Feature

Will the digital divide ever end?

Written by Nancy Jorgensen on .

Rural Americans would like to see an end to the “digital divide”—a phrase used to describe greater availability and higher speeds of internet access in cities compared to rural areas. The term surfaced with the advent of the world wide web in the 1990s, and it remains accurate today, 10 years after smartphones were introduced. However, a growing number of providers are delivering high-speed solutions to rural customers.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, broadband commonly refers to a high-speed internet connection that’s always on and faster than 25 megabits per second download and three Mbps upload. Wireless speeds vary, cable usually only serves towns, and faster options like DSL and fiber-to-the-home are rare in rural places. The most remote areas still depend on more expensive, less reliable satellite coverage.

Residents of Parsons, Kan., got lucky when Galen Manners moved back home. He worked in the cellular industry before returning to the family farm to grow wheat, corn and soybeans. Seventeen years ago, he launched Wave Wireless, and today the company provides wireless broadband internet to 2,500 customers via 22 radio transmitter sites.

“I couldn’t get broadband at my home, so I built my own small network,” Manners said. “My neighbor asked to join in, then my cousin, and it grew from there.”

Until Wave Wireless arrived on the scene, residents of Labette County could only access painfully slow dial-up internet service from landline phone companies.

“Before we got Wave Wireless, our internet service was terrible,” said Mark Gilpin, who raises cattle and row crops near Parsons. “Galen does a good job; his service is excellent.”

Gilpin, who subscribed to Wave Wireless about 12 years ago, uses the connection to check cattle and feed prices, search for bargains on Craigslist and read news on media sites. His wife, Rhonda, uses it to conduct research and communicate as part of her job teaching nursing at a nearby community college.

In addition to farmers, Wave Wireless serves small-town residents, schools and agribusinesses like Parsons AGChoice, an MFA Incorporated location where Manners and Gilpin purchase supplies. Along with his role as president of Wave Wireless, Manners continues to farm and uses broadband to download weather, market prices and other ag-related information.


“While the hilly terrain and lack of population make it difficult to provide broadband here, eastern Kansas is fairly well served by a number of small wireless providers,” said Manners, who heads up a team of eight Wave Wireless employees, including his wife, Sandy. “We don’t compete head-to-head with the big companies that focus on cities. Our primary goal is serving rural customers.”

The FCC’s 2016 Broadband Progress Report found that “while the nation continues to make progress in fixed and wireless broadband deployment, many Americans still lack access to advanced, high-quality voice data, graphics and video offerings, especially in rural areas.”

With its small towns, hilly geography and water features, MFA country falls into the territory that is difficult to serve by internet providers. A study released in 2016 by the Strategic Networks Group and the Rural Telecommunications Congress found that Missouri ranks close to the bottom among all states in terms of its efforts to provide broadband access, and Arkansas rates only slightly better. Kansas lands a bit below average. Iowa scores 10th in the nation—the best among MFA states.

In April, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens announced $45 million in funds for a program that will enable every public school in the state to build the infrastructure for high-quality internet access. Newly appointed Missouri Director of Agriculture Chris Chinn said she is also placing priority on getting higher-speed internet into the state’s rural areas “so Missouri farmers and ranchers can fully utilize the technology at their fingertips.”

“Attracting the next generation back to the farm has been, and always will be, important to me,” said Chinn, a fifth-generation farmer from Clarence, Mo. “To do that, we must protect the integrity of agriculture and invest in rural communities. Better internet makes for better, more productive farms, schools and hospitals, and growth in rural communities equates to growth across the state.”

Broadband’s big boys such as AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink and Charter typically focus on urban areas such as St. Louis and Kansas City. That’s why Wave Wireless and hundreds of smaller, independent providers are needed to help fill the gap in rural America, where sparse populations fail to attract larger players.

Electric and telephone cooperatives have also entered the high-speed internet market, true to their grassroots mission of serving their members.

“Missouri is a hotbed of activity by electric co-ops extending fiber to the home,” said Rob West, executive vice president of rural infrastructure at CoBank, which provides more than $4 billion in loans to U.S. telecom systems and $10 billion to electric co-ops. “One of our customers, Co-Mo Electric Cooperative, has been a leader in showing that providing fiber to rural homes and businesses can succeed.”

