and federal support for 4-H has been flat for 10 to 15 years, and took a hit as many Extension programs froze hiring and cut budgets. National 4-H Council total liabilities and assets declined from $39 million in 2013 to $34 million in 2014—the last years figures were available on www.4-H.org.

In Missouri and Kansas, things are looking up. Missouri added more faculty and staff in the last two years. “We’re looking to grow in 2016,” Linville said. 4-H plans to expand in-school programs on timely topics such as DNA and biotech.

“Agriculture is becoming more technical,” Linville said. “We’re preparing kids for the 21st-century workforce.” For example, 4-H offers programs on goal-setting and problem-solving. 4-H members are two times as likely to go on to higher education and three times as likely to enter science fields, she added.

Sarah Keatley, events coordinator for Kansas 4-H, agrees that private giving is up, and public is down. Still, she says Kansas 4-H has grown from 60,000 participants in 2014 to more than 86,000 in 2015.

In the April 2016 Issue

Written by webadmin on .

Family Farming

Written by Nancy Jorgensen on .

If there’s one area where Garrett Riekhof and Paige Pratt agree, it’s that communication is the secret to successfully farming with family members.

Garrett and Cara Riekhof grow white corn and soybeans near Higginsville, Missouri. They employ Cara’s brother Chad Copenhaver, and Cara’s cousin’s husband Justin Thompson.

“I work with a great team, but managing employees is the hardest part of running the business,” Garrett said. “It takes constant communication to make sure we’re all pulling in the same direction on the rope.”

Paige and her husband Jason partner with Paige’s brother, Jace Johnson, Jace’s wife Amy, and Paige’s and Jace’s parents Gary and Jody Johnson. Together, they operate an Angus ranch near Dwight, Kansas.

“We work on communicating as a family every day, and run the place on consensus,” Paige said. “There’s no ramming your agenda through.”

With the Riekhofs and the Pratts, the older generation relinquished farm leadership, leaving the younger generation in charge. They agree, this helped make the transitions work. Their stories diverge from there.

Garrett’s employees work as a team

Garrett and Cara Riekhof are in their fifth year of taking over the farm. Garrett’s parents, Gary and Glenda Riekhof, were busy with their crop insurance business and gave up the farm’s management in 2011.

“Dad was ready to slow down and let me make my own mistakes,” Garrett said. “Cara and I are proud to be the fourth generation on the farm.”

Garrett worked with his dad full-time beginning in 2003 when Garrett graduated from the University of Missouri in agricultural economics. Over time, Gary slowly gave up bits of responsibility. “When Dad asked me if I was ready to take over, he caught me by surprise,” Garrett said. “I appreciate the way he stepped away financially and physically, but still offers constructive criticism.”

Mom and Dad didn’t foot the bill. Garrett obtained financing through U.S. Bank in Higginsville as well as FCS Financial. When it comes to equipment, he shops for the best financing, which often comes from the dealer.

Cara’s brother, Chad Copenhaver, worked as a herdsman on another farm before he joined the Riekhof team. Today he spends a third of his time at the Riekhofs, and his other hours working for his and Cara’s parents, Gary and Barb Copenhaver, on their cattle operation.

Justin Thompson, Cara’s cousin’s husband, specializes in spraying. Garrett’s high-school buddy, Brett Wahn, fills out the employee roster, handling equipment maintenance and earthwork, including tile trenching and terracing.

“Employing friends and family comes with more risk but more reward,” Garrett said. “All our employees have a sense of ownership and respect for what we’re trying to do.”

Garrett focuses on growing crops. He rents 1,400 acres on his own—half from his parents and the other half from his dad’s former landlords. “I’ve been able to continue working with most of them,” Garrett said, explaining that many renters worry about losing landlords. “In this time of high land sale prices, renting is the only path to making money.”

Garrett’s responsibility expands when you count the land he farms with two neighboring partners. Working with these partners also requires selflessness, trust and communication, he adds.
On any given day, Garrett’s team might work miles apart. One’s in the office, two work on separate farms, and a fourth repairs machinery. Cell phones keep them in touch, but Garrett tries to stay off the phone each evening when he gets home to the family.

