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.” 

March 2018 Today's Farmer magazine

Written by webadmin on .

Click story headline to read the story

Born to run (Cover Story)
MFA’s new Exceltra feed helps these barrel-racing partners fulfill their potential
by Allison Jenkins

Strengthen your lending relationship
Experts share tips on managing finances in the challenging farm economy
By Nancy Jorgensen

Stewardship is more than just a buzzword
MFA, farmers place priority on responsible use of resources
By Matt Hill

Grain to glass
Craft distilleries are market opportunities for farmers
By Kerri Lotven

Opening opportunities
MFA’s new Orrick location offers expanded services, products to area farmers
By Allison Jenkins

Manage diseases with multi-faceted approach
Proper stewardship important to protect seed treatment effectiveness
By Jason Worthington

Effective electrolytes can be the solution for scours
Manage dehydration in sick calves with proper fluid therapy
By Dr. Jim White

Country Corner
Taking the high road
by Allison Jenkins

UpFront (To Blog)
Report outlines forces shaping the rural economy
A home for genomes
New crop of agricultural leaders

Markets (Click for flip book version)
Corn: Uncertain South American crop could push prices
Soybeans: Look for limited lift in spring markets
Cattle: Beef production continues to increase
Wheat: Weather, acreage could affect price potential

Recipes (Click for flip book version)
Peanut better

BUY, sell, trade (Click for flip book version)

Great teams make the difference
By Ernie Verslues


Click the image below to launch the March 2018 magazine as printed:

Opening opportunities

Written by Allison Jenkins on .

There’s no mistaking what industry dominates the tiny railroad town of Orrick, Mo. At any given time of day, the traffic here typically includes at least one tractor-trailer hauling corn and soybeans to the local elevator and often a spreader truck or sprayer heading to a nearby field.

Speaking of fields, there are plenty of them. Orrick is situated in Ray County, where nearly 75 percent of the land is in farms, according to the 2012 U.S. Census of Agriculture.

This row-crop-rich location is what made MFA take notice when the town’s ag retailer and grain facility, Orrick Farm Service, went up for sale in 2017. MFA purchased the family-owned operation and reopened it Aug. 22 as Orrick MFA Agri Services. The location is now part of the River Valley Group, which also includes Agri Services in Higginsville, Levasy, Lexington, Norborne and Odessa.

“It’s a good fit for MFA,” said Ryan Brooks, River Valley’s general manager. “Adding the Orrick location expands our geographic footprint and opens up new opportunities in this area, both for farmers and for MFA.”

Orrick MFA is a full-service location with 1.6 million bushels of grain storage and dry, liquid and anhydrous fertilizer facilities. Its structures are positioned along the railroad tracks in downtown Orrick and include a seed warehouse, office and showroom, grain scale and elevator and additional storage buildings. Bulk and packaged seed, chemicals and anhydrous ammonia are available on site as well as feed and farm supply products. The main elevator and fertilizer building are located a couple of miles outside town.

The nearly 50-year-old business had a well-established presence in the market, but the transition to MFA control has been fairly smooth, said Seth Swindler, Orrick MFA Agri Services’ location manager. He said MFA’s extensive network of resources, assets and personnel offer benefits that Orrick customers didn’t have before.

“On the grain side of the business, we’re able to give growers more options in marketing,” Swindler said. “We have access to more products, such as the MorCorn and MorSoy seed lines and feeds with Shield Technology. And adoption of MFA precision programs continues to grow, especially our Crop-Trak and Nutri-Track services. There’s a lot of interest in it.”

Local farmer Jeff Nail, who raises 5,500 acres of corn and soybeans with his father, David, has some 1,500 acres enrolled in MFA’s Crop-Trak scouting program and is working with MFA’s agronomy personnel to host a replicated soybean trial in some “gumbo” ground on their farm this year. Nail said the most noticeable changes at Orrick under MFA management have been upgrades in facilities and equipment and faster turnover in grain-handling capacity.

“They put in an automatic probe at the grain scale, which really speeds up the process,” Nail said. “And when we got into harvest this fall, they were constantly moving grain to make room for what we had left in the field. Our experience has been great so far, and I’m hearing the same thing from other farmers.”

