Taking the lead

Written by Allison Jenkins on .

The MFA Board of Directors has three new members after district meetings and elections were held in early March.

Tim Brand, a row-crop farmer from Glasgow, Mo., was elected to represent District 6; Gerald Eggerman, who runs a diversified row-crop and livestock farm in South Greenfield, Mo., was elected from District 11; and Steve Stone, a cow-calf producer from Galena, Mo., will serve District 12 on the board.

They replace outgoing directors Kendall Kircher, Glen Cope and Don Mills, whose terms ended in March. Also re-elected to their positions on the MFA board were Jimmy Reading, District 7, and Davin Althoff, District 9. Members of the corporate board are eligible to serve three-year terms and are limited to four consecutive terms. Operating under those rules means that five more of the 14 members will leave the board due to term limits by March 2020.

“I’d like to thank those outgoing directors for their dedication and contribution to the organization,” MFA Incorporated CEO Ernie Verslues said. “There will to be a lot of turnover on the board over the next few years, but there are always able replacements willing to step up. We’re looking forward to moving on with new faces and new leadership on our current board.”

Mills, who had been chairman for the past eight years, is succeeded in that role by Wayne Nichols, a beef producer who farms near West Plains, Mo. Nichols said leading the MFA board is a “rather awesome challenge,” and he, too, will miss his fellow directors who left the board this spring. But, he added, new blood brings new perspectives to the organization.

“I think it’s good for organizations to have some turnover. It provides opportunities for more people to get involved at the grassroots level and keeps fresh ideas coming in,” said Nichols, who has served on the board for seven years. “I also believe farmers grow personally and professionally by belonging to a board like MFA.”

In addition to elections, the March meetings in each of MFA’s 14 districts gave farmer-owners a chance to learn about the cooperative’s financial progress, hear from management and operating divisions and get updated on highlights from their respective regions.

Looking ahead, Nichols listed regulatory issues and competition in the marketplace as two of the biggest challenges that MFA and its board members face, but he said he is confident the cooperative’s leaders are up to the task.

“I believe this board is fully engaged, and we have a good management at all levels to help guide us through those challenges,” Nichols said. “One of the best things board members can do is be a spokesperson for the cooperative and get out there with the farmers, so when they have questions and concerns, we’re available. Cooperatives bring a lot of value to the marketplace for us as producers. The concept of people working together makes a whole lot of sense. We can work better together rather than independently.”

Loyalty, leadership land Mills in Hall of Fame

Don Mills, immediate past chairman of MFA Incorporated’s Board of Directors, has been inducted into the Missouri Institute of Cooperatives (MIC) Hall of Fame. Mills was recognized during the MIC annual banquet March 12 for his lifelong loyalty to cooperatives as a member, employee and leader.

His cooperative connections began 44 years ago in Arkansas as a farmer and member of Cave Springs Co-op, an MFA affiliate, where he served on the board. As area farmland converted to urban uses, Mills’ opportunity to farm diminished. His loss was the cooperative world’s gain. He was recruited to manage MFA’s company-owned location in Rogers, Ark., and eventually made his way to El Dorado Springs, Mo., to manage another MFA-affiliated local cooperative. This role brought the challenge of turning around an operation that was struggling financially. Mills’ understanding of cooperatives and business acumen helped the cooperative return to profitability.

Always a farmer at heart, in 2005 Mills returned to the farm full time, remaining a loyal patron of cooperatives. In this role, he made his biggest impact. In 2006, Mills was elected to the MFA Incorporated Board of Directors. In 2010, the humble, soft-spoken farmer was chosen as chairman, a position he held until his term on the board ended this past year.

“Don assumed the role of chairman at a difficult time for MFA,” said Ernie Verslues, MFA Incorporated CEO. “He quickly assessed the situation, understood the implications and knew action was needed. In few words, he asked tough, necessary questions. Management had to earn his trust.”

Mills’ experience at all levels of the cooperative and his strong values uniquely prepared him to help MFA grow stronger, even in difficult economic times, Verslues added.

“How a cooperative’s decisions affect the overall membership was always foremost in Don’s mind,” he said. “He is a forward thinker who is not afraid to take calculated risks that will help advance the cooperative and its members.”

