McKenna's parents, Randy and Veronica, both have rodeo experience and support their daughter's love of the sport. Her brother, Garrett, rides bulls and saffle broncs. Along with horses and cattle, the family raises Australian shepherds, including Rojo (left) and Bella Blue.
Mckenna Golliher, a sophmore at Camdenton High School, looks forward to competing with her barrel horse, Larry, in the upcoming season of the Missouri High School Rodeo Association. The pair will ride in 10 event this spring.
The textured formulation of MFA's new premium performance feed, Exceltra, has been a hit with Larry. The Gollihers switched him to the feed as part of a test group in December, and they say his acceptance of the product has been outstanding.
Randy, an employee at MFA affiliate Farmers Produce Exchange in Lebanon, pours Larry's afternoon ration of Exceltra. Randy is pleased with the product's Shield Technology, which helps keep this active rodeo horse healthy during the stress of travel competition.
The search for the right partner had been long and frustrating, but McKenna Golliher knew right away that Larry was the one.
Sure, he was a little older, a little too thin. But the horse had potential, and 16-year-old McKenna fell in love. Her parents, Randy and Veronica, gave the pair their full blessing.
“They really clicked,” Veronica said. “Before we found Larry, we’d been looking quite a while for a barrel horse that would be both fast and safe for McKenna. He already knew the patterns, and the first time she rode him, he just wrapped around the barrels. He really likes to run.”
“I was a little scared because he was so much faster than my old horse, but it was so much fun!” McKenna said. “We’d tried out a couple of other horses, too, but I picked him.”
Neglect by previous owners had left Larry undernourished, but the Gollihers began working to improve his body condition as soon as they brought him home to their Stoutland, Mo., farm this past August. Within a month, McKenna was riding the 14-year-old thoroughbred-quarter horse cross in rodeos.
“When we got him, you could see his ribs,” Randy said. “His back and hips were dipped down, and he didn’t have any top line muscle. It’s amazing the difference in what he looks like now.”
Randy, an employee of MFA affiliate Farmers Produce Exchange #139 in Lebanon, Mo., started Larry on MFA’s Legends Show & Pleasure feed along with rice bran. The horse began to thrive. But in December, the Gollihers were asked to be part of an introductory group to try out MFA’s new premium horse feed, Exceltra. Results have been outstanding, Randy said.
“The acceptability of the Exceltra has been great,” he said. “Larry never hesitated when we made the switch. He’s maintained his weight, and it gives him good energy. Plus, he’s had no digestion problems whatsoever. I’ve been able to drop the rice bran supplement because he’s getting everything he needs.”
This new feed formulation is a breakthrough in equine nutrition, said Janice Spears, MFA equine sales and companion pet specialist. Exceltra is designed for horses of all ages, with enhanced levels of carbohydrates for growing, showing and working equine. The pelleted feed is beet pulp-based and contains low levels of sugars and starches to assist metabolic disorders and excitable horses.
“Beet pulp is a good fiber source, and it encourages horses to drink more water,” Janice explained. “That’s good for overall digestion because horses have such a small stomach. They need that fiber to break down more quickly and start moving through their system.”
What truly sets Exceltra apart, however, is the inclusion of MFA Shield Technology: cutting-edge, research-proven additives to enhance equine health and performance. Shield is an innovative concept in equine nutrition that helps keep horses free from antibiotics with an all-natural blend of botanical extracts and synbiotics, Janice said.
“No other horse feed has this kind of technology,” she said. “We are so limited in what kind of medications we can give horses, especially in their feed, because we don’t know what their consumption level will be. Shield gives horse owners an opportunity to boost immune health without medications.”
Shield Technology has been shown to improve immune function, feed efficiency, reproduction and foal health, Janice said. It’s also available in MFA’s new Suprema feed, designed for the needs of older horses.
“We’ve had such good results with Shield Technology for other species, it was a natural fit to incorporate it into our equine feeds as well,” she said. “It’s working on cattle, it’s working on dogs, it’s working on goats and sheep and rabbits. And now, it’s working on horses.”