Garrett and Cara keep nine head of cattle—enough so their children can show livestock. They’re raising Annika, 10, Makenna, six and the baby, Garrison. “At the end of every day possible, we go for a Gator ride to feed the cows or throw rocks in the creek,” Garrett said. “I love bringing legislators and consumers here for tours so they can see how we store grain and use equipment to operate our farm.

Garrett reviews his employees at least once a year, and asks the employees’ wives to attend. “Working Monday through Friday is a pipe dream,” he said. “The wife may not understand why I need her husband to work Sunday afternoon during a soccer game. I want her to know that if he works his tail off now, he’ll get four-day weekends later. I pride myself on being flexible and taking empathy into the equation when considering those who help me.”

The Riekhofs didn’t hire a transition facilitator, but Garrett is pleased that his parents shared their estate plan with him and his sister. Garrett continues to work with an accountant, a financial planner and an attorney.

While Garrett appreciates the progress made by previous generations on the farm, technology and precision farming drive his future. “I want the acres I have now to operate at peak efficiency,” he said. “That takes good communication with landlords about what we’re both willing to spend to improve the land.”

Paige’s family hires a facilitator

More than two years ago, Paige’s parents offered her and Jason the opportunity to move their Angus operation from Jason’s family farm in Virginia to the Johnson farm in Kansas. Gary and Jody hired a family farm transition facilitator, and the entire family met with her several times over 10 months.

“We wanted to make sure this was the right opportunity for us before we moved,” Paige said. In the end, Jace and Amy, Paige and Jason, and Gary and Jody formed Johnson Farms LLC. An older brother, Chad, opted to farm on his own.
Paige and Jason purchased the cattle and equipment from Jason’s parents in 2011. “Jason and his father negotiated a price and we took out a note to pay them,” Paige said. The couple owned and operated Echo Ridge Farm in Virginia until they moved to Kansas with their cattle and equipment more than a year ago.

“The facilitator taught us the importance of communication,” Paige said. “Amy and I have off-the-farm jobs which don’t allow us to participate in the operation on a daily basis; that doesn’t mean we aren’t interested. We have family meetings regularly and make big decisions together.” They share a family calendar listing things like soccer games for Jace and Amy’s son Jhet, and try to make sure the parents can attend.

The family raises feeder cattle and purchases stocker calves—high-risk animals that may have been mismanaged and sell at a lower price. “We give the stockers vaccinations and antibiotics if needed, and feed them for 45 to 60 days,” Paige explained. The family also grows some feed—they grind hay, shell corn and chop sorghum for silage. They shop for the best price and quality on distiller’s grains.

While they do things like put up hay together, everyone has a specialty. Jason enjoys raising the cow/calf pairs with Gary. Jace likes working with stocker cattle, raising crops and maintaining equipment. The guys feed the cattle each morning while Paige goes to work as district administrator with the Kansas Farm Bureau, where she covers the northeastern corner of the state. She attended Kansas State and earned a Ph.D. in cattle genetics from Texas Tech.

The Pratts love raising their children on the farm—Elizabeth, age two and Garrett, who’s almost one. “We want to leave a legacy for them,” Paige said. “But we earned the right to be involved in the farm, and we want our children to do the same.”

Paige encourages older farmers to develop estate plans that seem fair to the younger generation, whose members work long hours with little pay. “For example, my brother could make good money as a mechanic,” Paige said. “He needs to know what he’ll earn down the road.”

In addition, Paige thinks parents must bring up the estate plan first—it won’t work if the children prompt the discussion. “If the parents don’t develop and share their plan and there’s a fight over the farm, the young people can lose everything in a heartbeat,” she said. “The only winners in those cases are the attorneys. Our parents had the foresight to give us the best shot to be successful and carry on our farming tradition.”

Val Farmer offers his secrets

Psychologist Val Farmer has spent his life helping farm families. For years, his syndicated advice column appeared in local newspapers throughout the Midwest. Today he’s semi-retired and living in Wildwood, Mo., but continues to mediate with farm families, helping them manage the transition to the next generation.

Before leading a mediation session, Farmer speaks to each family member by phone to learn of any sore points. Then he meets with the entire family in person for a day and a half, teaching listening skills while using the sore points as topics.

