Feature

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  

UpFront/blog
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

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

Recipes
How ’bout them apples

Marketplace
BUY, sell, trade

Viewpoint
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.

 

Graduates in demand

Written by Steve Fairchild on .

Finding employment after college can be a stressful experience for students and their families.

But for students with degrees in food, agriculture, natural resources or the environment, there will be plenty of opportunities in the coming years.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there will be a high demand for college graduates in the agriculture and food industries during the next five years. The USDA estimates there will be 57,900 job openings per year in those industries. However, only 35,400 graduates will join the workforce from American agricultural colleges per year.

To fill those agricultural roles, employers are looking to graduates with related majors. Finding graduates with a background in agriculture is more desirable, though.

“There is no more rewarding career than getting to help feed people, and that’s what I get to do every day,” said Miriam Martin, a 2015 University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources graduate. Martin is currently a herdsman for the Nolles Cattle Company, after serving as a Missouri Farm Bureau Ambassador. “Being a part of CAFNR taught me how to network with industry stakeholders, as well as how to build strong relationships with my peers. I learned how to communicate with different audiences, which has proved valuable to my career. I work on a ranch in northern Nebraska where I use those skills every day.”

The USDA reported production agriculture positions make up only 15 percent of the open jobs, such as farming. The other 85 percent consists of jobs in education, business and management, and science and engineering. Nearly half of the jobs are in the business and management field.

“In order to feed a growing world population, we must produce graduates from a variety of disciplines and experiences who can work together to meet the challenges and be innovative,” said Bryan Garton, associate dean and director of academic programs at CAFNR.
The world of agriculture offers a broad range of job prospects. From an agricultural economist to a veterinarian to a public relations specialist—there are numerous ways to get involved in the industry.

“Graduates with experience and education in food, agriculture and natural resource disciplines are in high demand by our industry partners,” Garton said. “Graduates from these programs are more adept at transitioning into entry-level industry positions than graduates with limited to no experience.”

College as a pathway to ag professional

CAFNR graduates have plenty of success stories to tell. In fact, 93 percent of its students are employed in a field directly related to their degree program.

CAFNR prepares students for the workforce in numerous ways. Career and internship fairs open the door to different industries. Mock interviews and resumé building give students an opportunity to refine their skills in a professional setting.

That education begins in the classroom, though.

“CAFNR helped prepare me for the future by having experienced professionals teaching me everything they knew,” Trey Barger said. “All my professors were distinguished and respected in their fields and would go above and beyond to help you succeed.”
Barger graduated with a degree in Agricultural Systems Management in 2015. He also earned a minor in Agricultural Economics.

Partnering for the future

Since 2013, MFA Incorporated has been working with college students from CAFNR and other colleges and universities in its trade territory through the MFA Ag Experience, an intensive internship program.

When MFA launched the program, response was modest. Some 11 interns were hired from about 25 applicants. But in the years following, interest in the program has grown dramatically. Competition to earn a spot in the MFA Ag Experience is strong because of the real-world, real-employee approach the company takes with students.

“MFA has a long history of supporting rural youth and agricultural education,” said Erin Teeple, corporate services and HR supervisor at MFA Incorporated. “The MFA Ag Experience is another layer of that commitment, but the program isn’t just altruistic. MFA faces the same challenges in finding quality employees as other employers in the industry. The predictions that agricultural job opportunities will outnumber qualified prospects mean we have to do our part to make sure we can identify and hire strong job candidates. As a cooperative, service to our customers is a priority. That means we need top-notch employees.”

MFA customizes each internship, catering as much as possible to a student’s interest. In the interview, students share what area interests them and where they live. MFA tries to match students’ interest with a need in the company while keeping them close to home. The first day is orientation and paperwork. Students meet their supervisors and attend a couple of meetings. The next day they go to work.

“The program is good for the company, and it’s good for the student. The students get the kind of experience that will make them more valuable in the job market, and it gives them first-hand knowledge about MFA,” Teeple said. “We have hired several MFA Ag Experience participants as they graduated, and several, as part-time employees while they were still in school.”

Identifying in-school opportunities such as internships is an important part of student services for colleges and universities.

