What's up with conservation

Written by Nancy Jorgensen on .

Meet Matt Symn...

In Kansas the Symms family shines. Matt and Stephanie Symns won the 2014 Kansas Farm Bureau Natural Resources Award for work on their farm near Atchison, Kan.

“Conservation is critical to maintaining a productive farm,” said Matt Symns. “We would rather take the time and make the effort to protect our soil, our most important natural resource, than watch it erode away.”

The Symnses raise 900 acres of corn, 850 acres of soybeans and 300 acres of hay, and graze 65 head of cattle. They operate on small field sizes with highly erodible soils on mostly upland hilly terrain with some creek bottoms. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service has provided financial and technical help for many of their conservation efforts.

Matt is responsible for the day-to-day farm work. Stephanie works as a crop insurance adjuster and helps out on the farm when she can. They take their children, William, 5 and Elizabeth, seven months, along for the ride while farming when possible.

“Someday we hope to have our children working alongside us,” Matt Symns said. “Our dream is to pass on highly maintained farm ground.”

Besides protecting soil and water, conservation meshes with two other Symns values. As he says, “We try to save costs or increase efficiencies in everything we do.”

Symns began using no-till methods on row crops when he started farming 16 years ago. No-till reduces soil erosion and improves soil structure. By reducing the number of passes over the fields, no-till also reduces equipment, labor and fuel costs. Symns also saves by rotating corn and soybeans to combat chemical intolerance in weeds.

The NRCS Conservation Stewardship Program helped Symns start using variable-rate application of chemicals on his row crops. “Variable-rate  application puts nutrients where they are needed the most and doesn’t waste them on acres that may not need as much,” Symns said. He works with an agronomist to determine rates. Since he hasn’t invested in the equipment needed, he hires a contractor to apply the fertilizer.

The Symnses handle their own herbicide, fungicide and pesticide application, using low-drift nozzles to apply responsibly and avoid impacting neighboring fields.

“Chemical application has evolved, and we use new chemistries to manage herbicide tolerance in weeds,” Symns said. “While low-drift nozzles increase droplet size and keep applications on target, recently we started to use finer droplet sizes to get better coverage while still targeting applications. A set of nozzles is fairly inexpensive, so we try to keep the tools available for the right job.”

Terracing and tiling are trending here

No-till and terracing have been common practices in northeastern Kansas for years now. Variable-rate applications came later, and now cover crops are being adopted.

Local farmers started installing tile outlet terraces, both conventional and grass, in the 1970s. The Symnses are replacing old tiles as they fail with improved modern-day material. “Tile outlets increase tillable acres and eliminate the need for grassed waterways that present maintenance challenges of their own,” Symns reported.

Participating in NRCS cost-share funding, Symns installed grassed terraces. “Conventional broad-based terraces don’t work as well on our 10- to 20-percent slopes,” he explained. “This kind of conservation work is expensive, and this is where we benefit the most from cost-share programs.”

The family’s first cover crops hit the ground in 2012. “They have been an absolute priority, following terrace building and repair, ever since,” Symns said. “After bulldozers scrape away the dirt to build terraces, cover crops help replace residue and organic matter, drastically decreasing erosion of the exposed soil.” He’s experimenting with cover crops on other acreage to assess additional benefits including increased water infiltration and weed suppression.

The family has received funds from NRCS programs including its Environmental Quality Improvement Program, Missouri River Water Restorations and Protection Strategy and Kansas Water Quality Improvement. “We also help our landlords participate in the programs,” Symns said.

Making grazing sustainable

As part of CSP, the Symnses worked with an NRCS grazing specialist to implement rotational grazing for their cattle where water sources and connecting pastures allow. This year, they will try grazing cattle on stockpiled forage to reduce hay needed for winter feed.

The Symnses use prescribed burns on underused grazing land to reduce invasive species such as trees, and to help warm the soil for early growth. They also use prescribed burns on NRCS Conservation Reserve Program acres. The family owns about 20 acres enrolled in CRP, and manages another 75 CRP acres for landlords. “We reduced CRP acres where it’s more profitable to return it to tillable acres,” Symns said. “We left smaller and less accessible fields in the CRP.”