The MIC Hall of Fame honors leaders of Missouri’s cooperatives and is updated each year through a nomination and selection process. The program was officially created “to ensure a permanent, prestigious recognition for future generations of cooperative leaders with exemplary service and lasting achievements.”

Joining Mills in the MIC Hall of Fame for 2018 were Randy Mooney, Dairy Farmers of America; J. Chris Cariker, KAMO Power; Jake Fisher, Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative; John Bill Greer, Webster Electric Cooperative; Dave Ramsey, Associated Electric Cooperative; and Bob Idel, FCS Financial.

Habitat rehab

Written by Kerri Lotven on .

In the quail heyday, as Rick Butterfield recalls from his younger years, hunters would be able to bag their limits with relatively little issue. They didn’t worry about the quail having suitable habitat. The birds were bountiful.

For a while now, dwindling quail populations have been a concern across the country. Their disappearance has been attributed to loss of habitat that provides vital protection from predation for the small ground-nesting species. But thanks to the concerted efforts of farmers, landowners and conservationists, Missouri Department of Conservation surveys show quail numbers are on the rise statewide.

“Quail numbers peaked in the 1950s, ’60s and early ’70s, when agriculture was much less efficient than it is now,” MDC Private Lands Conservationist Rich Crowe said.

Back then, the patchwork of small farm fields with a broad array of annual crops, forages, weed patches and shrubs created ideal conditions for bobwhites. The landscape is much different today.

The Butterfields are part of the movement to reverse that trend. Rick, his son, Chris, and brother, Rodney, collectively raise 800 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat along with cattle on their Century Farm in Linn County, Mo. They’re working with the MDC on quail improvement plans in the midst of their crop and cattle production and now have more than 500 acres of habitat established in various patches on their respective farms.

“For about 20 years, it seems like the quail disappeared,” Rick said. “We’re beginning to see that change.”

As Rick and Rodney were growing up on their family farm, they said weeds were more prevalent, and there were a lot more marginal areas along fence rows and field corners where brush grew. MDC studies show that quail need different habitat types at different points in their life cycle, so having a mix of cover is important.

“A lot more grain was wasted during harvest, too, in that time,” Rodney added. That grain provided food for quail and other wildlife that happened to live in those fields.

However, as technology advanced and the tough economic times of the 1980s hit, Rick and Rodney said farmers of their father’s generation were trying, understandably so, to make the most of their land.

“Farmers got to the point where they were farming fence row to fence row,” Rick said. “And that didn’t leave much for wildlife.”

Federal programs helped agriculture evolve from that mindset, and the Butterfields have, too. They have enrolled some of their more marginal ground into the CP38 program, also known as Conservation Reserve Program SAFE (State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement). Additionally, the Butterfields were among the first in the state to enroll their farm into the Missouri Outdoor Recreational Access Program (MRAP), which provides opportunities for public hunting, fishing and sightseeing in Missouri.

“We’ve always been firm believers in protecting both the wildlife and the farm from soil erosion,” Rick said. “This CP38 program did both.”

Furthermore, Rick said, they thought it would be beneficial to leave a conservation legacy for their children and grand- children.

“I have a granddaughter, Christy Jean, who wants to be a hunter eventually,” he said. “She wants to duck hunt, and I’m sure she’ll want to quail hunt, so we also did it for the future.”

Previously, portions of the farm had been seeded with fescue and then planted in trees, mainly pecan and walnut, to help control erosion on their gradually sloping acreage. To use the land for row crops again would have required terracing.

“Honestly, it’s not the best land,” Rick said. “It has some clay in it, and it needed some lime. It would have taken more money to get it back in production, and it’s just more suited for wildlife.”

The trees became a valuable resource for wildlife habitat. The Butterfields built brush piles and, along the fence lines, did some edge feathering, which is the process of cutting trees and leaving them in place. Feathering produces a more gradual transition from wooded areas to open ground and provides quail with some protection from would-be predators.

They planted the rest of the fields in native grasses and wildflowers with seed purchased from MFA Agri Services in Brookfield. The mix of plants keeps their upland soils in place, he explained, while providing necessary habitat for quail and beautifying the landscape.

“I wish you could see it in the summer,” Rick said. “It’s just a field of wildflowers of every color—whites, yellows, reds, purples. It’s really something.”