Having a strong immune system is critical for competitive rodeo horses such as Larry that experience the strain of travel, strenuous activity and exposure to other animals, Randy said.
“There’s peace of mind knowing Shield Technology is in this feed, because hauling him around exposes him to a lot of things,” Randy said. “His overall health is excellent, and I think we’ve got him turned on the right track.”
McKenna, a sophomore at Camdenton High School, participates in the Missouri High School Rodeo Association and has 10 events coming up this spring. Her 18-year-old brother, Garrett, also competes in saddle bronc and bull-riding events. Barrel-racing is McKenna’s specialty, and she aspires to learn pole-bending. Turns out Larry’s got skills in that sport, too.
“I’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember, and I love everything about it,” she said. “I especially love barrel-racing—the thrill of it. My goal is to just keep getting faster and better and hopefully make the nationals someday.”
Due to changes in suppliers, the Legends line is expected to eventually be phased out and replaced by Exceltra and Suprema premium feeds, which are now available at most MFA and AGChoice locations. MFA’s Easykeeper feed will continue to be a mainstay equine nutrition product. For more information, visit https://mfa-inc.com/equine.
MorSoy seed is packaged in 50-pound bags at Mid-State Seed in Marshall, Mo., one of several leading seed production companies that MFA Incorporated partners with to grow, condition and package its proprietary MorSoy and MorCorn products. These days, bagged seed is less popular with growers than mini-bulk containers and true bulk loads of seed.
MorCorn production goes full circle when the seed arrives on the farm to be planted.
Trent Hall, a registered seed technologist with the Missouri Crop Improvement Association, prepares a sample of MorSoy seed for germination testing. MFA works with this laboratory as well as several other third-party testing facilities to ensure quality of its seed.
John Pat Samson custom-harvests a field of MorSoy 3922 near Marshall, Mo. The grower has been producing seedstock for more than 25 years on his own farm as well as providing custom-harvesting services for other farmers.
Samson unloads MorSoy seed into his semi trailer, which will be hauled straight to the Mid-State Seed conditioning plant in Marshall, Mo.
MFA employees learn about MorSoy varieties at the 2017 Training Camp field day. These trials provide valuable data to determine which varieties should join the MorSoy lineup. Generally, a hybrid or variety is on a five-year lifecycle, but popular products may last longer.
Mid-State Seed is one of the companies that handles production of MorSoy seed, all of which is grown in Missouri. MFA Incorporated has been part-owner in Mid-State Seed since 2012, when the two entities partnered to form a new LLC.
During conditioning, soybeans go through a number of processes to sort, clean and eliminate lower-quality seed. Here at Mid-State, they run through a high-tech Satake optical sorting machine that identifies and rejects seed with color deviations.
These days, all seed corn is sized and treated before being packaged. Here, a representative lot sample is being taken to send off for third-party control checks.
MorSoy variety trials are harvested this past fall with a specialized research plot combine at MFA's Training Camp site in Boonville, Mo. Nearly 40 varieties were evaluated in MFA's replicated trials in 2017, and Seed Division product managers say many new varieties and hybrids are being considered for testing in 2018.
Brent Foreman of Anabel, Mo., left, regularly hosts replicated trials on his farm, working with MFA Incorporated Area Sales Manager Brad Bell to produce and harvest the plots. Foreman also trusts the MorSoy and MorCorn products in his personal farm portfolio.
Corn seed is produced and harvested differently than soybeans. To produce corn hybrids, two different inbred lines must be cross-pollinated. The plants must be grown in a meticulous arrangement of male versus female rows to assure the desired hybrids are created. Females are detasseled to keep them from self-pollinating, while the male tassels stay intact. Then, the field is custom-harvested as whole ears using specialized picking equipment.
Seed corn inbreds generally produce short, unattractive ears.
The ears are loaded into a semi trailer and then hauled to the seed plant, where they will undergo a series of conditioning processes. This particular field was harvested in mid-September at 28-percent moisture, and then the ears were dried to 12-percent moisture at the plant, which is about a four-day process.