Deer have plagued the Symns farm for years. “CSP provides financial incentives to leave deer-damaged acres around the outside of fields unharvested, which increases habitats and food for upland game birds,” Symns said. “It seems to be working.”

Learn more about the Symns family by going to www.youtube.com and searching for “Doniphan County family receives Kansas Farm Bureau Natural Resources Award.”

Meet Kenny Reichert…

Learn conservation from an award-winner 

Kenny Reichert farms near Brunswick, Mo., on hilly, hardpan, clay soils that tend to trap moisture. While he successfully raises corn, soybeans and wheat, he’s spent a lifetime figuring out how to improve his soil. By pioneering conservation practices including no-till, terracing, drainage tiling and cover crops, he’s saved input costs and increased yields.

Reichert and his wife, Julie, farm with their grown son, Justin, who represents the sixth generation of his family on the farm. “When I was a kid, Dad would say, ‘We’ve got lots of clods out there—we’d better get out there and break it up,’” said Kenny Reichert. “I got tired of plowing and disking! I want to save some of our soil for the future.”

In 2013, the National Association of Conservation Districts and the Natural Resources Conservation Service recognized Reichert with the Olin Sims Conservation Leadership Award for his work promoting and leading conservation. In announcing the award, NRCS said that Reichert played a key role in promoting conservation through Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative. He’s been on the Chariton County Soil and Water Conservation District board of supervisors for 10 years and served as chairman for the last seven.

Reaping the benefits

Reichert started no-till practices 30 years ago, but no-till alone wasn’t working the way he wanted. In 2011, he began planting cover crops. Cereal rye is his mainstay, but he’s tried things like radishes, sorghum, millet, cowpeas and mung beans as well.
“No-till and cover crops go together,” said Reichert, who farms 800 of his own acres and custom farms another 400 for others. “I see more and more farmers adopting these practices.” Here’s what he sees as the benefits:

  • No-till saves fuel and labor costs since you run equipment over the field less often
  • No-till and cover crops build healthy soil
  • They keep the soil in place
  • They prevent water, nutrients and chemicals from running off
  • They improve yields
  • Cover crops naturally control weeds
  • You can graze cattle on cover crops

Leading the way on his own dime

Reichert hasn’t received much in the way of financial incentives from government conservation programs because he was already using conservation techniques when programs became available.

For starters, incentives weren’t in place when Reichert adopted no-till methods. He began terracing to protect the local watershed in 1985 and received cost-sharing for that for a while. But terracing requires heavy equipment, which gets expensive even with financial help. He installed drainage tiling on some of his land and sees more tiling coming to his area. He also grew cover crops before incentives came along.

Even without incentives, conservation has been worth it for Reichert, and he continues to reap rewards.

Building the case for cover crops

“I have never seen as much excitement as there is now with cover crops,” Reichert said in an NRCS news release issued when he won the Olin Sims award. “We’re revisiting the days of my grandfather. Farmers were using cover crops without knowing the science behind why they worked. Now we have the technology and research to back up why they make such good sense.”

When Reichert first tried cover crops, he had to take a road trip to Ohio to find the seed. A few other farmers went in on the purchase. “Now the seed’s easy to find,” Reichert said, “Back then, we had no idea what we were doing.”

Topsoil tends to be shallow on Reichert’s fields, but he makes the best of what he’s got. “After I began using no-till, I saw organic matter in the soil grow to about 3 percent, which was an improvement,” Reichert said. “After planting cover crops for a few years, I’m seeing 4 to 4.2 percent organic matter, so I know I’m improving soil health.”

The more years you plant a cover crop, the easier it is to plant, he said—the soil develops a looser texture, and doesn’t seal up on the surface as much.

“Cover crops are teaching us to look at soil in a more holistic way,” Reichert said. “We’re moving away from a generic approach with fertilizer, and looking at what works best for each soil type.” That’s where variable-rate fertilizer application comes in, which can reduce fertilizer use and costs.

Reichert watches for soil texture and color, and when he sees earthworms, he knows the soil is happy. “Happy soil produces better crops and higher yields,” he said. He’s learned a lot but continues to work with NRCS, agronomists and other experts to analyze soil needs.