Co-Mo shows you can deliver

Co-Mo Electric sets an example for others, West said, offering wholesale broadband service to United Electric Cooperative of Savannah Mo., Barry Electric Cooperative of Cassville, Mo., and other co-ops as far away as Virginia. And Co-Mo Electric succeeded without government assistance, which is used by many broadband providers to bring high-speed service to rural places.

In 2010, Co-Mo Electric Cooperative surveyed its 24,000 consumer-members and found pent-up demand for high-speed internet. While some had access through smartphone providers, the only other options were dial-up or satellite service. More than 300 letters of support came in from homes, businesses, schools and medical facilities. However, the co-op’s application for federal stimulus funding was denied.

“It was hard to tell our members that we weren’t going to offer broadband after all,” said Co-Mo Electric’s CEO, Ken Johnson. “We looked at wireless, but we serve rough terrain with hills and trees in central Missouri, and wireless isn’t the best solution. With fiber, we can serve everyone.”

Co-Mo’s member-elected board of directors approved a fiber-to-the-home pilot project in one of the cooperative’s most populated areas based on signing up a targeted percentage of customers.

“We took a page out of the playbook from when co-ops first brought electricity to rural America,” Johnson said. “We spread the word through meetings, newsletters, press releases and social media. As the deadline neared, we went door to door.”

At a meeting near Lake of the Ozarks, a local banker offered to pay the $100 sign-up fee for bank customers, Johnson said.

“Pandemonium broke out as people rushed to the registration table,” he said. “We signed up enough people to meet our goal.”

The pilot succeeded, and the board approved three more phases to connect the co-op’s electric consumers as well as 1,500 customers in nearby small towns, which “almost begged us to come,” Johnson said.

While a town might host 35 to 50 consumers per mile of line, Co-Mo Electric serves an average of just 7.8. Fiber-to-the-home is generally the most expensive way to deliver broadband, and tough terrain makes every mile more expensive. But the board remained committed.

“When kids go off to college, it’s hard to get them to come back without the quality of life that comes with broadband,” Johnson said.

Co-Mo Electric extended fiber to some of its substations to install remote control systems and assure electric reliability. The distribution co-op partnered with its wholesale provider, Central Electric Power Cooperative, to expand fiber’s reach.

“We have a total of 4,000 miles of distribution line, and we built 3,000 miles of fiber,” Johnson said. “By the end of 2016, our subsidiary, Co-Mo Connect, attracted 14,500 subscribers—mostly residences. Of those offered the service, half opted to take it, and we will continue to grow.”

CoBank and CFC, another cooperative that finances rural electric and telecom systems, provided $80 million in loans. Johnson said he expects the project to break even in seven or eight years.

“It took a lot of work, since no electric co-op had ever done this before,” he said. “We hit the market at the right time when interest rates were low.”

Johnson shares a couple of examples of how high-speed broadband has helped boost the local economy. Before Co-Mo Connect, a local gunstock manufacturer turned away business because he could only afford to activate his satellite connection to take orders for certain hours each day. With his fiber connection on 24 hours a day, he can now take more orders and business has grown.

In another case, a call center planned to move from Lake of the Ozarks to Kansas City, but Co-Mo Connect’s affordable broadband saved those 40 local jobs.

Telecom steps up

In addition to the electric co-ops, telecommunications companies continue to upgrade rural internet services.

“Progress is steadily being made to deploy rural broadband deeper into rural Missouri and increase broadband speeds,” said Ric Telthorst, president and CEO of the Missouri Tele-communications Industry Association, which represents three dozen small, community-based telecoms.

Telthorst cited NEMR Telecom, a co-op in northeast Missouri, as an example of a small cooperative delivering fiber-to-the-home. Jim Sherburne, CEO of NEMR Telecom in Green City, Mo., said that 88 percent of co-op members who have been offered fiber broadband have taken the service.

“We serve a very rural area where most farmers raise cattle, corn and soybeans,” Sherburne said. “A grant from the Universal Service Fund allowed us to offer high-speed broadband.” The fiber project is 75 percent complete and will wind down by 2020.


The Universal Service Fund is collected from U.S. telecommunications companies and offered through the Federal Communications Commission to support increased availability of telecommunications services throughout the country. Over the years, subsidies have been updated to support not only traditional voice telephone service but also high‑speed broadband. In addition to this funding, many providers benefit from other federal and state grant programs designed to bring high-speed service to rural places.