Other farmers and landowners in the area have followed suit. Rich estimates there were nearly 40 new contracts resulting in almost 2,000 acres enrolled during the last sign-up for the CP38 program in Linn County alone. The contract also calls for continued management practices such as disking, prescribed burning or herbicide treatments to keep the prairie healthy.

“It’s a good option for farmers who do have areas of more marginal ground on their property like the Butterfields do,” Rich said.

Striking a balance

The beauty of the prairie isn’t lost on John Dolan. He helps manage the 480-acre Century Farm of his mother, Ellen, in Trenton, Mo. He and his father, Gary, enjoy hunting and have worked to balance wildlife habitat with their agricultural operations.

After decades of abundant quail populations, numbers have declined drastically on the Dolan farm, Gary said, recalling a long-ago day when he flushed 12 coveys in a 2-mile fence row.

“I began quail hunting when I was 8 years old, and I guess that’s always been on my mind,” he said. “More importantly, though, we just want to know they’re there. That’s part of the reason we live out here. We like the wildlife.”

On his own farm west of Spickard, Mo., in the hills overlooking river bottoms, John is working to restore his upland prairie to its former glory. Looking out over the broad expanse dotted with 150-year-old oak trees, John points out the crossroads where Native American tribes convened. The routes they would have taken crisscross his land.

“I’d love to see what this area looked like during that time,” John said, envisioning a future in which people can camp, hunt or just enjoy the view on the land. He also said establishing good wildlife habitat could be an additional income source for farmers who would be willing to lease ground for hunting.

“We have a lot of people who may have grown up on a farm or enjoyed the experience of hunting on their grandparents’ farm,” John said. “Well, maybe that land has been sold or changed hands, but they still want to raise their children to enjoy the benefits of going out on a quail or deer hunt. People are willing to pay for that. I’ve always enjoyed it and just took it for granted, but it’s also been something that’s been really important to me.”

John attributes the decline of quail in his area not only to loss of habitat but also predators and more frequent heavy rain events during nesting season. His positive outdoor experiences in his youth have prompted him to participate in wildlife conservation programs to help make a difference. John and Gary are working with Scott Roy, MDC private lands conservationist in Grundy, Mercer and Livingston counties, to put restoration plans in place for upland birds.

The Dolans discovered that neither bare ground nor entirely grassland CRP worked well for quail habitat. A combination of cropland skirted with brushy area was more ideal.

“A baby quail is only about half the size of your thumb,” Gary said. “You really need both bare ground and clumps of grass so those little babies are able to move through and brushy areas or brush piles that they can use for protection. I think that’s the key, the mixture of the two.”

Recipe for success

On both farms, the Dolans have implemented different parts of what John refers to as the “recipe”—MDC recommendations for establishing quail habitat. They planted native grasses and small food plots of milo and sunflowers coupled with edge feathering. They also left some of the existing plum and dogwood thickets standing. Gary advises leaving a row or two of milo, soybeans or corn standing if you know there are quail in the area.

“It will provide extra food for quail,” Gary said, “and deer, rabbits and turkey will benefit, too.”

The Dolans installed buffer strips in some of their fields through the CP38 program to help decrease erosion and improve the water quality of adjacent lakes and streams. They have future plans to utilize the CP33 Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds program for another part of the farm.

“For the last 20 years, everyone has been working very diligently to try to figure out what it takes to increase quail populations. Through that research, MDC has established a pretty good recipe,” John said. “If you follow it, you’ll see the benefit.”
Because more than 90 percent of land in Missouri is privately owned, those landowners are the key to improving habitat for quail, Scott said. Cost-share programs are available for farmers and landowners who have interest in making their property more wildlife-friendly.

“They may not be income-producing practices, but they can help you achieve your wildlife habitat goals,” he said. “The neat thing John and Gary have done is show that you can have an ag component, yet still have that wildlife component, too. You can manage for both and be successful at it.”

To coexist, farming operations and wildlife restoration need to strike a balance, John reiterated.

“What we’re trying to do is have a profitable intensive cropping system coincide with a really healthy wildlife structure,” he said.

Four years ago, John and Gary received recognition for their efforts. They won the Farmer Conservationist of the Year Award presented by the Missouri chapter of the Wildlife Society, a nationwide organization devoted to “sustaining wildlife populations and habitats through science-based management and conservation.”