From the truck, seed corn ears are unloaded and then travel up a conveyor to the first stages of conditioning, They're husked, sorted and dried intact before being shelled, cleaned, treated and packaged.
At the plant, bagged MorCorn and 90 percent of MorSoy seed shipped straight from the processors to MFA retail locations, said MFA Seed Division Director Steve Fleming.
John Pat Samson has been producing soybean seedstock for so long, he doesn’t worry about the beginning or ending of its story. For more than 25 years, he’s focused on the middle chapters—growing and harvesting—not the seed’s origin or final destination.
“I’m so used to this, I don’t really think about the fact that these beans will be growing on someone else’s farm one day,” Samson said as he harvested a field of MorSoy 3922 seed this past fall near Marshall, Mo. “I just try to raise the best crop I can, keep everything clean, control the weeds and do a good job of combining the beans. That’s what I’m concerned about.”
He’s not alone. Most farmers don’t contemplate the complex process of seed production as they get ready to plant each spring. They may not realize that seed’s journey begins long before it reaches their farm—from genetic selection, field testing and evaluation to production, harvesting, conditioning, packaging and delivery—not to mention stringent quality control procedures every step of the way.
When it comes to MFA’s own proprietary brands of seed, there’s even more to the story. That’s because MorCorn hybrids and MorSoy varieties are tailor-made for growers in MFA’s trade territory and backed by the support and expertise of a highly trained agronomy staff. Plus, that seed is delivered along with all the products, technology and services needed for today’s row-crop production.
“The overarching premise in our MorCorn and MorSoy lineups is to have best-in-class products that can compete in the marketplace while performing very well in our geography,” said Steve Fleming, MFA Incorporated Seed Division director. “We have a customized approach. Our replicated trial system touches every part of our trade area, so we are really dialed in to the different soils and environments and are able to give growers products that fit their farms.”
The seed saga begins during the fall and winter, when Fleming, MorCorn and MorSoy product managers and agronomy personnel meet with the nation’s largest genetic providers to select hybrids and varieties that have potential to perform in our region. In the spring, those selections are planted as experimentals in replicated trials across MFA’s trade territory and evaluated throughout the growing season. At the end of the season, these plots are harvested with specialized equipment to scientifically measure yield and other characteristics. The accumulated data is used to base decisions on whether a particular hybrid or variety is worthy of joining the product line.
Nearly 40 soybean varieties and 37 corn hybrids were tested in 2017, Fleming said. Out of those, typically only 10 percent advance to the seed production stage. The products that make the cut are grown one season for sales the next. In other words, the seed being produced in 2018 won’t be ready for growers to purchase until the spring of 2019.
“We’re looking to find hybrids and varieties that make a total package for the farmer,” said Tommy Lee, MorSoy product manager. “We have our workhorses and our racehorses and everything in between. We don’t just try to sell one or two products. It’s a portfolio. That helps a grower spread his risk.”
In his previous role as salesman for MFA Agri Services’ LaBelle group, Lee said he’s seen the popularity of both brands grow among producers. Since the MorSoy and MorCorn lines were launched, they’ve built a solid reputation for quality across MFA territory, and market share continues to increase.
“It really comes down to performance,” Lee said. “We’ll run with anybody. MFA brings a full approach to the farm, not only seed but also chemicals, fertilizer and other inputs the farmer needs. When you can bring the whole spectrum to cover that farm, it sets us apart from other seed companies. Nobody else is doing that.”
This time of year, Fleming and the MFA Seed Division staff are focused on getting seed orders to MFA locations prior to the spring planting rush. After that, their priority is putting together seed production plans and working with the MFA agronomy team to design replicated trials.
“Once that’s done, we get to the fun part—getting to see the new experimentals in the field and comparing them to what’s in our current lineup,” said Adam Noellsch, MorCorn product manager. “It’s pretty neat to watch the product growing in the plots and evaluating what it’s doing throughout the season.”
MFA works with leading seed production companies in the Midwest to produce the varieties and hybrids that will be offered in the MorSoy and MorCorn product lines. All of MFA’s soybean seed is grown in Missouri, while corn is produced here and in surrounding states.