Employees such as Scooter Taber agree that the transition has gone well, pointing out that having access to MFA educational resources has been one of the most positive changes.

“We’ve had a lot of training since MFA took over, and that’s really helpful to me in my job,” said Taber, who interned at Orrick Farm Service before joining the staff full time six years ago. “And it’s good to know we have the support of MFA’s home office and field staff. If we don’t know the answer to a customer’s question, we can call on someone who will.”

Taber is among Orrick MFA’s 11 employees—most of whom transferred from the previous entity.

“We acquired a group of good, capable employees,” Swindler said. “Having their knowledge of the farms and people in the area has been invaluable.”

Orrick was also the first MFA facility with grain operations to implement the new Merchant Ag software, which is a robust platform for computerized point-of-sale and accounting operations. The remainder of the River Valley Group went online with the software in December, and the platform is now being deployed across MFA’s entire system.

Future plans at Orrick are to upgrade anhydrous facilities, install bulk bins for MFA complete feeds, overhaul buildings and continue upgrading the fleet of trucks and application equipment, Brooks said. Such enhancements will not only create efficiencies for the business but also its customers.

“We had some growing pains, and there are challenges ahead of us, but we want our customers to know just how much MFA has to offer,” he said. “We can bring the whole package to their farm. Change can be hard, but we’re committed to making this a change for the better.”

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Grain to glass

Written by Kerri Lotven on .

On a Monday afternoon in January, Van Hawxby is feeding the rum.

The yeast needs to eat, so he’s adding just a little bit of diammonium phosphate to the sugar wash. In a few more days, the mixture of dark brown cane sugar, yeast and water will be distilled and barreled. After six months, it will be ready for drinking as rum.

“But we’re here to talk about whiskey,” Hawxby said as he dumped in the remainder of the yeast nutrients and the vat started to bubble.

Almost four years ago, Hawxby and his wife, Lisa, founded DogMaster Distillery in Columbia, Mo., with two products—vodka and unaged whiskey. Since then, they’ve added two more business partners, Dan and Stephanie Batliner, and several more products. Now, they also produce aged whiskey, bourbon and both light and dark rum.

Hawxby sources corn, wheat and oats from the local MFA Agri Services in Columbia to make his whiskeys and bourbons. He said he does so for a couple of reasons.

“It’s convenient for me,” Hawxby said. “I can just call the guys at MFA and say, ‘Hey, I need a load of grain.’ I know that within five days the order will be ready for pickup without any additional shipping costs. Plus, we want to support Missouri farmers and agriculture. Eventually, we’d like to get to the point where we’re contracting with farmers to grow particular grains for us. We’re not there yet, but when we get our grains from MFA, we know that it’s typically from a farm within a 50-mile radius.”

A self-described Oklahoma farm boy, Hawxby grew up on a small hobby operation during his father’s tenure as agriculture professor at Oklahoma State University.

“It was a farm to feed four boys,” Hawxby said. “Both my parents were farm kids from Nebraska, so agriculture runs pretty deep in our family. We didn’t have row crops or cattle, but we had our projects for 4-H and FFA. We had show cattle, and I raised turkeys.”

Later, Hawxby’s father took a position for the University of Missouri Extension in St. Joseph, Mo. That’s where Hawxby met his wife, who is from Agency, Mo.

“My father was always preaching added value, added value,” Hawxby said. “How can farmers add value to their products? Well, they can do that by selling their grains at a premium to a local distillery.”

Hawxby said the idea for his business was formulated seven years ago when he was introduced to the craft-distilling industry.

“I had always wanted to be self-employed,” Hawxby said. “I wanted to build a business of my own. I didn’t really know what that was or what it would look like, but I knew I wanted it to be a business where I was creating something that was consumable—something that people use over and over again. I thought, ‘If I could grow a loyal, local clientele and expand organically, how cool would that be?’”

Hawxby isn’t the only one to have that thought. Craft distilleries have been popping up across the country, in towns both large and small. There are more than 20 in Missouri alone in rural areas such as New Haven, Purdy, Walnut Shade and Higbee, just to name a few. According to a 2015 white paper published by American Distilling Institute Research Economist Michael Kinstlick, the number of entrants to the market has doubled every three years and is estimated to reach 2,000 by 2020.