“Everyone thinks they deserve fiber to the home, but in reality it’s difficult to deliver high-speed everywhere fast,” West said. “It usually takes government funding.”

Telthorst listed other telcom association members that now or soon will provide high-speed broadband:

  • GRM Networks, a cooperative in northwest Missouri, recently upgraded service.
  • Granby Telephone Company, a family-owned business in southwest Missouri, is completing fiber-to-the-home.
  • CenturyLink plans to install 1,600 miles of fiber to serve more than 70,000 customers in 100 Missouri communities by year-end.
  • AT&T and Verizon are investing millions in making their networks more robust across the state, and AT&T is developing technology that would send broadband wirelessly along—not through—electric lines.

Kansas is also making progress in rural broadband access, said Colleen Jamison, executive manager of the State Independent Telephone Association of Kansas, adding that quality service requires a healthy backbone.

“A recent study showed that independent companies in Kansas spend an average of $98 million a year on capital improvements,” said Jamison, who represents 20 of the state’s 35 rural local exchange carriers. “The service can’t be adequate if towers aren’t numerous, and they often aren’t in rural areas with a population density of less than one person per square mile.”

Will rural America  always come last?

As internet service coverage continues to grow, soon CoBank’s West believes the question won’t be whether rural Americans have internet access but whether they have adequate access.

“When will we see 100 percent coverage at adequate speeds in all of America?” he asked. “Most people in rural America have access, but they want better, higher-speed access. None of the new technologies started in rural areas, and that trend will continue. Urban areas will receive 5G technology first, because that’s where the economics make sense.”

Data drives decisions on the farm 

High-speed broadband will become more crucial as farmers adopt precision farming practices that require more data, said Thad Becker, director of precision farming for MFA Incorporated. 

“The heart of MFA’s precision program is managing data that comes in from soil-sampling tests and variable-rate planting and fertilizing equipment,” Becker said. He estimates that 90 percent of farmers download this data from field equipment to a thumb drive, which is then inserted in a home computer. The farmer emails the information to MFA, and an agronomist emails back prescriptions for enhancing soil, seed and fertilizer practices.  

Each growing season, the average farmer transmits only 50 megabits each for planting and harvest and 20 for soil sampling, Becker added. Agronomy recommendations take even less memory. Any broadband mode can transfer these small amounts. 

Many farmers in MFA country use cell phones to collect information from the internet, and the majority can access 4G or other high-end cellular technologies, he said. 

“The problem is,” Becker added, “most cell providers limit the quantity of data you can upload each month.” 

Limited speeds and data limits present problems. On the MFA Nutri-Track web portal, farmers log in to a secure site to view planting and harvesting data and access precision fertilizer prescriptions. The technology works well with DSL, cable or fiber internet services but is limited over a cellular network.

“Depending on their service, a lot of growers who use cell phones to access Nutri-Track sometimes wait five minutes or more for a map to load,” Becker said. “As technology progresses, we’ll add more data, and in one or two years, farmers will bump up against data limits.”  

As the industry adopts more variable-rate technology and uses more photo and video imagery in managing crops, Becker believes farmers may require 10 to 15 times more data—or even greater. 

“The need for high-speed internet is going to keep growing as technology advances and farmers adopt more precision practices,” Becker said. “We’re seeing data drive decisions on the farm more and more every day.”

MFA network reveals the state of rural broadband 

MFA’s network of Agri Services and AGChoice locations often lie outside small towns and can’t access cable, DSL, fiber or other high-speed options, according to Eric Summers, telecom analyst for MFA Incorporated. For example, he said it took a couple years for fiber providers to get close enough to serve AGChoice in Emporia, Kan., and MFA Agri Services in Sedalia, Mo.

“Broadband providers want a return on investment, and if we’re only one of two or three customers along the highway, they can’t make a profit,” Summers said. “As a result, we use a mixed bag of broadband technology.” 

Most MFA locations use DSL, the most common, economical choice, Summers said, but he prefers fiber and cable connections for their reliability. Cellular service works, but users often experience delays when typing in data. While Summers said MFA avoids using satellite because of its high cost and poor reliability in bad weather, some locations in Missouri’s Bootheel depend on it.  The most underserved broadband areas are northeastern and southeastern Missouri, Summers explained.