Once MFA’s seed staff decides how much of a particular product they want to sell the following year, the production companies contract with a hand-selected group of farmers to grow and harvest those orders. It takes a special kind of grower to produce seed, said Steve Blalock, president of Mid-State Seed, where many of MFA’s MorSoy varieties are conditioned and packaged. MFA Incorporated is part owner of this operation based in Marshall, Mo., as well as Cache River Valley Seed in Cash, Ark. MFA also has a longstanding relationship with Bullard Seed Co. in Ashland, Mo.
Seed production requires that all the equipment used to plant and harvest the crop is thoroughly cleaned so there’s no cross-contamination of varieties or traits. Once the seedstock is planted, the production companies take responsibility for scouting the fields during the growing season to make sure the crop is meeting expectations. Weeds, insects and disease must be controlled, and harvest must be completed in a timely manner to ensure quality.
The extra effort is rewarded with a premium price, Blalock said. Mid-State works with growers in Missouri to produce between 45,000 and 55,000 acres of soybean seedstock each year.
“There’s a lot to it,” said Samson, who grew 1,200 acres of seed beans for Mid-State in 2017. “You have to keep everything separate. You have to keep everything clean. You have to flush your combine and grain cart. It takes more time and effort, but the premium makes it worth my while. Plus, I know I have a place to go with my beans, and I don’t have to pay for storage.”
For MorCorn seed, the process is a bit more complicated, explains Steve Grenier, field production manager in southern Iowa. Seedstock fields must be planted and detasseled according to precise instructions, ensuring the right arrangement and ratio of female and male plants to create the desired hybrids. Throughout the season, field specialists monitor the corn for issues that could jeopardize seed quality. Unlike soybeans, which are harvested just like grain, corn seed is harvested by the ear with specialized picking equipment.
“We provide our growers with the inbred seed, planting instructions and supervision during the entire planting process,” Greiner said. “It is critical to make sure the planting is completed correctly. If split planting is not done correctly, male or female seed is mixed or in the wrong row, the seed will not be usable because the purity of that hybrid will not meet standards. Planting is the first step in many to provide a quality product.”
That care extends to the conditioning plant. Every truckload of seed—both corn and soybeans—is sampled upon arrival. Those samples are sent to third-party quality control labs to assay such attributes as germination, varietal purity and technological traits. Once the plant gets the go-ahead from MFA to start processing, the seed goes through a series of procedures to clean, sort and package it in bags or mini-bulk containers. Seed is also delivered to farmers in “true bulk” form for loading directly into tenders.
“The conditioning piece of this process is all about taking out the bad stuff and leaving the good stuff,” Fleming said. “We set minimum standards with the processors on corn and soybeans, and it’s up to those folks to work with their growers to ensure that the quality is maintained.”
December, January and February are the busiest processing months, Fleming said. Shipping to stores begins as soon as orders are ready, typically wrapping up by mid-April. During that time, Seed Division personnel also evaluate data from MFA’s replicated trials, making new product selections and starting the story all over again.
“We utilize our agronomy Training Camp at Boonville for testing and education, and then we have a replicated trial in all 11 MFA area sales managers’ territories,” Fleming said. “This work allows us to take the emotion out. A product either performs or it doesn’t. It’s about as unbiased as I know how to make it. We literally let the data speak for itself. We’re not trying to pick favorites. It has to perform.”
One of MFA’s replicated trials can be found each year on the farm of Brent Foreman near Clarence, Mo. The grower, who farms with his son, Jarrell, raises 1,000 acres of soybeans, 600 acres of corn and red Angus cattle. Beyond the test plots, Foreman said he also includes MorCorn and MorSoy products in his personal row-crop portfolio, not only because of their proven performance but also because they’re his cooperative-owned brand.
