Join Missouri's stewardship certification program - ASAP!

Written by Nancy Jorgensen on .

Rick Aufdenberg grows corn, soybeans, wheat and cattle near Jackson, Mo., and works full time at the local Case-IH dealership. He leads a busy life but found time this spring to become certified through Missouri’s Agricultural Stewardship Assurance Program (ASAP), which verifies that he is a responsible steward of the land and environment, and he provides safe food for consumers.

“It shows that we’re doing the right things on the farm,” Aufdenberg said of the program, offered free to farmers and coordinated by the Missouri Department of Agriculture. “One of ASAP’s goals is to provide marketing opportunities by showing that we grow quality products,” Aufdenberg added.

Rick’s wife Renee found the www.asap.farm website, and Rick completed certification forms online in just a few minutes. “Most of the questions covered things we were already doing on the farm for a long time, like growing cover crops and using rotational grazing,” he said.

You can seek certification in six areas: farmstead, cropland, energy, livestock, grassland and forestry. To apply, complete one-to-two-page forms in each area that you’re interested in. For example, the farmstead form includes questions about pesticide and fertilizer storage. The cropland form includes questions about crop rotations and using GPS technology. The livestock form covers antibiotics use and waste management.

About a month after Aufdenberg submitted his applications, the ag department’s ASAP expert John Knudson visited the farm to conduct an audit. Audits take anywhere from one to three hours. At the end of the day, Knudson presented the Aufdenbergs with a sign for the farm’s driveway. As the sign points out, the Aufdenbergs are certified as good stewards in four areas— the farmstead, cropland, livestock and grasslands.

Two of the Aufdenbergs’ sons, Brent and Todd, are involved in the farm, and a third, Cory, helps during busy times. All three work off the farm. Renee handles the farm’s bookkeeping and operates a day care at home—including caring for her grandchildren.

When we talked in April, Rick was gathering PVC piping and other materials to erect the sign. “We want it up in time for Cory’s wedding reception at the farm in a few weeks,” Aufdenberg said. “We also host a lot of agricultural students and farm groups, and look forward to visitors seeing the sign when they arrive.”

Fordyce launches ASAP in 2015

Richard Fordyce is director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture in Jefferson City. He and his wife Renee also grow soybeans, corn and cattle near Bethany. Their farm recently earned ASAP certifications in grassland, cropland, energy, farmstead and livestock. Producers can also seek a forestry certification.

Fordyce got the idea for ASAP while attending a 2014 meeting in Michigan, which requires all farms to become certified as sustainable.

“When I got home, I decided we need to champion the good things agriculture is doing here in Missouri,” he said. “We also hope to start conversations with those outside our industry, including consumers. Finally, we believe the sustainable certification will aid producers in their marketing efforts.”

While commodity groups offer similar programs, such as the Soybean Sustainability Assurance Protocol, ASAP is for all types of farms. Fordyce talked to leaders of many agricultural groups, including MFA Incorporated, before designing ASAP. Almost all of the state’s agricultural organizations have endorsed ASAP, including MFA Incorporated.

“Since we started our program at the State Fair in August 2015, we have fielded calls from five or six other states,” Fordyce said. “We’ve become a leader among states with voluntary programs.”

50 farms certified so far

As of April 2016, hundreds of farmers had contacted the department with questions about the program, and 50 farms had been certified.

“When more signs start popping up, it will generate a lot of conversation,” Fordyce predicted. “Consumers want to know more about where their food comes from. Once we get more people in ASAP, we’ll have the numbers we need to send a message to consumers and policymakers about how Missouri farms embrace sustainability.”

For example, Fordyce wants the public to understand how biotechnology allows agriculture to use fewer chemical inputs and save soil through minimum tillage practices. And how precision agriculture furthers sustainability by targeting chemical and fertilizer applications in the right amount to the right place at the right time.

Look for the ASAP program to evolve. “Agriculture is changing rapidly, and we can’t remain static,” Fordyce said. Once 100 to 200 farmers are certified, the department plans to invite them to a summit on sustainability innovations.

Stepping up

Written by Steve Fairchild on .