Fortunately, fiber is becoming more available. CoMo Electric Cooperative in Tipton, Mo., recently delivered fiber in its area, and Summers quickly signed up MFA Agri Services there.  

Summers secures two broadband providers for every location as required by the software MFA uses; a backup assures reliability. 

“Even more than geography, aging communications infrastructure can be an obstacle to finding fast, reliable broadband,” he said. “Larger companies are updating their systems, but it is complex and costly to do so while avoiding service interruption. Smaller co-ops and telecoms tend to be younger and are in a better position to build the latest technology.”  

May 2017 Today's Farmer

Written by TF staff on .

The May issue of Today's Farmer magazine, MFA Incorporated's member magazine, was mailed to subscribers on April 19th. If you'd like to subscribe to the print edition of Today's Farmer magazine, CLICK HERE.

Links (underlined) to the stories here at TodaysFarmerMagazine.com will be available soon.

IN THIS MAY ISSUE:

Hauling hope (May Cover Story)
Missouri’s agricultural community comes together to help farmers devastated by wildfires
Additional photography coverage available only online here at TodayFarmermagazine.com

by Allison Jenkins & Kerri Lotven

Enhancing rural broadband
Will the digital divide ever end?
by  Nancy Jorgensen

Making medicine mobile
MFA-developed smartphone app helps simplify Veterinary Feed Directive process
by Allison Jenkins

‘Seven Wonders’ revisited
In the quest for higher corn yields, consider these key factors that influence productivity

4R advocates lead by example
MFA and Missouri farmer receive national recognition for nutrient stewardship
by Kerri Lotven

Cattle can suffer from too much sulfur
Right amount of dietary forage can help avoid toxicity problems
by Dr. Jim White   

Residuals help fight resistance
Use new crop technology wisely to benefit from traits, preserve their effectiveness
by Dr. Jason Weirich

Country Corner
Wildfires ignite desire to help neighbors in need
by Allison Jenkins

UpFront
Stewardship could land you $10,000
Agriculture budget cuts run deep
Income on decline

Markets
Corn: Planting progress will influence price
Soybeans: More acres mean record carryover stocks
Cattle: Export growth ahead
Wheat: Demand needed to boost prices

Recipes
Dias de tortillas

BUY, sell, trade
Marketplace

Viewpoint
Key principles help our cooperative succeed
by Ernie Verslues

 click to view the magazine as printed via an Uberflip flipbook

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April 2017 Today's Farmer Magazine

Written by webadmin on .

The April 2017 Today's Farmer is issue no. 3. of the 109th year of the magazine.  

Cover Story: 
A bumpy ride. 
Rural infrastructure is vital to agribusiness 
by Nancy Jorgenson   

Country corner:
Pleased to meet you 
TF’s new editor, Allison Jenkins introduces herself.
by Allison Jenkins  

‘New era’ for N management MFA agronomists compare fertility management tools
by Thad Becker  

Soybean seed care goes beyond the surface The most expensive treatment is the one that’s ineffective
by Jason Worthington   

Feed your fly control needs New mineral options are convenient, effective method to combat costly pests
by Dr. Jim White 

2017 insecticide eartag comparisons (Click to view chart)       

Moving memories Gosche General Store gets renewed life in new location (additional multi-media content will accompany the original story)
by Kerri Lotven   

Changing the equation New MFA Shield Plus Technology adds value to livestock production
by Allison Jenkins   

When safety is a state of mind Safety Pays poster contest 2017 winners (click to view winning posters)

UpFront 
POTUS ditches WOTUS rule
Feral hog removal on the rise
Farmers needed for Missouri strip trial program

Markets 
Corn: Spring crop reports influence price 
Soybeans: U.S. soybean exports hit record highs 
Cattle: Cattle herd still growing 
Wheat: Revised reports improve price projections   

Recipes 
Age of Asparagus

BUY, sell, trade in Marketplace       

Viewpoint 
Strength in an uncertain marketplace 
by Ernie Verslues   

Subscribe here: http://todaysfarmermagazine.com/shop    Today’s Farmer Magazine is published by MFA Incorporated’s for its members, farmers and ranchers who lead agriculture in the Midwest.

Rural roads take farmers for a bumpy ride

Written by Nancy Jorgensen on .