“I like seeing how the hybrid and variety numbers perform against each other and their competitors, and then I have that firsthand look at the ones I want to plant on my farm,” Foreman said. “I trust the MorCorn and MorSoy brands because they’re designed to work here in our area, and I see that every year on my farm. I had a MorCorn hybrid this year—4319—that was the best corn we planted, averaging well over 200 bushels, and MorSoy 3944 made over 70 bushels. They’re as good or better than anything in the marketplace.”
Every chapter in the story of MorCorn and MorSoy seed contributes to that kind of confidence in the brand, Fleming said.
“Growers want to know that they are buying a high-quality product, and when they purchase a bag of MorCorn or MorSoy, that’s what they can expect,” he said. “We’re giving growers access to a broad range of traits and genetics that they know will perform on their farms. It really is all about giving growers more yield, more expertise and more choice.”
For more information about MorCorn and MorSoy and to contact your area seed expert, visit www.mfaseed.com.
See MorCorn and MorSoy seed production in action through two new videos below.
From left, Tyler Burgin, Emily Reed and Matt Hart were all new ag teachers in the Marshall school district, but their students say they are the big reason why their ag program is so successful. "I've learned so much from my ag teachers," said Missouri FFA Chapter Secretary Sydnee Mason, who was part of the Marshall team that won the Model of Excellence in 2015 and is now a freshman at the University of Missouri majoring in Agriculture Education Leadership. "I learned confidence from them, and I think that speaks volumes."
Leo Marquess, left, and Colton Green assemble a simple circuit for their Ag Structures final.
Alexis Thomas and Carolslea Green work on a weld for a final in their Ag Science class. The Marshall FFA chapter organized a campaign called "Welding our Future Together" to encourage students interested in pursuing agricultural construction careers.
Jacob Hall checks the soil moisture of greenhouse poinsettias left over from the FFA sale in December. During the winter, students use the greenhouse to study the lifecycle of soybean plants, identify weeds and care for succulents.
Marshall High School agriculture teacher and FFA advisor Tyler Burgin, second from left, measures a weld while students Nick Newton, center, and Leo Marquess observe. For their semester final, the students were tested on the precision and quality of their welds.
Jaden Riley leads his show heifer, Vanna, across the barn lot. Riley works on his family farm as part of his supervised agricultural experience, which is a fundamental part of FFA. For the past two years, he took home the champion crossbred heifer title at Missouri State Fair and last year won champion Hereford steer.
Taylor Gotmer and Bailey Souder demonstrate the benefits of composting while Emma Mizer films and Paige Durham holds cue cards for a video the group is creating in their Ag Leadership class. The compost bins were purchased using a $1,200 grant from the National FFA Living to Serve Program.
Marshall FFA members Leo Marquess, left, and Eli O'Bryan sit on the bow of a boat they built in their Ag Construction class. They said it took them roughly two months to build. The goal was to make it float, which they will test in the spring.
In the agriculture wing of Marshall High School, bright bulletin boards in national blue and corn gold adorn walls displaying pictures and calendar events. In the classrooms and shops, FFA students are welding, listening to instruction, taking tests and perfecting their projects.
These could be scenes from any high school ag program, but there’s something extra- special going on in these halls. In fact, the Marshall FFA chapter made history this fall when it became the first-ever two-time winner of the Model of Excellence award—the highest honor awarded to a high school FFA chapter by the National FFA Organization.
To earn this accolade, a chapter must “exhibit exemplary qualities in all categories of growing leaders, building communities and strengthening agriculture,” according to the National FFA Organization. Marshall FFA received its first Model of Excellence recognition in 2015 and is the only chapter to have been named a national finalist for the award six times and to take the top honor more than once.
The 2017 award was presented Oct. 26 at the 90th National FFA Convention and Expo in Indianapolis. On the stage that day, the lights were bright, said Marshall FFA Parliamentarian Jacob Hall, and he couldn’t see beyond the first 10 rows in the auditorium full of 60,000 people. But when the chapter was called as the overall winner, he said it was a “whirlwind of different emotions.”
“Adrenaline, happiness, joy—it was such an amazing experience,” Hall said. “When we gave our presentation the previous day, we walked out of the room and knew that we’d done all that we could do. If it was ever our time, that was going to be it.”