Cows like it too

Reichert also raises about 60 cow/calf pairs. His momma cows give birth in the spring. The calves are weaned by the first of September. Reichert begins planting cover crops on his harvested wheat fields around the first of August as well as after corn harvest later in the fall. The mommas graze on the cover crops for a couple of months once the cover crops come up. He raises hay to get the cows through the winter, but when the ground isn’t too wet, he puts cattle back on the cover crops occasionally through the colder months.

“Cover crops extend our grazing season and let us keep the cows off our pasture longer, allowing it to recover,” Reichert said. He’d like to use rotational grazing techniques to preserve pasture further, but they don’t work on his farm because it’s divided up by some roads.

Showing other farmers how it works

Under Reichert’s leadership, the Chariton County Soil and Water Conservation District worked with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to develop a pilot project to test cover crops. The program helped alleviate fears of his fellow farmers who were concerned with the costs and effectiveness of changing their practices. “The program went statewide last year, and we’re pretty proud of that,” Reichert said. A Missouri state sales tax dedicated to conservation funds the program.

Reichert also helped bring a University of Missouri conservation demonstration farm to Salisbury, in Chariton County about 25 miles from his farm. Associated Electric Cooperative owns and contributes use of the ground where the farm is located, near an Associated power plant.

So far, conservation programs have been voluntary across the U.S., and Reichert would like to keep it that way. “If farmers don’t take the lead on conservation on a voluntary basis, I’m afraid someone will start telling us what to do.” He cites a case near Des Moines, where a lawsuit is brewing over watershed damage.

As for the future, “We’ll continue to make conservation advances,” Reichert said. “Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, the soil tells you something different. There’s always something new coming down the road.”

Missouri farmers face special challenges

Water quality, soil health, forestland conditions and wildlife habitat are Missouri’s main conservation concerns, according to Dwaine Gelnar, Missouri state resource conservationist for NRCS.

“Agriculture has come under greater scrutiny over the past few years due to hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico created by agricultural runoff, and due to the costs of treating water from drinking water supply reservoirs,” Gelnar said. “Limiting runoff of nutrients and sediment is a primary concern.”

More than 50,000 acres of Missouri grassland were converted to row crops in recent years, he said. “Fertilizer consumption in the state increased and nutrient and sediment loss increased in some areas.”

However, he added, significant progress is being made in addressing water quality through the efforts of farmers, USDA, and soil and water conservation districts in conjunction with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ Soil and Water Conservation Program. Terraces have helped keep sediment out of streams and lakes, and most farmers are managing fertilizer application more efficiently, which limits the loss of nutrients to streams and lakes.

The agency’s second priority is soil quality. “Intensive use of cropland has significantly impacted the health of Missouri soils,” Gelnar said. “Over the years, intensive tillage, harvesting and erosion have degraded our soils to the point where production may be less sustainable. Organic matter has deteriorated significantly, and it’s affecting the soil’s capacity to absorb and retain nutrients and water.”

Fortunately, farmers are doing something about it. “The soil health movement is one of the most significant conservation efforts in decades,” Gelnar said. “Many farmers are planting cover crops, and federal, state and local agencies have provided extensive resources.”

As for forestland, Gelnar reported that Missouri suffers from overstocked stands of hardwoods, as well as erosion caused by logging. Also, wildlife habitat has been adversely affected by row-crop production and intensive grazing of cool season pastures. The state has made significant strides in restoring and establishing wildlife habitat, especially for grassland birds and waterfowl.

Gelnar expects NRCS to focus more on climate issues in the future. “In Missouri, we are experiencing more occurrences of prolonged drought and intense rainfall,” he said. “The result is reduced water infiltration into the soil, and greater surface water runoff.”

100 days with a wild mustang

Written by Kerri Lotven on .

To do it right takes time.

That’s why Lance Dixon and Dennis Cappel, both of Silex, Mo., spent the summer in the arena training for a competition called The Extreme Mustang Makeover.

The competition gives each rider 100 days to train and tame a wild mustang. At the end of those 100 days, the trainers compete to see who has best broken their horse, and horses are auctioned off for adoption. Dixon is 18 years old and in his first year of eligibility for this competition. Cappel is a seasoned veteran. Dixon watched Cappel take home the championship last year. Dixon was drawn to the challenge—the work, the end result.