Quail quest

MDC biologists have shown that habitat rehabilitation efforts can pay off. In other areas of Missouri, the MDC supports more than 14 landowner-led Quail Focus Areas on property that is intensively managed for bobwhites. This is part of a national effort to inventory habitat conditions and bird populations. To monitor progress, MDC biologists and landowners conduct regular on-site surveys in which they listen for bird songs and record what they hear. Those findings are compared to recordings on similar land not being managed for quail.

In these MDC focus areas, surveys show quail numbers are increasing. In 2004 and 2005, after MDC’s state quail plan was established, some populations increased more than 300 percent. Over the past five years, reported coveys in a Scott County focus area rose from 17 to 66. In a north central Missouri focus area, the number of coveys heard surged from 31 to 102 during that same time.

“There’s no debate,” said Tim Kavan, MDC private lands conservationist for Mississippi, New Madrid and Pemiscot counties, who works in one of the Quail Focus Areas. “Any type of installation of habitat, whether it be on a marginal area like a pivot corner, field buffer or even a whole field, has not only increased quail numbers, but it’s pretty evident in our turkey numbers as well.”

Though both the Butterfield and Dolan farms are outside the quail focus areas, they’re seeing numbers rebound, too.

“This year, every one of the milo plots had a covey of quail,” John said. After consideration, Gary said he could count at least seven coveys he knew of on the property.

Having some success doesn’t mean the work is complete when it comes to the rebuilding bobwhite populations. MDC estimates that very few quail live past their first year, but their ability to rapidly reproduce combined with the right management strategy makes it possible to bring their numbers back.

“Wildlife management is a dynamic process,” Scott said. “It’s not static. You don’t just put quail habitat in place and walk away. It’s something that continuously evolves because you have to always re-evaluate what’s going on.”

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April 2018 Today's Farmer magazine

Written by webadmin on .

Alternative advantage

Written by Allison Jenkins on .

While Bruce Copenhaver and his 3-year-old grandson, Rhett Thompson, were feeding cattle one recent Sunday morning on the family’s Lexington, Mo., farm, the restless youngster asked, “Pops, can we go eat breakfast now?”

“Buddy, we’ve got to take care of the cows first,” Copenhaver patiently replied. “We take care of them because they’re taking care of us.”

In agriculture, such life lessons often spring from simple chores, but Copenhaver’s commitment to his cattle is much more than words of wisdom for an impressionable young mind. He lives that principled philosophy every day in the way he cares for his animals, his crops and his farm.

“We treat our animals well and try to keep things growing and healthy,” Copenhaver said. “We might not be perfect, but we try to do the right thing.”

For Copenhaver, doing the “right thing” includes feeding MFA Shield Technology to help prevent sickness and promote performance without antibiotics in his Angus-based cow/calf operation. He’d been successfully using MFA Cattle Charge feeds for years, but the formulation contained chlortetracycline and sulfa medications—now regulated under the Veterinary Feed Directive. That means a veterinarian-issued VFD form is required before producers can purchase and administer livestock feeds with these and other antibiotic additives previously available “over the counter.”

When the VFD law went into effect in January 2017, Copenhaver turned to Chad James, MFA regional feed specialist, and Doug Timmerberg at MFA Agri Services in Odessa for advice on a more convenient yet effective alternative. They suggested he try Cattle Charge with Shield.

“We met all the qualifications and got our VFD in place, just in case, but when we realized there was another option, we wanted to try something different,” Copenhaver said. “We knew Cattle Charge was a good product, so we decided to switch to the version with Shield. We’ve been very pleased. We didn’t have to treat any calves last fall, and normally we’d have several that would get sick.”

Most of the farm’s calves are born in the spring, and Copenhaver typically starts them on Cattle Charge pellets at weaning for about six to eight weeks before switching to his own grind-and-mix ration. Last year’s calf crop was the first to consume the Shield-enhanced feed, but Copenhaver said they won’t be the last.

“I think the Shield paid for itself,” he said. “I don’t like to cut corners when it comes to my cattle. My thought process is that if a product does its job, I’m willing to make the investment if it will save labor for me and stress on the animal.”

Stress is the No. 1 issue impacting calf performance at weaning, said James. Avoiding unnecessary stress can help reduce sickness and increase overall performance. Shield gives cattle an advantage by improving immune function through an all-natural blend of essential oils and probiotics along with specific carbohydrates that benefit gut health. None of these ingredients require a VFD.