So what is it about this FFA chapter that sets it apart from the rest?
One of the most marked differences is that any student enrolled in an agriculture class at Marshall High becomes part of FFA, so the chapter is 164 members strong. Because all ag students are members, they all have the opportunity to share ideas for their chapter’s program of activities (POA). That type of involvement gives the students a vested interest in the outcome of those activities, said Bailey Souder, a senior and FFA co-reporter.
“We stand out because of the way we set up our POA,” Souder said. “We make sure that every individual in FFA is involved. We give every class three activities to plan. By doing that, we get more kids excited about our activities and the things we do. It helps get the rest of our students [in our school] and our community excited, too. That’s what we want, because we genuinely enjoy everything that we do.”
This method ensures fresh ideas emerge every year, Souder added. Out of the 15 activities the Marshall chapter was required to include on the Model of Excellence application, 14 were new from the previous year.
“Pretty much all of our ideas are student-driven,” said FFA President Taylor Petzoldt, a senior. “It’s how we always have new, amazing activities because we get input from the kids as young as the freshman all the way to seniors.”
The Model of Excellence award may be just a symbol of recognition—a pat on the back for a job well done—but the true success is measured in the services the students and their advisors provide to their community and their peers.
One example is the annual Veteran’s Day assembly they host schoolwide, from pre-k to 12th grade. In 2017, the FFA chapter honored more than 500 veterans in the community. Another example is the “I Believe” campaign, in which the students made blankets, hosted a book drive and then donated the goods to pediatric cancer patients. Then there’s the kindness campaign, which focused on making the school a supportive place for everyone. Other service projects have included the “Operation Beautiful” campaign, which focused on positive self-image, and the “Little Lunkers” program, in which students taught preschoolers to fish.
The list goes far beyond simple application requirements, said Advisor Tyler Burgin, who works alongside three other ag teachers: Emily Reed, Matt Hart and Callie Dobbins.
“Some of the ideas are curricular, and some have ties to agriculture,” Burgin said. “In our community, even something like positive self-image has ties to agriculture.”
This program model gives the students a sense of ownership, he added, and their actions have impact.
“It usually starts with just one idea,” Burgin said. “Then we try to add meat to it—another component like ‘How can we reach more people?’ Or we look for an avenue that would make it unique or beneficial to the community.”
Marshall ag students say their FFA experiences have been invaluable to their education and future plans.
“I think the impact that FFA had on me is pretty consistent with all students,” Petzoldt said. “My biggest thing was gaining public-speaking skills and the confidence to take on leadership roles. All of our activities in some way or another benefit the community or other students, so it allows us to get a little more responsibility while giving back.”
Much like the many jobs in agriculture, there’s an array of skills members can attain through FFA. Students typically walk away from their experience in Marshall with a number of tools to use both on and off the farm, from public speaking to finance to welding.
“FFA is one of the only student organizations that can truly say it’s leadership and career readiness-oriented,” Burgin said. “Even if it’s just for networking or being able to list an FFA proficiency award on their resume or job application, someone in that office is usually going to know the value of FFA.”
Not only does Marshall FFA foster a sense of community and service, but students also describe a feeling of “home.” Their work has inspired more than one student to choose agriculture for their profession.
“I’ve decided I want to be an ag educator,” Hall said. “I have the best examples in the entire world right here at my school. They make me want to come to school every day, and the three hours I’m in my ag classes are going to be three good hours. We always know that they are going to be behind us 100 percent, and that’s what I want to be able to do. I want to influence hundreds of students throughout my career in becoming the next generation of agriculturalists.”
Not only does the national FFA organization take note of what the Marshall chapter is doing, so does the agriculture community.
“I don’t know if the teachers realize it, but the community saw that [award] and recognized they’ve got something going on that others don’t,” said Matt Riley, whose son, Jaden, helps manage the family beef herd as part of his FFA supervised agricultural experience (SAE). “They’re doing something right.”
Because the students have so much say in how the program runs, the program is constantly evolving, but Burgin said the goal is always more new activities and a bigger impact every year.