After a long run in the competition, Cappel wasn’t going to compete this year. But Dixon asked Cappel for help. The ask was all it took.

In his 30 years of experience, Cappel has sought to work with some of the best hands in the world. “I get more enjoyment out of watching him (Dixon) do well, than doing so myself. That’s where the reward comes from,” Cappel said.

Cappel has a philosophy: he teaches riding with a clear mental picture. “It’s everything,” he says. Like an artist with a canvas, he first constructs an image in his mind—down to the finest details. “If you don’t have a clear picture when you start working with a horse, pretty soon the horse is telling you what to do and it doesn’t work. It’s dangerous.”

By the third day of training, Dixon and Cappel were able to saddle the horses. They were both thrown from those saddles on the fourth day. That’s when Dixon’s horse, Starbucks, earned her name. It’s more of a sentence really: Star bucks. On the fifth day, Cappel found himself in the air again. Cappel said he’s learned something different from every mustang he’s competed with. “This one’s taught me an understanding of what the majority of people I’m helping are going through, because most of them are scared. She’s taught me what it is to be fearful and that was a new experience for me. In that aspect she’s been really good for me because she’s made me a better teacher.”

The competition lasts for three days and takes place in 10 states. Because the goal is adoptability, judges want horses to demonstrate a variety of skills to ensure they are standard use. Horses are evaluated on appearance; performance in a series of agility tests; cattle management; and trail obstacles. If a horse makes the top 10 in these categories, it goes on to compete in a freestyle competition. At the freestyle competition in Sedalia, Mo., a rider came out of the gate, rode past two balloons, pulled out a pistol, popped each of them, fired two shots into the ground next to his horse’s feet, herded a calf to the back wall and then at full gallop, the horse leapt into the back of a pick-up truck with rider still in saddle. When the dust settled, that rider won the competition.

Cappel came in second and the horses he and Dixon trained were sold to new owners. As the sales were processed, trainers led their horses back to the stables, patted them on the neck and gave them hay for the night.

Dixon left the arena for college in Oklahoma this fall with a new outlook for success. “This journey has really been about the mind, establishing our goals, writing them down, focusing on them. I’ve learned with all of that done, everything just seems to fall into place. The mustang is really just a tool that we’ve used to better ourselves, our mind, and determine what we want out of life. The biggest thing is to stay on track and follow through and I can use that toward anything.” Dixon said.


In this October 2016 issue

Written by webadmin on .

Service pays off

Written by Nancy Jorgensen on .

MFA is a cooperative, owned by the customers we serve. October is Co-op Month, and it’s a great time to assess MFA’s impact on the communities where we operate.

If you live in one of the 165 communities that MFA serves, you have probably seen MFA representatives bidding on 4-H and FFA animals at your county fair, presenting a college scholarship to a high school senior, or sponsoring events at your 4th of July celebration.

These types of activities help communities, but they also position MFA to grow. We asked three MFA Agri Services managers to explain:

  • Dave Cooper, general manager of the Grand River Group, headquartered in Albany, Mo.
  • Kevin Daniel, general manager of the Sedalia (Missouri) Group and
  • Tony Lucius, general manager of the Midsouth Division, based in Piggott, Ark.

MFA Incorporated ranks in the top 10 in retail agriculture in the U.S., based on retail farm supply sales, number of storefronts, grain volume, plant food sales, crop protection sales, seed sales and precision ag sales.

“We’re involved in our communities up to our ears, and that’s a big reason for our success,” Cooper said. “Our contributions help us bond with our customers and draw our communities together.”

Invigorating the Albany area

Cooper manages MFA Agri Services Centers in Albany, Bethany, Pattonsburg, Gallatin and Hamilton. From 2014 to 2015, they sold 3.5 million bushels of grain—mostly corn, soybeans and wheat—and 12,000 tons of fertilizer. They employ 32 full-time and nine seasonal workers.

“Everything hinges on agriculture here, and MFA plays a critical role,” Cooper said. “We’re among the largest businesses in most of our communities, and our payroll energizes local economies. We’re growing each year, and as we grow, we have to get smarter and more efficient.”