From the minute a crop leaves the field, the grain business becomes logistics. For MFA that means being able to receive grain, store it, and deliver it to the most profitable markets in a timely manner. As part of a long-term strategy, MFA Incorporated is stepping up these logistical and delivery capabilities in northwest Missouri by building a shuttle-loader facility.

Through a joint venture with MFA Oil Company, MFA will construct the shuttle loader on the Union Pacific Railroad approximately 5 miles east of Hamilton, Mo. The grain-handling facility will have 2 million bushels of permanent storage capacity in concrete structures plus 1.5 million bushels of temporary storage. The facility’s loop rail siding will accommodate a 110-railroad-car “shuttle” unit.

“When the project is completed, this facility will give farmers in the region—stretching from north central Missouri into southern Iowa—a new option for grain delivery. The high-speed pits and conveyors will handle grain as fast as it will come out of a truck. And because we can put unit trains directly onto the Union Pacific, we will gain access to new markets and new end-users,” said Mitch Dawson, Director of Grain Operations at MFA Incorporated.

Shuttle-loader facilities, sometimes called “loop-loaders,” provide rail siding in the shape of a loop connected to the main rail line. Railroad operators favor these kinds of facilities because of the inherent efficiencies of loading all the cars of a train with the same commodity at one facility and delivering them all to the end point. Such trains, called unit trains, are commonly seen rolling through the Midwest full of coal or grain. It’s a system that has evolved over the years as railroads fine tuned freight logistics and fees.

“Logistics are a key issue in the grain business,” said Dawson. “For MFA, this is the culmination of a multi-year process during which we evaluated the needs of our grain system. We identified this facility as a strategic improvement that will help us provide needed service to our owners and customers in a large part of our northern trade territory.”

Situated on Highway 36 in Caldwell County, Mo., the shuttle-loader facility will take advantage of an improved four-lane highway, proximity to north-south traffic on Interstate 35 and direct access to the Union Pacific Railroad.

Adam McIntyre, regional manager for MFA locations in the area, sees the shuttle loader as a year-round asset for a productive part of the Midwest. “There is a lot of grain produced in north central and northwest Missouri, and harvest is a critical time for farmers. As a place to quickly unload during peak harvest, MFA’s investment in the shuttle loader will directly benefit farmers, but it also helps relieve harvest-time pressure on MFA grain receiving facilities throughout the region. During the high volume of harvest, we can move grain from smaller elevators to the shuttle loader to keep local storage capacity available.”

McIntyre added that the facility will be an asset in the sense that the shuttle loader adds value to farms throughout the year as an additional marketing option for their grain.

“Farmers favor facilities like this one because of the efficiency of large-capacity grain pits and high-speed conveyors to move the grain into storage,” said Dawson. The facility is capable of moving 60,000 bushels per hour as farmers deliver grain. That means farmers will be able to unload as quickly as their trucks allow. The facility will also receive grain from some 21 smaller MFA grain elevators in the region, making those locations more efficient delivery points for local farmers.

Aside from helping remove bottlenecks in grain delivery at harvest time, the shuttle-loader facility will help MFA efficiently sell grain to distant end-user markets—with the potential to positively affect average local basis in the region.

A 110-car shuttle will hold approximately 420,000 bushels of corn or 380,000 bushels of soybeans. “We anticipate the ability to load 15 to 16 million bushels—about 40 shuttle trains—per year,” said Dawson. “Much of the grain will be sold to poultry markets in northwest Arkansas, eastern Oklahoma and eastern Texas. Some new markets we can reach include terminal markets in Arizona, California and Mexico. The facility will also provide MFA an efficient means to deliver northwest Missouri and southwest Iowa grain to terminal markets in U.S. Gulf region.”

The joint venture between MFA Incorporated and MFA Oil Company brings resources and expertise from both cooperatives and a significant investment in local communities. The facility will be operated by MFA Incorporated and is expected bring five full-time jobs as well as seasonal part-time jobs to the region.

“This is a unique opportunity to aid local farmers by improving the transportation infrastructure in northwest Missouri,” said Mark Fenner, President and CEO of MFA Oil. “We’re always looking for ways to support our existing customers and attract new ones and this joint venture with MFA Incorporated will help us do both.”