“When I first opened up, there were about 500 small working distilleries in the United States,” Hawxby said. “Now there are probably 1,300.”

Before he started working on his products, Hawxby had to devise a business plan and get licenses and permits in place. It’s illegal to distill liquor without the proper paperwork. It then took a couple of months of experimentation to get his recipes right. He called on distillers near and far for instruction.

“People in this industry are very friendly,” Hawxby said. “They’ve realized that the more people are out there doing this, the more we grow our collective market share. We help each other. I put together a couple of week-long internships at distilleries across the country. I just asked them if I could come in, be a free laborer and ask a bunch of stupid questions. People were really open to it.”

In July 2014, DogMaster Distillery opened its doors to the public. The name comes from an inside joke between Hawxby and some college friends. The gist of it, he explained, is that the “DogMaster” sets off on his own path.

“We would harass the person that didn’t want to hang out with the guys because they had to study or wanted to go on a date,” Hawxby said. “It’s the DogMaster who does their own thing, marches to the beat of their own drum.”

Hawxby’s whiskey grain bill, which is the industry term for the mix of ingredients used to make the wort, is made up of 40 percent corn, 15 percent oats, 20 percent wheat and 25 percent malted barley. The wort is the liquid extracted from the cooking process, also called mashing.

“For whiskey, we take 750 pounds of that grain blend and 250 gallons of water,” Hawxby said. “Then basically, we cook the grain into an oatmeal-like consistency. That converts the starches in the grains into fermentable sugars. Once we have this fermentable, sweet, corn sugar liquid, we strain that off the grain and add our yeast.”

The yeast eats the sugar and converts it into ethyl alcohol. Once the yeast is added, fermentation typically takes around five days, Hawxby said. At this point, the alcohol content of the wort is that of a beer or wine. From that point, he pumps the liquid into a 200-gallon still. Alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, he explained, so when the pot of the still is heated, the alcohol vapor rises through the columns at different temperatures. It then passes through a coil where it condenses back into liquid form.

“The first part of the still run is what we call the heads,” Hawxby said. “It’s lower-grade alcohols—methyl alcohol and ethyl acetate. We reserve that and use it for disinfecting the tanks. Then we have the hearts, which is the good stuff. That’s the ethyl alcohol and the good whiskey we keep. The last part of run is called the tails. The tails have some fusel oils, which are the things that will give whiskey some off-putting odors and flavors, but there is still some good alcohol in there, so we reserve those, too. We’ll put those in with the next batch to distill down again.”

The process for bourbon is similar to whiskey, but the grain bill is different. Bourbon must also meet a list of additional criteria. Legally, bourbon:

  • Must be produced in the United States
  • Made from a grain mixture that is at least 51 percent corn
  • Distilled to no more than 160 proof
  • Aged in new, charred oak barrels
  • Entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof
  • Bottled at 80 proof or more, like other whiskeys

So, all bourbons are whiskey, but not all whiskeys are bourbon, Hawxby explained. Bourbons are a uniquely American spirit.

Fermentation takes anywhere from three to five days. Hawxby calls the production a fusion of nature, science, artistry and craftsmanship.

After the process is complete, the whiskey is bound for the bottle or the barrel, depending on its destiny. Hawxby sources his barrels from Robert Berendzen of Barrel 53 Cooperage in Higbee, Mo. The barrel is where the whiskey or bourbon gets a lot of its flavor and color.

“Our distillery is very much a Missouri operation,” Hawxby said. “We get our grains locally and our barrels locally. It’s part of our brand and part of our story.”

As the craft distillation industry has entered a renaissance, Berendzen is a bit of a renaissance man himself. In addition to the cooperage, he also owns and operates a distillery, stave mill and farm where he grows grains and raises horses, cattle, goats, chickens, elk and a single turkey. He’s put his own twist on the “grain to glass” notion.

“We call it forest to glass,” Berendzen said. “Missouri white oak is sought after all over the world for the flavors, the sugars and the caramels it gives off, and we have a good supply of it here.”