Steve Hobbs has spent the last several months hauling more than 60 truckloads of his 2016 grain crop from his farm near Mexico, Mo., to a nearby ethanol plant and MFA Agri Services of Laddonia. As Hobbs drives his loaded semi-truck across the rural roads, he tracks their conditions from two perspectives: as a farmer and as presiding commissioner of Audrain County.

Hobbs and his fellow commissioners are responsible for county infrastructure such as roads and bridges, which are a vital link for farmers and agribusinesses.

“Road conditions vary from county to county, but there’s constant pressure on county road budgets,” said Hobbs, who is also president of the County Commissioners Association of Missouri and previously served in the state legislature for eight years, including a stint as chairman of a transportation committee. “Farm-to-market lettered roads are deteriorating rapidly.”

Hobbs raised 1,100 acres of crops in 2016. He considers himself a small operator by local standards, but, like many other farmers, he’s hauling more grain these days. Over the years, U.S. farmers have steadily increased corn and soybean production. As yields rose and farm sizes grew, transportation methods and equipment changed.

“Almost every farmer around here has an 18-wheeler,” Hobbs said. “The frequency of our trips has gone way up, along with the weight of our loads.”

Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, shares Hobbs’s concerns. The coalition has long pushed for improved grain transportation modes, he said.

“When our roads and bridges were created decades ago, builders didn’t have the 21st century in mind,” Steenhoek said. “They weren’t designed for semis carrying 900 bushels of soybeans and 950 bushels of corn.”

Most rural communities have seen bridges closed or weight-restricted, and some roads are going from paved to gravel, he added.

“Rural roads and bridges are the most under-appropriated and under-recognized mode,” Steenhoek said. “Railroads and barges wouldn’t matter without roads. One hundred percent of all farm output must first move by roads. And the closer you get to the farm, the worse they get.”

Ag industry raises warning flags

While conditions of federal and state roads in MFA territory get high marks, rural roads don’t earn many accolades. TRIP, a non-profit transportation research group, offers these statistics to illustrate the problem across the U.S.:

  • 15 percent of rural roads were rated as poor in 2013, and another 39 percent were in mediocre to fair condition.
  • 11 percent of rural bridges were rated structurally deficient in 2014, and 10 percent were functionally obsolete.

Bad roads hurt agriculture’s bottom line

Poor road conditions mean more than a bumpy ride for farmers. They may affect the ability to export grain efficiently, which could hit U.S. farmers on the bottom line—especially in soybean-exporting states like Missouri.

America’s top soybean customer, China, imported 1.1 billion bushels from the U.S. during the 2014-2015 crop year. Steenhoek says that total Chinese imports are expected to increase to 2.7 billion bushels in 2023—much of which will come from the U.S.

The Missouri Soybean Association points out that other soybean-producing countries and regions are investing in their infrastructure.

“If we aren’t doing the same, it’s going to become more challenging to compete in the global marketplace,” said Casey Wasser, MSA’s director of policy.

Shane Kinne, director of public policy for Missouri Corn Growers Association, sees a large increase in on-farm storage, which spreads grain movement throughout the year.

“This gives growers more opportunity to strategically market their grain,” he said. “Our transportation network that moves grain out of the country is more reliable than a country like Brazil, but we have concerns about the direction our roadways are heading.”

As agribusiness grows, so does the use of roads and bridges. MFA deploys about 225 over-the-road trucks as well as other vehicles such as sprayers and fertilizer spreaders to move grain and farm supplies to and from 200 Agri Services and AGChoice locations in Missouri and surrounding states, according to Bill Dunn, director of transportation for MFA Incorporated. Besides deteriorating conditions, road congestion, especially on I-70, often poses a problem for MFA drivers, he added.

In neighboring Kansas, farmers are also driving along busier roads, said Norm Bowers, local road engineer for the Kansas Association of Counties.

“In most counties, car traffic hasn’t increased, but truck traffic is up due to increased agricultural production,” he said. “A lot of rural bridges are being closed due to a lack of funding.

By state ranking, we are third in the nation in number of road miles, and 33rd in population. That’s a lot of road miles, and the cost per person is high.”

Increasing weight limits may help

One solution to reduce traffic is to increase weight limits on roads and bridges. With higher weight limits, fewer vehicles would be needed to haul the same amount of product. The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, the Soy Transportation Coalition and other agricultural groups support the concept, as long as haulers spread the added weight over additional axles to minimize road and bridge wear and tear.