  • Everyone is given the chance to speak.
  • The speaker may express any feelings, but must control nonverbal communication such as tone of voice.
  • Listeners cannot interrupt.
  • The listener then summarizes what he/she heard from the speaker. He may not agree, but demonstrates that he understands the point of view. “As a coach, if I catch the listener giving an opinion, I remind him that it’s his job to show understanding,” Farmer said.
  • The listener asks open-ended questions to draw out the speaker’s feelings. “Some people ask questions like a lawyer, waiting to smuggle in their opinion,” Farmer said. “I want the listener to be curious about what the speaker says.”
  • All sides should minimize details and focus on the big issues.
  • The speaker can transfer the floor when he’s done. Or the listener, after echoing the speaker’s points, can ask to speak.
  • Once ground rules are set and the meeting starts, no one can walk out.

“The key to negotiation is to understand both sides,” Farmer said. “You can’t solve problems until you do that. It may take a lot of pain, but then you can brainstorm solutions together.”

In addition, Farmer said, the older generation should develop a game plan long before they’re 65; their health could break down, or the spouse’s interests may extend beyond the farm. “The worst-case situation comes when an older farmer doesn’t develop an estate plan, making the next generation doubt what will happen next.”

Family farm mediators may be in short supply, Farmer reports, but they’re available.

In this Issue

Written by TF Staff on .

Multi-variety planters bring another layer to precısion agriculture

Written by Thad Becker on .

Equipment engineering is catching up with an idea that has been floating around in the precision agriculture industry for a while—the ability to switch seed varieties on the fly.

For years seed experts have told us that if you put the right variety in the right part of the field, you will seldom be disappointed with its performance. We spend a lot of time analyzing plots and picking the varieties we want on our farms, but we have to manage for our average acre, not our best or worst ground.

If you’re like me, there is always the urge to plant that “Corvette” corn hybrid and push it to its limits to see just what yield can be achieved. But more sober moments arrive: I remember that slope with thinner top soil on the far half of the field. I think about what a wreck that variety might cause over there if the weather isn’t just right. With that thought in mind, I pull back from the highest yield scenario and choose a more durable “farm truck” hybrid instead.

MFA has good soil in its trade area that can support those Corvette hybrids. Unfortunately it seems to come in 5- to10-acre chunks. Multi-variety planters will give us the opportunity to stay on the gas in those good areas with a high performance variety, but still pull through in the tough spots with a workhorse variety.

Currently there are two ways to get a multi-variety planter. You can buy a new planter from Kinze. Last year they released the 4900 Multi-Hybrid. Or, you can have VSet Select from Precision Planting retrofitted on your current planter.

The mechanics behind the retrofit involve putting two independently driven seed meters on each row. The seed meters are driven by electric motors and a controller in the cab. The controller tells each motor when to start and stop. It also can vary population on the go. The seed meters sit face-to-face and both drop seed down the same seed tube—allowing for seamless transitions from one variety to the next.

There may not be many farms with a multi-variety planter this year, but I believe we need to start preparing for the technology. Here in MFA territory, we deal with some of the most variable soils in the United States. We may, for once, have more to gain from this variable-rate precision technology than other row crop regions. To use these planters effectively, though, we need clearly identified management zones to locate the variety transitions in the field. Finding those zones takes some time and effort, but it is the same information that underlies other precision management on your farm.

First, the variation in your field needs to be identified, typically using historic yield data or imagery. Once you can identify areas of high and low yield, you need to identify the root cause of those variations. At MFA, use a handful of tools to find the cause of variability. Soil testing, electrical conductivity data, landscape, and perhaps most importantly, grower experience help to solve the puzzle. It’s only once we understand the root cause of crop performance differences in the field, that we can identify varieties that excel in those conditions and place them correctly.

I believe that in the not-too-distant future multi-variety planting will become standard practice. Research from South Dakota State shows a consistent 6-bushel-per-acre response in corn—and that is with currently available varieties. In the future, I believe we will see seed that is targeted to specific soil conditions, which will make per-acre gains larger.

These are exciting times. To make multiple-variety planting work, though, will take an investment in equipment and time. It will take teamwork between you, your seed supplier, equipment dealer and agronomist make the investment pay.

MFA is uniquely situated and taking steps to make sure that we can do just that.


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