In 2012, Berendzen started Midwest Stave Exchange, also based out of Higbee and right across the road from Barrel 53 Cooperage. He works with multiple logging companies to sustainably source the white oaks.

“We buy our logs from the loggers, but there are programs where if you remove a tree, you plant three more seedlings,” he said. “Most of these logs come from somewhere in a 60-mile radius around Higbee.”

Once he began making staves, Berendzen said the cooperage and distilling became the next logical step. He is one of three master barrel craftsmen in the area. In 2013, Berendzen established Barrel 53 Cooperage and two years later, he started Woodsmen Distilling. Now, he employs more than 30 workers in the small town of fewer than 600 people and sends both staves and barrels all across the country and the world.

“I’ve been farming and around farming all my life,” Berendzen said. “But my father-in-law also owned a saw mill for 30 years. The stave mill was our first thought, then when this grew so much that we needed another mill, that was our second thought. The idea for the cooperage and distillery came at the same time shortly thereafter.”

At the stave mill, logs are cut to size, and then a process known as quarter-sawing is used to ensure the barrels will be liquid tight. Each log is hand-sawed at an angle into four quarters and rotated to ensure the wood grain lays flat. This process is what sets a stave mill apart from a saw mill, Berendzen explained.

“It’s a very important part of our process,” he said. “If we didn’t quarter-saw these logs, all the liquid would leak out of the barrel.”

Completed staves are graded for quality and put into two different piles. If there was an imperfection in part of the tree, those staves are set aside and used for kindling during the charring process. Barrel-worthy staves are stacked on a pallet for curing.

“Once our staves have been made, we allow them to mature for three to six months,” Berendzen said. “When the wood is ready, the staves are then kiln-dried to 15 percent moisture and sent down the road to our cooperage.”

At the cooperage, the staves go through a cup planer to round the surface slightly prior to assembly. Then they are hooped together to form a loose barrel shape and run through a steam tunnel for about 30 minutes. Steaming is necessary to pull the top staves of the barrel together, Berendzen said. Without it, the staves would break under the pressure. Finally, they go into another tunnel for drying, and then the char is added.

Charring the barrel changes the compounds of the wood. The staves release cellulose, which allows the wood to form a bond. The carbon layer acts as a filtration system for the alcohol as it seeps into the wood of the barrel. But maybe most importantly, charring releases the hemicellulose found in the oak, which breaks down the sugars in the wood.

Berendzen’s rackhouse sits a little over half full with roughly 150 barrels of assorted bourbons, whiskeys and ryes at varying stages of aging. The structure isn’t heated or cooled and has no method for temperature control.

“Most people don’t realize, but 60 percent of your flavor comes from the wood,” Berendzen said. “You want that expansion and contraction of the alcohol seeping in and out of the stave. It gets its color, its caramel, its sugars—all of that—from the wood.”

Neither Berendzen nor Hawxby is done expanding his business. Berendzen’s daughter is in the process of designing an event venue that will also make room for an additional still, and Hawxby is making the DogMaster label known in the wholesale market. His whiskeys and spirits can be found in retail stores across Missouri.

Meanwhile, 50 miles from Higbee and 20 miles from Columbia, Bruce Shryock is growing the wheat that could one day make its way into DogMaster’s bottles. Shryock plants anywhere from 500-600 acres of wheat every year on his Auxvasse, Mo., farm. Much of his wheat is grown for seed, he said, but he has also marketed it to the local flour mill and other outlets such as MFA’s Columbia elevator.

“Sometimes farmers don’t think about where our crop will end up, but I think it’s important people know what we do, what we grow and what it’s used for,” Shryock said. “We’ve tried to impart that on our kids and grandkids.”

The wheat is short this time of year, and the field is muddy, but that doesn’t stop Shryock’s 3-year-old grandson, Ledd Robert Foster, from trudging through it. His grandfather turns to the youngster and asks, “Ledd, what does wheat make?” Ledd innocently responds, “Cereal.”

Cereal and whiskey, among other things. That’s what wheat makes.

Visit DogMasterDistillery.com and Barrel53Cooperage.com for more information.  Both sites have great videos illustrating what they do.

More photos coming Here soon.

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Strengthen your lending relationship

Written by Nancy Jorgensen on .