“The shuttle loader helps fulfill our mission,” said Ernie Verslues, President and CEO of MFA Incorporated. “MFA was formed more than 100 years ago to address lack of buying power and market access for farmers. We still take that mission seriously. This facility fits MFA’s vision to grow in strategic, profitable ways that enhance the economic well-being of our member owners,” he said.

MFA Grain Director Chairs County Elevator Committee

MFA director of grain operations Mitch Dawson is a veteran in the grain trade and part of the team that helped site MFA’s shuttle-loader facility. Dawson was recently elected as chair of the National Grain and Feed Association’s Country Elevator Committee. The 32-member committee represents country elevators in NGFA’s work to develop public policy. He was also elected to a three-year term on the NGFA board.

In his 36-year career, Dawson has lived in seven states and bought, sold and traded countless tons of grain and feed ingredients. His experience includes stints at a multinational agricultural firm, a major export venture in New York City, a commercial feed plant, a major livestock integrator and cooperatives. From getting soybeans across the globe to a consultation on building an ethanol plant, Dawson’s experience has earned him a great deal of knowledge in the grain industry.

As chair of the NGFA’s Country Elevator Committee, Dawson oversees the group’s discussions and recommendations important to grain warehouse operators. The committee covers issues such as futures market performance; transportation; safety, health and environmental issues; agricultural biotechnology and industry education and training needs.

“Two of the things that we’re working through now are domestic trade rules and how biotechnology traits in grain can affect how elevators and feed mills handle grain deliveries,” said Dawson. While NGFA supports biotechnology, its membership advocates for deep market acceptance of traits before moving into the marketing chain.

Dawson’s breadth of work in the grain industry was a benefit when MFA began to research building the 110-car grain shuttle facility near Hamilton on the Union Pacific railroad.

“Siting a facility like this requires a careful look at the marketplace and geography of grain production. This facility will benefit an area that is underserved by rail service for grain transportation,” said Dawson.

To increase rail capacity in today’s rail service environment requires volume to be cost effective. Thus, the 110-car unit train capacity at the Hamilton facility.

“At present,” said Dawson, “we are limited on rail availability due to cost structure and cost of freight. The new facility will put us in a position to be in the origin-supply and destination-demand business. That’s exciting because it puts MFA in a marketplace we haven’t been able to impact.”

Over the next year, as the shuttle loader is being built, MFA’s grain merchandising staff will work to expand relationships with current customers who have Union Pacific grain buying needs. “In addition, we intend to explore opportunities to develop new rail customers whom we haven’t had the opportunity to serve,” said Dawson.

In the May 2016 issue

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4-H champions

Written by Nancy Jorgensen on .

Riley Tade is just 17, but he has a stack of ribbons to show for his work in 4-H livestock projects. Even though cerebral palsy renders him unable to stand independently, he still goes into the ring. A friend ties his Boer goats behind his walker when Riley shows them. His parents work in town and raise goats and horses on a small farm near Ashland, Mo.

Another 17-year-old 4-Her, Corbin Bell’s resume runs as long as some presidential candidates’. He shows steers at 4-H events with enviable success, selecting the best prospects from his family’s cattle operation near Higginsville, Mo.

Riley and Corbin are two of the nation’s 6.3 million 4-H participants. 4-H, which claims to be the nation’s largest youth organization, was formed through cooperative Extension programs and land grant universities more than 100 years ago to teach rural youth agricultural skills. Today the program embraces urban kids, too. Across the globe, young people participate in everything from rocketry to nutrition.

But Riley and Corbin prove that farm kids continue to benefit.

For Riley, goats are the right fit

Riley Tade’s story is as impressive as any 4-H competitor, especially when you consider the obstacles he’s overcome in his five years in Boone County 4-H. Riley doesn’t talk much, so we heard his story from his parents, Jennifer and Steve Tade.

For Riley, handling a steer would be daunting, but Boer goats are just the right size. The breed, raised for meat across the globe, has become popular in 4-H over the past 25 years. “They’re smaller than cattle and sheep,” Steve Tade explained. In addition, the gestation period for a cow is nine months, and most cows drop one calf each time while goats gestate for five months and usually produce twins.