“Any time you have to run an animal through the chute, you’re stressing him to a certain extent,” James said. “By feeding Shield, you’re doing preventative maintenance to help keep that animal from getting sick and needing treatment, and you’re helping to reduce overall stress that can slow down their growth at weaning.”

Copenhaver, who’s been in the cattle business full time since he graduated from high school in 1975, said he believes a non-antibiotic approach to farming with products such as Shield can help improve public perception of today’s animal agriculture.

“I can’t blame people for wanting to know what’s going into their food source, and if you can produce that food in a more natural situation, that’s fantastic,” he said. “It seems like the bad things take front and center, and you hear very little about the good things. But we’re doing a lot of good things in agriculture today.”

The Copenhaver farm is a prime example of “good” farming, James said, and it’s a true family affair. Although they maintain separate operations, Bruce and his older brother, Gary, work together on the farm, and their father, Delbert, who’s nearly 90 years old, still has his own herd of cattle that he feeds every day. Bruce’s wife, Gayle, keeps the farm records and their daughter and son-in-law, Amanda and Justin Thompson, are also involved in the operation.

“He won’t brag on himself, but Bruce is a good cow man, and the whole family is the same way,” James said. “They know their calves are sick before the calves know. So when they say they get along good with the Shield Technology, it means something.”

The family typically markets their calves at 600 to 800 pounds, in addition to raising six to eight steers each year to process and sell as freezer beef. Over the past 10 years, they’ve built a small yet loyal customer base for their farm-fresh beef simply by word-of-mouth.

“We don’t push that side of the business, but I enjoy it as an extra option to market our cattle,” Copenhaver said. “I’d like to think that people are getting a decent product from us, and I think they are. We only get compliments, not complaints.”

That kind of solid reputation is important to Copenhaver, who emphasizes stewardship both in his own practices and for future generations.

“We want to treat our customers, our land and our animals right because we intend on farming here as long as we can,” he said. “My son-in-law is working for us now, and I hope my grandson wants to farm. At some point, I’d like them to carry it on and take care of what needs to be done. I might see it; I might not. But I want them to have the opportunity.”

For more information on livestock feeds with Shield Technology, visit with your MFA Agri Services or AGChoice location or online at https://www.mfa-inc.com/Products/Feed/Shield.

Baby goat gains new lease on life with Shield Plus.

On a cold night in late February, 12-year-old Lane Broyles went out to check waterers on his family’s Alma, Ark., farm and found a newborn goat close to death.

“He was cold and listless,” said Lane’s mother, Elizabeth Biery. “We brought the kid inside and warmed him up, but he was still struggling. I didn’t think he would make it.”

Biery Hill Farms’ herd of Nigerian dwarf goats was in the middle of kidding season, but the family was still working on their facilities after Elizabeth, her husband, Dustin, and their three children moved to the property about a year ago.

“We had been rebuilding everything from the bottom up since we moved from our previous location,” Elizabeth said. “We just didn’t quite have our kidding stalls ready yet.”

As the family scrambled to save the frail kid, 3-year-old Maebre grabbed a bottle of MFA Shield Plus off the fireplace mantel and said, “What about this?”

“I had honestly forgot we even had the Shield Plus,” Elizabeth said. “Maebre didn’t have a clue what it was, but I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, yes, let’s try it.’”

She administered a dose and within about an hour, the kid was up running, bouncing and eating.

An employee of Farmers Co-op in Van Buren, Ark., Elizabeth said customers and colleagues have had similar experiences with Shield Plus. She was convinced to take home a bottle when a fellow Co-op employee, Greg Davis, told her how well it worked for his own show hogs.

“He found a little hog that was pretty much on the brink of death and thought he’d give the Shield Plus a shot,” Elizabeth said. “He said the next morning he couldn’t even tell which one had been down. He called it a wonder drug.”

But Shield Plus Technology isn’t a drug, and that’s appealing to producers, Elizabeth said. It’s a nutritional supplement designed to support immune system development, improve feeding behavior and provide quick energy. It’s administered orally in a pump bottle and contains an all-natural blend of essential oils, probiotics, egg antibodies, Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids and vitamins A, D and E.  It also has concentrated colostrum extract to help ensure newborns get optimum levels of essential nutrients.