With farm debt and bankruptcies continuing to grow—a trend that will likely persist during 2018—we asked two financial experts from MFA country to explain how declining farm income has affected our region and what producers can do to strengthen their relationships with lenders going forward.

“The tightening farm economy has led to an erosion in the working capital that farmers built in past years,” said Jason Mott, corporate credit manager for MFA Incorporated. “We are seeing higher delinquency rates and lower credit bureau scores. As a result, MFA has been forced to take a closer look at requests for credit than we did a few years ago.”

Kevin Gabbert, vice president of commercial lending for FCS Financial, part of the Farm Credit System, says his organization experienced an increase in problem loans in early 2016 following the 2015 production cycle.

“However, the number of operations feeling financial stress at FCS Financial has leveled off in the past 12 to 18 months,” Gabbert said. “Good yields helped offset lower prices for crop producers. Overall, demand for new capital financing of equipment, buildings and real estate has been more muted over the past two to three years.”

Mott and Gabbert provided these seven suggestions:

1. Improve debt management

Gabbert: Focus on building adequate working capital. This provides a cushion for adversity and positions you to respond to opportunities. Often, producers make purchases that result in a working capital shortfall. Working capital needs vary by enterprise type, but should typically be at least 20 percent of your annual operating income.

Mott: Lenders base decisions on how borrowers meet the “5 Cs” of credit: character, capacity, capital, collateral and conditions. I encourage farmers to assess their financial conditions before making borrowing decisions. Don’t make a long-term decision based on short-term circumstances. Don’t base a 25-year decision to purchase land or a six-year decision to buy a new combine on just last year’s earnings. Use a three- to five-year average of previous years’ income and expenses to formulate cash flow. Maintain a current ratio (current assets divided by current liabilities) of at least 1.25:1—this gives you enough liquid assets to pay short-term obligations. We like to see debt-to-worth (total debt obligations divided by net worth) of no less than 1:1. 

2. Consider supplier financing

Mott: Farmers increasingly seek this type of financing. MFA maintains relationships with lenders who finance inputs, including John Deere Financial, ProPartners Financial and Rabobank. 

3. Keep good records

Mott: Good records are vital to a lender when evaluating credit. Providing more detailed records on the front end leads to fewer questions on the back end and speeds up decisions. 

Gabbert: We are working with customers to improve their financial reporting and have partnered with the University of Missouri Adult Ag Educators to assist producers in generating more complete and accurate financial reports. Records must be up-to-date to be useful in making real-time decisions. The particular app or program is not as important as the commitment to spend the time and effort to generate timely and accurate information.

4. Work with financial experts  

Gabbert: We have seen a rise in the use of financial professionals, and we especially encourage this for customers with complex operations. Tax, accounting and other professionals provide another set of eyes to help identify areas that need attention. With tighter profit margins, improved financial reporting can help you obtain financing.

Mott: Develop a close relationship with an accountant, and don’t be afraid to ask for an opinion before making a large purchase. Many farmers still keep their own records and pay bills, but an accountant usually prepares tax returns and, in some cases, financial statements. Providing income and expense records to the accountant before year-end leads to better tax decisions.

5. Negotiate with landlords

Gabbert: While there has been some moderation in rental rates, it has been limited. We encourage customers to look at each farm individually and understand how it contributes to the entire operation’s profitability. Variable rental-rate plans may help the producer if farm income remains low and give the landlord the opportunity to share profits if prices elevate again.   

6. Communicate frequently with lenders

Mott: Communicate when changes occur to allow for loan modifications or extensions when needed. I am more willing to work with a borrower who communicates with me. There is no such thing as too much communication, especially in stressful financial times.

Gabbert: Keep an open line of communication with your lender regardless of the economic environment. Share periodic financial reports, and updated production, marketing and operating plans.

7. Manage risk

Gabbert: Develop a written risk management plan that includes both price- and date-driven targets to sell a portion of your production. Recently, opportunities to price at profitable levels have been few and far between. A written plan drives the discipline needed to execute a strategy when opportunities occur.

Mott: Knowing a farmer has a commodities contract and crop insurance in place can be valuable when we’re deciding whether to approve a loan request.


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