When we spoke to Steve in February, the family was selecting the baby goats Riley will show at the county fair in late July.

Riley has a buck and 14 does, and he raises approximately 25 kids a year,” Steve said. “We do not eat the goats—we sell them, mainly to local 4-Hers.” Riley specializes in wether-producing does. Also, Riley sold two wethers at a consignment sale this spring.

Riley takes the money he earns from goat sales and reinvests in his herd. “We are always improving genetics,” Steve said. “We have invested in artificial insemination on some does, and tried embryo transfers. Riley needs his goats to be gentle, and he starts working on them at a young age to tame them.” Goats can be difficult to contain. “We have electric fence, which is key,” Steve said.

Every day, Riley spends at least an hour after school feeding and caring for the goats. The time lengthens as the fair approaches. “A lot of things are a challenge for Riley, but he wants to do as much himself as he can,” Steve said.

The University of Missouri Extension recently interviewed Riley for a story about the growing number of 4-H members with special needs. The article explained how Riley moves through the barn on a rolling stool, scoops feed, scrubs water buckets and trains baby goats to lead before they’re weaned. “I’m tough as nails,” Riley told the interviewer.

Riley is the Tades’ only child. Steve, who sells insurance and Jennifer, a corporate insurance trainer, are dedicated to Riley’s goat project. Steve designed and fabricated a hook for Riley’s walker that allows Riley to lead the goats. The family border collie, Myrty, moves the goats through an exercise pen to build their muscles.

Creighton Sapp, a former member of Riley’s 4-H club, has helped out at shows by attaching Riley’s goats to his walker, even when he was competing with Riley. He takes them off the lead and sets them up for the judge to feel their muscles.

“Riley always has a positive attitude and has fun,” Steve said. During the county fair, which runs Monday through Saturday, Riley stays in the family trailer’s living quarters at the fairgrounds. “He hangs out in the barn, plays cards with his friends, has water fights, that type of thing,” Steve said. “We make him go home for a few hours once in a while to take a nap and chill.”

Last October, Riley showed his goats at the American Royal Livestock Show in Kansas City. “The quality of animals ran deep; it was the toughest show Riley has participated in,” Jennifer said. “He placed fifth in one class.” The family also took Riley to Denver’s National Western Stock Show goat event in January. “Riley has his sights set on Denver for 2017.”

Besides showing goats, Riley cures country hams that he enters in the county fair. In 2015, his ham qualified for the state fair.

“We love 4-H because of the amazing people we have met,” Jennifer said. “Riley looks forward every month to the meetings. He enjoys visiting with friends about his projects.”

After high school, Riley plans to stay on the farm. He also dreams of becoming an auctioneer. He records his favorite auctioneers on TV and treks to the local sale barn the first Thursday of each month. Every Monday night, he practices his auctioneering skills at home.

4-H steers Corbin Bell in the right direction

Corbin showed hogs for six years, raising three grand champions at the Lafayette County Fair and taking a market hog title at the State Fair. In 2012, he switched to steers, and in 2014 won the county grand champion carcass competition.

“There’s a bigger payoff for beef than hogs,” Corbin explained. “We eat the beef I raise and sell some to family members and locals. It helps pay for my gas.”

The secret to his success? “Quality,” Corbin said. “All my steers are finished and conditioned in our family feedlot. We steadily improve by upgrading our bulls and through artificial insemination.”

Corbin also gets help from his big brother Mason, a large animal veterinarian and former member of Oklahoma State’s Livestock Judging team. He’s the 4-H project leader for Corbin’s livestock projects and helps Corbin select four calves as show candidates from the family feedlot.

Corbin’s dad, Steve Bell, farms full-time with his father, Robert. They raise 150 Angus-cross cow/calf pairs and grow soybeans, corn, wheat, hay and pasture. Steve serves on the county fair board. Corbin’s mom Kim, a special education teacher, has been a 4-H volunteer leader for 20 years and runs the concession stand at the county fair. Corbin’s sister Ashley, who works at the University of Kansas Hospital as the Lead Cancer Registrar, also led clubs and projects.