In the 10 days after Elizabeth used the product, she sold several large bottles to cattle producers in her area who were having trouble with calves.

“When Greg told me about his experience, I got a case of each size in at the store,” she said. “I bought one of the small bottles to demo, and I’m glad we had it, because we would have never have gotten that little goat back without it. He’s with the mom now and gained almost a pound in 10 days.”

By the time kidding season is over this year, the Bierys anticipated adding 10 more goats to their herd, increasing their total numbers to around 20 goats, in addition to their five show cattle and 600 to 800 chickens.

“Everyone with babies of being born of any species needs to have some Shield Plus on hand,” Elizabeth said. “I can personally tell you it works.”

Precision perspectives

Written by Nancy Jorgensen on .

New tech for older iron
Retrofitting existing equipment can help get growers in the precision game.

Bruce Wilson farms by himself, so he’s always looking for ways to save time and labor with his corn and soybean crops near Mexico, Mo. Over the past 15 years, he has found solutions by purchasing precision farming equipment through MFA and adding it to his tractor, planter and combine.

Most recently, Wilson has successfully adopted precision seeding practices after becoming disappointed with a planter he purchased in the early 2000s.  

“The planter still had a good frame, but it just wasn’t doing the job,” he said. “MFA helped me select add-on technology from Ag Leader and Precision Planting LLC that saves time and increases yield.”

Davin Harms, precision agronomy sales manager for MFA Incorporated’s Region 2, has worked with Wilson for the past six years and visits his farm a couple of times a year to consult with the farmer on equipment. He says retrofitting existing equipment can help farmers like Wilson get in the precision agriculture game without buying expensive new machines.

“Bruce’s planter technology is better than what you can buy built-in on a new planter, and his total investment added up to about half of what a new planter costs,” Harms said. “The average farmer might grow 40 crops in his or her lifetime, and about 75 percent of yield depends on planting. Planting with precision technology helps make sure that a farmer produces the most bushels possible.”

The continued economic downturn in the agricultural economy means that farmers such as Wilson are buying less new paint, but add-on precision equipment continues to grow in popularity. According to Gavin Burgess, regional manager for Precision Planting LLC, one of MFA’s agronomy vendors, his company has seen a consistent growth rate of 15 to 30 percent a year for each of the past 10 years. And he sees farmers in MFA country taking to precision planting in a big way.

“In Illinois on a typical 80-acre field, you might have two soil types,” he said. “In Missouri, a 40-acre field might have 15 soil types due to hilly terrain and other factors. Precision technology can help growers account for that variation, use inputs wisely and maximize their yield.”

Wilson farms land originally owned by his great-grandfather and two grandfathers along with additional acreage he’s purchased over the years. He farmed with his father, Kenneth, until the elder Wilson died two years ago. Finding efficiencies is more important than ever as he singlehandedly keeps up with the demands of a growing operation, Wilson said.

“Now that I’m on my own,” Wilson said, “precision technology enables me to keep going without hiring anyone to help.”

After deciding to dive into precision, Wilson said he started with Ag Leader equipment because of the company’s reputation for quality and technical support.

“At first I called Ag Leader for support, but now I just call MFA Agri Services in Mexico—I keep the guys there pretty busy,” Wilson said, specifically mentioning MFA employees Billy Barker and Scott Wilburn. “I really rely on MFA. I know they’ll be there to help me out.”  

Precision planting is just part of the picture. Before Wilson plants a single seed, he works with agronomists through MFA’s Nutri-Track program, which monitors fertility levels across his fields, combining GPS-based soil testing and yield monitoring from past years. Wilson also buys seed from MFA, selecting varieties and hybrids that are proven to work well in his area.

“Bruce is an early adopter in terms of technology, but he uses a sharp pencil to make sure each investment pays off,” Harms said. “He isn’t satisfied with the status quo. He asks a lot of questions, and he’s open to new ideas.”  