The Kansas legislature is currently considering a bill that would provide permits for increased weights with more axles, and Missouri lawmakers recently allowed grain haulers to transport 10 percent more than the legal weight limit, which is based on the distance between consecutive axles and total number of axles of the vehicle.

Funding isn’t keeping up

Each state collects federal and state fuel taxes to fund roads and bridges, and some of those funds are shared with counties and municipalities to maintain rural infrastructure. However, fuel tax revenues are falling as more efficient vehicles use less fuel. At the same time, the cost of construction and labor continues to rise, and many states divert state fuel tax funds to other purposes when they hit a budget crunch.

“America’s fuel taxes are unsustainable,” Steenhoek says. “They no longer pay what’s needed to build and maintain roads and bridges. We urge farmers to get active and urge state and local leaders to support increased funding for farm-to-market transportation infrastructure. Tax increases are unpopular, but we need to do a better job of selling the idea.”

Here’s a summary of taxes drivers in MFA country pay at the pump:

The federal excise tax is 18.4 cents a gallon for gasoline and 24.4 cents for diesel. These taxes haven’t increased since 1993.

Missouri has one of the lowest state fuel taxes in the nation at 17 cents a gallon for both gas and diesel, and this hasn’t gone up since 1996. All but three other states assess a higher gas and diesel tax.

In Arkansas, the gas tax stands at 21.5 cents per gallon, about 5 cents below the national average. The diesel tax is 22.5 cents. Arkansas ranks among the 15 states with the lowest fuel taxes.

Kansas last hiked fuel taxes in 2003 to 24 cents per gallon on gas and 26 cents for diesel; about two-thirds of all states assess higher fuel taxes than Kansas.

Iowa raised its fuel taxes as recently as July 2015, when it increased the gas tax to 30.8 cents a gallon and diesel to 32.5 cents.

While most rural groups agree that more needs to be spent on rural roads, Hobbs reports that the Missouri Department of Transportation is in a funding crunch.

“They’ve tried to get additional funding from the voters a couple of times, but now they’re closing bridges across the state,” he said. “I don’t know the answer, but if we go much longer, it will be a huge burden when we have to rebuild our roads and bridges.”

Farmers support more spending

In 2016, Missouri Farm Bureau testified in favor of a 6-cent state fuel tax increase to be submitted to the public for approval, but it failed to be moved out of the legislature. Another proposal to raise the fuel tax has been introduced for 2017. Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst says the organization supports additional funding through the fuel tax, sales tax and/or vehicle fees if MoDOT ensures fair distribution of funding between urban and rural areas.

“The last time we increased gas taxes in Missouri was in 1996, and the corn crop was around 350 million bushels,” Hurst said. “In 2016, Missouri farmers harvested around 600 million bushels of corn. That’s a huge increase in the use of farm-to-market roads, while inflation-adjusted road spending has been cut in half. Without a turnaround in funding, we face increasing delays and repair costs.”

The Missouri Soybean Association, which pegs the 2016 soybean harvest at a record 271 million bushels, also supports a modest fuel tax bump.

“In our fall 2016 policy survey, on a proposal to raise Missouri’s motor fuel tax to 22.9 cents per gallon, 59 percent of farmers favored the increase,” said MSA’s Wasser.

Surveys of Missouri Corn Growers members also reveal that farmers believe roads and bridges need increased investment.

“They’re willing to pay for it as long as rural roads get attention,” said Kinne. “Just this week I talked to a grower who changed the market he delivers to due to road conditions.”

Audrain County voters step up

Counties receive a share of state and federal fuel taxes. Still, it’s not enough. A few counties have hiked sales taxes to support better roads and bridges.

One such example is Hobbs’s Audrain County, where a 15-person crew maintains more than 200 bridges and 700 miles of roads operating on a $3 million annual budget. In 1985, voters approved a half-cent sales tax for bridge replacement. The funds were used to replace 170 bridges 20 feet or longer in the county, with the last two scheduled to be replaced in the next couple of years. That half-cent sales tax expired in 2010.

Audrain County voters recently approved another quarter-cent sales tax that provides $600,000 to replace smaller bridges. Hobbs estimates it will take 10 to 20 years to complete those projects.

“Our most recent sales tax increase passed easily, but a lot of counties don’t have that kind of support,” Hobbs said. “Funds are there for us in Audrain County, and we’re getting closer to meeting farmers’ needs. For some other counties, things are getting critical.”