“CAFNR prepared me for the future with the great variety of courses that were available,” Matt Eisenbath said. “Most importantly, however, CAFNR provided real connections to people in the working world. For example, through CAFNR I became involved in the Dickinson and John Brown Scholars programs my sophomore and junior years. These programs gave me the opportunity to meet employers in my major and allowed me to establish relationships with these companies. My current career with Schnucks stemmed from a conversation I had with a vice president at our tour of a Schnucks store in Des Peres. It seemed like a small thing at the time, but they remembered me from that day, which allowed me to be hired for the management program I am currently in.”

Eisenbath graduated in 2014 with a degree in Science and Agricultural Journalism. He also has a minor in Agricultural Economics.

Unemployment and underemployment figures for the United States remain daunting, but for students interested in agriculture, there are bright prospects and organizations that are willing to invest in them.

 

Click to view Related Story and photos of the 2016 Scholarship winners here

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Education begins with transparency

Written by Nancy Jorgensen on .

Kate Lambert and Laura Handke are working to engage consumers in conversations about the safety of genetically modified organisms. In agriculture’s case, GMOs include crops where the DNA has been modified using genetic engineering. Kate and Laura explain that hundreds of studies show that GM foods are safe, but many consumers remain unconvinced.

“We grow and feed GM crops because they lower our chemical inputs, and they lower our carbon footprint,” says Kate Lambert, who raises corn, soybeans and cattle with her husband Matt near LaClede, Mo. “GM crops make us more sustainable, our feed more affordable, and make our farms and our soil healthier. That’s the science, even if it’s not the popular internet myth.”

Laura operates a small beef farm near Atchison, Kan., with her husband, Chris. They feed GM products to their cattle. As Laura points out, “Greater than 90 percent of today’s corn and soybean supply in the U.S. is GM.”

Kate and Laura both work to reach consumers through Common Ground (www.findourcommonground.com), an organization developed by farmers through checkoff funds gathered by the United Soybean Board and the National Corn Growers Association.

Kate and Laura sometimes face an uphill battle convincing consumers about GMO food safety. But they and others in agriculture are learning how to communicate more effectively. The first step: facing reality about GMOs and public perception.

Many consumers stick with their first impression

A 2013 Internet survey of 961 people across the U.S. conducted by Brandon McFadden of the University of Florida confirms that even when given new information about GMOs, many people won’t change their minds. After they read scientific data stating that GM foods are safe, 12 percent of study participants said they felt such foods were less safe—not more—which astonished McFadden, an assistant professor of food and resource economics.

Before they read the scientific information, 32 percent believed GM foods were safe to eat, 32 percent weren’t sure, and 36 percent believed they weren’t safe. After they read the information, 45 percent believed GM foods were safe to eat and 43 percent believed they weren’t.

“Possibly, the best indicator for whether a person will adopt scientific information is simply what a person believes before receiving the information,” McFadden said. “First impressions matter.”

Farm moms may be more convincing

Kate and Matt Lambert are raising two boys, Mace, 4 and Meyer, 1. Laura and Chris Handke have a daughter, Audrey Ann, age 4. Common Ground recruited Laura, Kate and other women with the idea that farm moms who feed their children GM foods might be more credible with consumers.

Laura graduated with a master’s in agricultural science in 2014 and now works for a Missouri Farmers Care program, Ag Education on the Move. Kate is a loan officer with FCS Financial and writes a blog on farming issues at uptowngirlblog.com, and also tells her story through Facebook.

“My family eats beef that’s finished with GM grain, as do most Americans who consume beef,” Laura said, adding that the World Health Organization, American Medical Association, USDA and the Food and Drug Administration all deem GM crops and livestock fed GM crops safe to consume.

But both women find that presenting scientific facts is not an effective way to start a conversation.

Most people don’t care about the science

Since Kate didn’t grow up on a farm and didn’t care much about science, she brings a different perspective to Common Ground.

“When I met my husband and moved to a production farm, I knew I needed to understand it better,” Kate said. “Like every other mom, I wanted to know if this stuff we were growing and using on our crops and animals really was safe. Once I took the time to understand the science, it was obvious that GM foods are safe and necessary.”

However, Charlie Arnot, CEO of the Center for Food Integrity, says his organization’s research shows that the science behind GMOs doesn’t matter to most people.