“The program has a chance to change based on the kids’ interests,” Burgin said. “My sophomore class is very strong in SAEs, so they’re showing livestock and working in lawn care, while the seniors are very much speech and leadership kids. The junior class is a little bit smaller, but they want to be part of everything. They may try a leadership contest but also be on an agronomy team.”
No matter what the activity, it will always be about the students, Burgin added.
“If we didn’t have quality kids, we wouldn’t have quality activities,” he said. “Not everyone participates in everything, but everyone contributes to something.”
Delegates chat before sessions begin at MFA Incorporated's 2017 Annual Meeting Nov. 28 in Columbia, Mo.
Thad Becker, left, MFA Incorporated precision agronomy manager, is interviewed by Farm broadcaster Max Armstrong about the Nutri-Track program during pre-meeting activities. Interviews with Becker and other MFA employees were broadcast onto the screens for the audience to enjoy.
Chief Executive Officer Ernie Verslues shares his thoughts about the road ahead for MFA during his address to the membership.
Among exhibitors at the annual meeting were representatives from sister cooperative MFA Oil Co., where visitors received friendly greetings and giveaways from Tami Ensor, left, and George Stenger.
During the business meeting, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Raetz shares financial highlights of MFA Incorporated's 2017 fiscal year.
Missouri Department of Agriculture Director Chris Chinn, left, and her MDA team visited the annual meeting as the first stop on their "Reach MORE" tour. They also collected survey information from farmers to help guide their efforts.
MFA Board Chairman Don Mills, who represents District 11, delivers opening remarks at the 2017 Annual Meeting to the more than 600 people in attendance. Mills is completing his final term on the board.
In addition to conducting pre-meeting interviews, veteran farm broadcaster Max Armstrong, host of "This Week in AgriBusiness" television show and "Farm Progress America" and "Midwest Digest" radio programs, served as the event's guest speaker.
Ryan Mauzey, right, explains the features of MFA's new Brush Buster pasture sprayer to MFA Director John Moffitt, left, and Feed Area Sales Manager Sam Owen. The meeting room was set up with displays and booths for both livestock and crops areas, giving guests a chance to see products and talk with MFA personnel.
People, operations and financial strength are the foundation of MFA Incorporated’s continued success despite uncertainties in the agricultural economy.
That was the overall message from leaders at MFA’s 2017 Annual Meeting, held Nov. 28 at the Holiday Inn Executive Center in Columbia.
“Looking back at 2017, did we build for the road ahead? Did we make progress toward sustainable success?” asked CEO Ernie Verslues in his address. “Yes, I believe our efforts leading up to and including this past fiscal year have put this company on a solid foundation. There is still more work to be done, but we have a strong base from which we continue to build.”
More than 600 delegates, employees and special guests attended the meeting, which featured exhibits by MFA’s operating divisions, MFA Oil and the Missouri Department of Agriculture.
In his remarks to the audience, MFA Board Chairman Don Mills said the cooperative’s leadership and employees took the challenges of the past year and steered MFA to “respectable results.” Pre-tax profits in 2017 were $10.2 million, an improvement of $5.6 million over 2016. MFA will return $6.3 million to member-owners in cash patronage and equity retirement.
“I think it is fair to say that much of the past year’s success comes from foresight and the offering of products and services that truly make a difference in how we farm,” he said. “I can tell you, as a farmer, it was more fun to look at profitability and balance sheets just a few years back. But I think you’ll see that MFA is on solid footing and poised to continue its mission to provide the value-added products, services and expertise that benefit us as member-owners.”
Mills also credited MFA employees for contributing to the company’s success.
“As a farmer-customer, I appreciate good employees. As a corporate board member, I see the absolute necessity of good employees,” Mills said. “I consider MFA’s employee workforce second to none. These are the hardworking folks who make MFA what it is. They continually look for ways that help MFA help farmers. They put in the hours at planting and harvest. They deliver feed in the snow and cold. And they do it with a smile and pride in the company.”