Wilson’s experience proves that growers can mix and match add-on equipment effectively. Here are the steps he took to add precision capability to his operation:

  • He began with Ag Leader row shutoffs for his planter. This technology saves costs since he doesn’t waste seeds when turning at the end of the field.  
  • Then he added Ag Leader GPS-based autosteer for his tractor. Today he uses SteerCommand, which reduces fatigue. After 12 hours in the cab, Wilson said he isn’t as tired as he used to be.
  • He couples SteerCommand with Ag Leader’s InCommand display monitor, which allows him to view planting data on an individual row basis with an accuracy rate within 1.5 inches, correcting as he goes. InCommand also monitors yield. He moves the monitor and autosteer equipment from his tractor to his combine before harvest.
  • Recently Wilson added Ag Leader SureDrive, an electric drive for variable-rate planting, section control and turn compensation. Turn compensation allows for optimal seed spacing around turns—often a problem with traditional planters that depend on high-maintenance clutches and chains. While Wilson’s fields are fairly flat, turn compensation also helps producers working hilly ground improve seed placement around contours and terraces, and it better manages planting irregularly shaped fields.
  • Another of Wilson’s new tools is Ag Leader’s hydraulic down force system, which controls seed depth on-the-go based on field topography and soil conditions. This helps overcome soil compaction on individual rows, leading to even emergence and root development. Placing seed at the optimal depth is especially important with no-till, which Wilson practices on 90 percent of his acreage. He said it also works well on the hardpan clay found in many of his fields.
  • Wilson turned to Precision Planting LLC for its eSet seed meter, which assures accurate singulation. This technology allows just one seed to drop at a time and helps provide proper spacing.  
  • He also uses Precision Planting’s Wave Vision sensors, another seed metering tool. Wave Vision differentiates seed from dust and debris, improving counts and allowing him to adjust seed population as he plants, which helps improve yield. “I can ‘see’ the seed going into the ground more accurately,” Wilson said.
  • At the end of the day, Wilson uses Ag Leader’s AgFiniti app to download data from his monitor to his iPad so he can study additional ways to enhance yield.

As for the future, Wilson continues to learn about precision farming opportunities from his MFA representatives and attends trade shows, scours farm magazines for ideas and updates his equipment every few years. He also looks forward to technology that could save time during harvest such as auto-drive equipment, which would help him avoid shuttling back and forth from his combine to his grain cart.    

“Learning about precision methods keeps me interested,” Wilson said. “I enjoy working with it.”

Hydraulic down force - does it pay off?

One of Bruce Wilson’s favorite new precision additions is Ag Leader’s hydraulic down force system. This is his second year using this technology, and he said it helped improve his yield last year.   

“In the past, I had to stop and get out of the cab frequently to make sure seeds were set at the right depth, and then make adjustments,” Wilson said. “Now I just set up the system and watch it perform on my screen in the cab—no stopping.”
Growers are adopting this technology quickly, according to Denton Farmer, an Ag Leader representative who works with MFA.

“Even plant emergence is the first step to record-setting yields,” he said. “It requires three key ingredients—moisture, warmth and air. Moisture and warmth vary with seed depth. And available air is drastically reduced when too much weight is applied to the seed, as in compacted soil. The hydraulic down force system addresses all three issues.”    

Sensors on the gauge wheels read weight in every row, 200 times each second, and adjust down force hydraulically almost instantly, Farmer explained. The operator sees real-time adjustments on the cab monitor as the system responds to changes in soil conditions, planting speed or land contours. The operator can override the system—for example, you can reduce down force during wet conditions.

“The hydraulic down force system pays for itself by improving yield by an average of 10 bushels per acre on corn,” Farmer said, citing independent university studies that measured the technology’s effectiveness. “Proper placement of seed through metering systems such as SureDrive equates to another five-bushel advantage.”

Kick-start your crops
Thad Becker, precision agronomy manager for MFA Incorporated, encourages farmers to consider the next step in precision planting—liquid starter systems, in which planting equipment places nutrients with the seed to encourage germination and growth.

“This will especially show benefits with no-till,” Becker said.

Equipment recently launched by Precision Planting LLC is showing promise with this practice, he said. The FurrowJet planter attachment allows growers to place starter nutrients in the seed furrow when planting, while simultaneously placing a dual-band of fertilizer three-quarters of an inch on each side of the seed. FurrowJet rides in the furrow just above the seed, firming soil along the way.

“This gives the seedling and crown roots immediate and continuous access to nutrients,” explained Gavin Burgess, regional manager for Precision Planting. “It results in tremendous savings for farmers.”

Return on investment is a major focus for Precision Planting, Burgess said.