“Agriculture has used the science argument, but when faced with a controversial topic, most people focus more on the values and beliefs of their support groups,” he said. CFI, based in Gladstone, Missouri, is a nonprofit supported by food manufacturers, farm organizations and other groups.

Arnot cites research by Dan Kahan, who studies cultural cognition at Yale. He identifies various support groups as “tribes.” “Beyond safety, Kahan says you need to offer consumers something in the best interest of the tribes they align with,” Arnot said.

You can’t convince the anti-GMO crowd

When Laura runs into a member of the anti-GMO tribe, she likes to ask, “Is there anything that would change your mind about GMOs?” When they say no, she doesn’t bother trying to convince them. “They’ve made a choice, and that’s their right,” Kate said, adding that no one wins the argument. “Those who ignore science and follow the warnings and misinformation of bloggers and daytime television cannot be won back through science and conversation.”

Common Ground teaches participants to focus on the “movable middle.” “Most people don’t have an opinion on GMOs,” Kate said. “All we can do is tell our story. Farmers are busy—they don’t realize they need to tell their story. Social media is helping to close that gap. But we have to be open and honest and real.”

When you run into people who are on the fence about GMOs, “These are the people you can have a conversation with,” Laura said. She confirmed this while meeting with consumers at libraries last summer as part of the Missouri Farmers Care program’s Ag Education on the Move in Kansas City.

How to approach those on the fence

Arnot suggests three steps for approaching someone who expresses an interest in GMOs. “How you engage them is crucial,” he said.

  • First, listen to the concerns they raise. Usually, they involve “corporate control” of agriculture, Arnot added.
  • Ask questions such as “Tell me why you have a concern?” Many people bring up the health of their children. Farm moms can respond by saying “I’m concerned about that too!” When people talk about corporate control of agriculture, you can explain that 97 percent of U.S. farms are owned by families—not big corporations—and that includes your farm.
  • Finally, share your perspective. Explain that you respect the person’s concerns. When given permission, bring up scientific data that supports the safety of GMOs.

When they’re ready to hear benefits

Alison Van Eenennaam, a Ph.D. in animal genetics and biotechnology at the University of California-Davis, hears many incorrect statements about animals and GMOs. These include the idea that current livestock are genetically engineered (they are not), and that animals are becoming sick from eating GMO feed (they are not). She explained that in animal agriculture more than 100 billion animals have consumed predominantly GMO feed for almost 20 years, and there have been no observed deleterious health effects or negative production trends.

What would be the consequence of banning the current generation of GMOs? “There would be more insecticides sprayed if there were no more Bt crops [GM crops with herbicide resistance], and more toxic and persistent herbicides would be used in the place of glyphosate if RoundUp-ready crops were banned,” she explained. “These are documented benefits. That’s why 18 million farmers have adopted these crops, including 16.5 million in developing countries,” she added.

Still, Van Eenennaam suggests you initiate the conversation in the right place at the right time. “I don’t bring up GMOs at a cocktail party, do you?” she asked. “There is a spiral of science around these controversial scientific topics in polite society. But that does not diminish the importance of this topic, and the need to have an honest discussion about the pros and cons of this breeding method.”

Transparency is key

While most scientists agree that GMO crops are vital to feeding a growing world population, CFI says that argument doesn’t hold water with most U.S. consumers.

“Our research shows that the most impactful thing we can do to build trust in our food is to be transparent,” Arnot said. That’s why CFI supports the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association SmartLabel program initiated this year. Through the program, consumes can use smartphones to snap a QR code and learn more about the food they’re considering purchasing, including whether it includes GMOs.

“GMOs are the hot topic today, but tomorrow it may be labor, animal care or carbon issues,” Arnot said.

Arnot believes that farmers can influence public opinion—at least with those people who are concerned but not dogmatic about GMOs and other issues. “People like farmers,” he said. “One convincing argument is that our technology has changed, but our values have not.”

Farmer spokespersons like Kate and Laura want to do all they can to reach people who haven’t already formed opinions, from farm tours to educating youth.

“I want consumers to make informed decisions not based on fear,” Kate said. “I want them to talk to a real farmer. That is our role as an industry—to make ourselves available.

For more information…
GMOs are not the only issue covered by Common Ground, CFI and other farm organizations. For more information, visit:

In this Summer issue

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