MFA recently invested in upgrades including a new rail facility in Hamilton that can load 120 grain cars, which increases capacity for volume, speed and access to markets. The Gallatin store doubled its grain handling capacity so it can feed additional grain to Hamilton. In Pattonsburg, MFA renovated grain storage, anhydrous and office facilities.

Cooper grew up on a farm nearby in Stanberry. These days, he and his wife rent out the family farm. They raised three daughters, now grown and living close by, and all are involved in agriculture.

“It was important to me to stick around this area,” said Cooper, who has racked up almost 40 years in agricultural sales, mostly with MFA. “When I walk down the street, I know everyone by first name—and I know their vehicles!”

MFA retail locations provide funds, labor, trophies and equipment to county fairs and purchase animals at 4-H and FFA auctions. Local MFA operations also contribute to festivals, concerts and tractor pulls.

“Whatever it takes to make it happen—we’re there,” Cooper said.

Many evenings, Cooper attends meetings as a township trustee, as a director with the University of Missouri Research Farm board, and as a member of the Gentry County Cattlemen’s Association.

“MFA is a 100-year-old cooperative,” Cooper said. “Focusing on our communities positions us to serve for another 100 years.”

Making the Sedalia area a great place to live

Like Cooper, Kevin Daniel has worked for MFA for decades. Daniel manages MFA Agri Services in Sedalia, Cole Camp and Windsor, where farmers raise a diverse blend of cattle, hogs, poultry, horses, sheep, goats and dairy, as well as corn, soybeans, grain sorghum, wheat and forages.

Daniel grew up on a farm near Independence, and his dad bought cattle and hog feed from MFA. Today, Daniel has two grown stepchildren, and he and his wife keep horses at their rural home.

He feels lucky to be part of the Sedalia community. “We help each other in time of need,” said Daniel, who serves on the county’s University of Missouri Extension Council, the Central Missouri Ag Club, the Sedalia tourism board, and the FIT board, which grants student internships.

Under Daniel’s leadership, the three MFA retail locations contribute to 4-H and FFA fundraisers, school and church events and the farmers market. Staff members work at MFA customer appreciation events and volunteer at other agriculture affairs. They’re especially busy in August during the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia.

MFA may present a down-home image at fairs, but its staff keeps up with changing times. Daniel reported that MFA is seeing major growth in seed sales, agronomy scouting and precision services. Local expertise remains essential, and staff members receive strong technical support from the home office in Columbia.

David Dick, presiding commissioner for Pettis County, offers a testimonial. “Agriculture is the largest piece of Pettis County’s economy, and MFA plays a significant role in everything from handling grain to providing electric fencing for your garden,” he said. “I’ve known MFA my entire life. They’ve always provided quality service and products, but I’ve seen them change over the last 10 or 12 years to offer more technical services like seed selection, soil testing and precision services.”

Daniel’s group generated net sales of more than $18 million in the last fiscal year and sold 12,000 tons of fertilizer and about 500,000 bushels of grain. The group employs 20 full-time and three to five part-timers.
Sedalia’s population is 21,000; Cole Camp and Windsor are much smaller. “Our area is a good place to live because it’s small enough that people know and help each other, but it is big enough to have plenty of places to shop, dine and entertain,” Daniel said. “We always have something going on.”

Commitment to community is ingrained in the MFA culture, from the Columbia headquarters to the smallest village in the network. “MFA leadership encourages us to make a difference in our communities,” Daniel said. “Working for a farmer-owned cooperative gives us a huge advantage because it ties us closer to our customers. We are all in this together.”

Growing together in northeast Arkansas

Tony Lucius manages eight MFA Agri Services Midsouth locations including Greenway, Piggott, McDougal, Paragould, Pollard, Rector and St. Francis in Arkansas, and Poplar Bluff in Missouri. Here, farmers produce rice, cotton, corn, soybeans, peanuts, watermelon, potatoes and other vegetables.

“We offer a wide range of services, but recently we’ve been emphasizing seed, which is the most changed segment of our business regarding new technology designed to work in our area,” Lucius said. “It’s helping growers boost yields and profitability.”

Lucius has been with MFA for five years. He was raised in Arkansas and has lived in Paragould for 23 years, where he and his wife have a son who recently graduated from high school. He created an AgLife student conference to highlight agriculture’s impact and sponsors an essay contest that awards an iPad to the best student essay on agriculture’s community impact. He’s active in the Paragould leadership development program, the Arkansas Seed Dealers Association, Rotary International, his church and charitable organizations.