It takes more than family support and quality animals to create a champion, and Corbin is self-driven. “For two months before the county fair, I spend one to two hours each night halter-breaking my steers,” Corbin said. Along the way, he selects the two best steers to show—last year he named them Ben and Jerry. By show time, each weighs about 1,300 pounds, which can be a handful. Mason helps by trimming the steers’ heads, and Corbin washes the animals every other day three weeks before the fair, and every day the week prior.

“No one knows how much effort goes on,” Corbin said. “Hard work pays off.”

It’s not easy to catch Corbin. He takes part in everything from varsity basketball and track to church, choir and the National Honor Society.

Ina Linville, director of Missouri 4-H, reports that the most active ages for 4-H participants run from kindergarten through eighth grade. While she didn’t spell out the reason, the numbers likely tend to fall off in high school as interest turns to other activities. For farm kids, that includes FFA. Corbin is treasurer of his local FFA chapter.

Still, Corbin has stuck with 4-H for 10 years. He participated in projects including livestock judging, forage and grains, public speaking and photography. In 2014, he was crowned Lafayette County 4-H King. He’s past president of the Lafayette County 4-H Council, and those leadership skills took him on an expense-paid trip to the National 4-H Congress in Atlanta last year. This year, he was one of six 4-Hers earning the Missouri Key Award, was named a representative for the Northwest 4-H Region in Missouri, and recently attended the 4-H legislative academy. Next, he hopes to become a state officer.

“Participating in 4-H hasn’t been an option for me,” Corbin said. “My great aunt and great grandmother started our Hazel Dell 4-H Club in 1950. My whole family’s heavily involved, and the roots run deep.” Nationally, 4-H has more than 3,000 volunteer leaders.

Corbin also credits his local Extension 4-H coordinator, Kathy Bondy, now retired, for pushing him to fill out applications and “strive for greatness.” Linville gives county Extension employees a lot of credit. “They are the face of 4-H at the local level,” she said.

For the future, Corbin plans to earn his master’s degree and become an accountant, eventually working in agricultural finance.

Corbin’s family purchases feed and minerals at MFA Agri Services in Higginsville. MFA regularly purchases animals at the county fair from Corbin and other contenders and supports 4-H in other ways.

4-H struggles to change and grow

Across MFA country, almost every county has at least one 4-H Club supported by a small army of volunteers, Extension employees, local sponsors and alumni donors.

“One of every five Missourians between the ages of five and 18 participates in 4-H,” says Ina Linville, state director of 4-H at the University of Missouri. Her organization recently conducted a survey showing that 21 percent of all 4-Hers live on a farm and 41 percent live in a town of fewer than 10,000 people. The rest live in suburban or urban areas.

Linville appreciates how MFA supports 4-H through sponsorships and other contributions. “MFA and its Agri Services locations also buy a lot of animals at fairs,” she said, which helps defer expenses that 4-H kids bear when raising animals. “MFA also supports robotics, and it’s exploding.”

Besides private funds, 4-H charges program participant fees, seeks grants and obtains funds from the government. However, Linville reported that state and federal support for 4-H has been flat for 10 to 15 years, and took a hit as many Extension programs froze hiring and cut budgets. National 4-H Council total liabilities and assets declined from $39 million in 2013 to $34 million in 2014—the last years figures were available on www.4-H.org.

In Missouri and Kansas, things are looking up. Missouri added more faculty and staff in the last two years. “We’re looking to grow in 2016,” Linville said. 4-H plans to expand in-school programs on timely topics such as DNA and biotech.

“Agriculture is becoming more technical,” Linville said. “We’re preparing kids for the 21st-century workforce.” For example, 4-H offers programs on goal-setting and problem-solving. 4-H members are two times as likely to go on to higher education and three times as likely to enter science fields, she added.

Sarah Keatley, events coordinator for Kansas 4-H, agrees that private giving is up, and public is down. Still, she says Kansas 4-H has grown from 60,000 participants in 2014 to more than 86,000 in 2015.

In the April 2016 Issue

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