Moving Memories

Written by Kerri Lotven on .

After Sam Gosche passed away in 1985, the general store he owned and operated sat uninhabited and unused, except for storage, for nearly 30 years. While walking 

out of church one Sunday in early April 2014, now retired MFA precision account sales manager Kenny Schlitt heard rumors of its demolition.

“My brother and neighbor were talking about getting together before they tore the building down,” Schlitt said. “So being nosy, I asked them, ‘What building?’ and they told me it was the store.”

The Gosche General store (formerly Caney General Store) was built in the early 1900s by Frank Amrhein in Oran, Mo., where Schlitt grew up and still resides on three acres. Amrhein was a logger by trade, and the nearby Caney Creek Station was a small railroad depot on the route to St. Louis.

“Amrhein built a two-story originally,” Schlitt said. “The bottom floor was half-store and half-living quarters for the Amrhein family. The second story was bedrooms and a dance hall. The story goes when they danced, the whole building shook, and I can believe it.”

According to Schlitt, the store caught fire sometime in the 1920s. Amrhein salvaged what he could from the structure and separated the living quarters from the store when he rebuilt. Roughly 20 years later, Amrhein sold the store to Sam Gosche, just before the start of World War II.

Gosche went into the military but struck a deal with Amrhein before he left.

“Sam told Frank he wanted to sell the store to him for $1,” Schlitt said. “If he made it home from the war, Frank agreed he would sell it back to him. And that’s what happened. Sam went to war and came back. He got malaria during the war, but still came back and took over the store.”

According to the Missouri Census Data Center, the population of Oran hovered around 1,100 people throughout the 1940s and ’50s. Part polling place, grocery and feed store, event center and Sunday afternoon respite, the general store functioned as the community gathering place for decades. That’s how Schlitt remembers the general store best.

“My grandpa’s farm and house were about an eighth of a mile east from where the store was located,” Schlitt said. “So my dad, my aunts and uncles, my neighbors and friends all went by that store. It’s hard telling how many times they put their hand on this old counter.”

So that day in April after church when Schlitt overheard his brother and his neighbor talking about demolishing the old, dilapidated building, he thought about the significance it held.

“My wife [Mary] had never seen it,” Schlitt said. “So we asked if we could come down and take a look. When we walked in, you could just feel all the emotion from years ago and all the people who were there.”
Schlitt spent some time reflecting on the memories inside the store, even contemplating moving the old counter to his place, but ultimately he and Mary left that day without giving it further thought.

But Schlitt was struck with another idea on his way to Farmington, Mo., for work one day.

“I started seeing all of these houses and old barns on rock foundations,” Schlitt said. “Then I started thinking about a house we had moved in ’69 off the farm and into town. I thought, ‘We can move that thing.’ On my way home, I stopped at the neighbors’ and asked him, ‘What would you say if I were to move that store out to my house?’ And he said, ‘Today, it’d be free.’”

Schlitt called Johnson House Movers in Senath, Mo., and they were willing to take on the job. Preparation for the move took about 12 days total once the foundation on Schlitt’s property was finished. The actual move only took about 30-40 minutes.
“The store only moved 1.25 miles from its original location,” Schlitt said. “We started about 8:15 in the morning, and it was sitting over here on the foundation about 8:45. They came down the road at 15 miles per hour.”

Once the movers left, restoration began.

Click to view videoSchlitt wanted to restore the building to its 1940s condition—back to the way he and so many others remember it. The store was moved July 22, 2014, and by January 2015, Schlitt completed most of the renovations, which included repairing and repainting the siding and sealing the roof. He also installed exterior doors from his great-grandfather’s house built in 1912. All of the windows were fixed or replaced. It continues to be a work in progress as Schlitt adds farming and local memorabilia to the interior.

Eventually, Schlitt plans to hold monthly events at the store with the proceeds going to Alzheimer’s research, he said.

“My grandmother and a few other family members have had Alzheimer’s,” Schlitt explained. “Victims of Alzheimer’s might not remember seeing you today, but they might remember something that happened 40 years ago.”

Though the store is not open to the public, tours can be arranged by contacting Schlitt at 573-887-1900 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

“It’s kind of like we’re just going back in time to a much simpler life,” he said.

Click here to SEE Kenny tell the story himself. 

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