MFA Midsouth employs 50 people and adds another 13 during peak seasons. Last fiscal year, the division sold more than 30,000 tons of fertilizer and handled more than 2.5 million bushels of grain.

“Our employees are key to our success,” Lucius said. He encourages them to volunteer and support things like the FFA, the chamber of commerce and community picnics. They also sponsor fund raisers to help the community purchase grain bin rescue equipment.

“A big part of MFA’s success can be traced to our active role at the local level,” Lucius explained. “We do more than sell products and services. Our employees care about their performance, and they care about our customers, our communities and our local economies. MFA Incorporated believes in doing the right thing, and they give us the tools and resources to do our job well and improve our communities.”

Every MFA dollar grows in your community

As an agricultural economist at the University of Missouri, Ray Massey researches the impact of livestock, corn and soybeans on the Missouri economy. He and other economists use a national database called IMPLAN to model each sector’s impact. We asked him to draw on that knowledge to explain how MFA impacts local economies.

“Recent studies show that every dollar earned by MFA’s grain storage and warehousing services results in approximately $1.94 in benefits to the local community,” Massey said.

“For every dollar earned by other MFA support activities such as retail merchandising of materials, equipment and supplies, the local community sees benefits of about $1.88,” he added.

For example, if MFA sells $1 of herbicide to a farmer, the farmer and other associated businesses will spend an additional 88 cents in labor, fuel, equipment and other items needed to use the herbicide.

Massey added that MFA helps stabilize farm supply prices. “Prices for supplies like fertilizer jump around every week, creating a lot of risk for farmers. Regional suppliers like MFA help stabilize costs and reduce some of that risk.”

MFA Foundation grants $16 million in scholarships over 50 years

Diane Schlesselman won an MFA scholarship in 2005 and used it to help pay for her education at the University of Missouri. She’s now an athletic trainer for the high school in Marshall, Mo.

While she didn’t choose a career in agriculture, farming is in her blood. “My parents farm, and my dad, Don, is on the Concordia MFA Advisory board,” Schlesselman said. He also serves on the MFA Incorporated board. “MFA was always part of growing up, and I appreciated MFA’s support.”

Schlesselman is one of more than 12,000 high school seniors who have earned an MFA scholarships over the past 50 years.

MFA Incorporated, MFA Oil and local MFA affiliates are all part of the foundation, which targets students in their rural communities. Each year, the foundation grants several hundred scholarships, co-funded by local MFA agencies. Most winners receive $2,000. High school counselors can obtain applications from participating MFA locations.

In This September Issue

Written by webadmin on .

GMOs and public perception
Education begins with transparency
By Nancy Jorgensen

Country Corner
Agricultural education is life education
By Steve Fairchild

Letters to the Editor
(Click to view originals)
Forever 4-H A fond look back  

Water quality and corn
Signals in the ag economy
Put in a word on atrazine
From the field...
Shield Technology works across species
By David Yarnell    

Nutritional defense against stress
Protein, energy and minerals boost immunity
By Dr. Jim White

They are HERE
Northern rootworm is an unwelcome arrival
Potential new pest in Missouri fields

by Jason Worthington

It is approved and proven and may be a thing of the past
Loss of atrazine would mean less effective and more costly efforts to control weeds
by Dr. Jason Weirich

Graduates in demand
Opportunities plentiful for graduates with degrees in food, agriculture, natural resources or the environment
2016 MFA Foundation Scholarships
by Steve Fairchild & Logan Jackson

(Click to view original Story with photographs of 2016 winners)
A farm-to-desk adventure
Ag education program is exciting for
students and teachers alike
by Austin Black

Cooperative enterprises build a better world
2016 Missouri Institute of Cooperatives FFA speech winner
by Mariah Fox

Corn: Working out domestic supply
Soybeans: Watch for the rallies
Cattle: The ongoing slide
Wheat: Low and steady

How ’bout them apples

BUY, sell, trade

A visit to a grain-rich area
by Ernie Verslues


View the September issue as printed through a UberFlip view mode:
Click below on the September Today's Farmer magazine cover.



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