“When we bring a product to market, our goal is that 90 percent of farmers will see a return on investment within one year,” he said. “Our precision planting equipment can increase profits by 10 bushels per acre, which can mean an extra $30 to $35 an acre. And even small farms can afford the equipment.”

Eyes in the sky
Watch for MFA drones over a field near you.

MFA Incorporated recently purchased six unmanned aerial vehicles—commonly known as drones—and is training staff in their operation. The drones will be used to capture aerial crop imagery that could help agronomists more accurately pinpoint problem areas such as insect and disease infestations and nutrient deficiencies.

“Time savings will be the primary way drones will help our customers,” said Thad Becker, precision agronomy manager for MFA Incorporated. “They may help us diagnose field issues more quickly.”

Becker emphasized that drones will enhance, not replace, MFA’s current scouting methods.

“During our pilot program over the next year, our Crop-Trak consultants will evaluate the drones’ performance as tools that may improve our ability to troubleshoot and quantify problems,” he said. “We’ll follow up with on-the-ground scouting. In some cases we can work with the farmer to take appropriate action more quickly than current scouting methods alone would allow.”

Everyone who will operate MFA drones in 2018 has taken a Section 107 Airman Knowledge Test, received a remote pilot’s license from the Federal Aviation Administration, and will receive training from the drone supplier, Becker said, adding that safety is a top concern.  

A DJI-brand Phantom 4 drone will be placed with a Crop-Trak manager in each of MFA’s five regions. Becker says that Phantoms are the standard drone of choice across many industries for their ease of use, affordability, flight time (30 minutes on each battery), ruggedness and ability to take quality imagery.   

In addition, MFA’s Agronomy Division will operate a DJI Inspire from the home office in Columbia, Mo. The Inspire is a larger drone that carries two cameras and can collect near-infrared imagery to more accurately detect agronomic issues, Becker said.

However, he added, “The drones aren’t where the magic is. Our goal is to gather actionable information. It’s what you do with the information that makes the difference.”

He offers two examples.

  • Drones allow agronomists to get an overview of a cornfield and identify color differences, and then target spots of concern for an on-the-ground follow-up visit to determine if the issue is nutrient deficiency. Drone imagery can quantify the area affected, helping the producer decide whether it’s economically feasible for a rescue treatment.  
  • Agronomists could also use the imagery to quantify areas of soybeans affected by sudden death syndrome and help the grower decide whether to use seed treatments in future seasons to control the disease.

MFA is in a unique position to offer such benefits to producers, Becker said.

“We understand crop production from start to finish, and that’s what differentiates us from others who are experimenting with drones,” he said. “Our crop consultants walk the fields every day, and they have the expertise to use the imagery in a way that’s more valuable to our member-owners.”

 Precision spraying battles weed resistance

While Bruce Wilson sprays some acres on his own, he hires MFA to apply dry fertilizer and spray most of his chemicals. No matter who does the work, he believes that another precision tool—variable-rate application based on GPS-based field maps—comes with substantial advantages.   

Variable-rate technology allows applicators to spread fertilizer or spray crop protectants at the right rate in the right place at the right time, which can save cost and increase yield. This precision practice also helps protect the environment and allows farmers to keep track of the amount of inputs they use.

 “Now I have 20 years of records proving that I’m not putting on more fertilizer and chemicals than I should,” Wilson said. “I also better understand what’s going on with the farm.”

Thad Becker, MFA precision agronomy manager, said many farmers who spray their own fields are using Ag Leader’s advanced spray control systems—especially now that increasing weed resistance makes it more crucial to apply product correctly.

“These systems monitor boom pressure and relay droplet size information to the applicator, which is important for maintaining good coverage while also managing drift,” Becker said.

Denton Farmer, an Ag Leader sales representative who works with MFA, explained how the company’s DirectCommand system works: “You enter your spray tip characteristics, and the system determines the optimal droplet size given the boom pressure.”

Farmer added that it’s important to avoid under-applying when using a pre-emergent or post-emergent herbicide. Precision spraying can help.

“Anyone driving down the road can see field edges where self-propelled sprayers have under-applied as the rate controller struggled to catch up to the machine’s ground speed,” he said. “DirectCommand keeps application rates on target by using two sensors rather than one. And it monitors the relationship between expected and measured flow to detect failures such as broken hoses, plugged filters and failing sensors.” 


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