Mills, who completed the last of his four terms as a director, said he’s proud of the decisions made during his 12 years on the MFA Incorporated board. For example, he pointed out he’d been involved in hiring two CEOs and authorizing the cooperative’s largest capital expenditure in its history with the Hamilton Rail Facility.
“This company hasn’t been here for 104 years without having good leaders, and serving on the board has been one of the greatest experiences of my life,” Mills said. “MFA is a great company with wonderful people. We’ve gone through some really good times, and we’re in a tough economy right now, but the company keeps going and keeps growing.”
Keeping pace with change
Verslues also acknowledged agriculture’s downturn, but said he was optimistic about the future and what MFA and its members can accomplish together.
“Our competitive advantage comes from attracting, developing and retaining the best people,” he said. “When it comes to products, services and solutions, we are a proven leader in bringing innovation and technology to the marketplace.”
Specifically, Verslues cited the new MFA Rail Facility in Hamilton, MorSoy and MorCorn proprietary brands of seed and the latest technologies in crop protection and precision agriculture as examples of MFA’s commitment to providing value and benefits to farmers. Though they’re smaller in volume, MFA’s livestock divisions are “key contributors to the overall value we provide to you, the member,” Verslues said. Fiscal 2017 brought exciting developments for MFA livestock customers, he added, including new products with Shield Technology, the Health Track program’s partnership with ABS Global and the launch of the PowerCalf mobile app.
MFA’s plan to navigate the road ahead includes finding ways to grow the company, being a leader in innovation and technology, focusing on data management and looking for efficiencies in product and service offerings to the customer as well as internal operations, Verslues said.
“It would be hard to argue that any industry has experienced more change than agriculture the last 10 years, and the pace of change is projected to increase in the immediate future,” he said. “We must embrace this change to shape the future we desire. If we don’t, we may not like the future we get.”
Building financial strength
Chief Financial Officer Jeff Raetz shared financial highlights of MFA’s 2017 fiscal year, which ended Aug. 31. Consolidated sales for MFA’s business entities were $1.23 billion, representing figures from MFA Incorporated and MFA Enterprises.
In 2017, MFA Incorporated’s cooperative business reached $1.04 billion in sales. MFA Enterprises, a wholly owned subsidiary of MFA Incorporated, had $185 million in sales. Formed in 2001, MFA Enterprises represents non-cooperative expansion in southern Iowa, southeast Kansas, west-central Missouri and northwest Missouri.
Joint ventures include AGRIServices of Brunswick, Cache River Valley Seed, Mid-State Seed and Alliance Animal Care. MFA holds a 50-percent ownership in these companies. The cooperative also has 45-percent stake in Central Missouri AGRIService. Together, the joint ventures delivered $398 million in sales this year.
Greater grain volume is a primary driver of MFA’s sales increase, Raetz reported. At $482 million, grain sales increased 27 percent over last year.
“We handled 75 million bushels in 2017, the second-largest number of bushels in company history,” he said. “We were blessed with a bountiful harvest last fiscal year and this year, too. With the Hamilton Rail Facility coming online, we anticipate handling 92 million bushels of grain in 2018.”
Reviewing financial performance by category, Raetz reported that field crop sales were $582 million, a decrease of $12 million, and livestock supply sales were also down $11 million to $158 million. However, he pointed out, volume tells a different story.
“There’s no need to worry about decreasing sales dollars,” he said. “A commodity-based business like ours will ebb and flow with the market. I believe that the volume numbers show we are growing or maintaining market share in our territory.”
On the crop side of the business, plant food tonnage increased slightly, but sales dollars decreased $22 million due to lower selling price for fertilizer. MFA’s MorSoy and MorCorn continue to make up a larger portion of seed sales. Crop Protection sales dollars also increased 6 percent this fiscal year.
In the livestock sector, the majority of the sales decline was in Feed, Raetz explained, although Animal Health and Farm Supply sales also decreased slightly.
“If you think back to last year, we entered the fall with an abundance of hay and grass and had one of the warmest winters in recent history,” he said. “Those two factors are what I would call a perfect storm for our Feed Division. It’s hard to sell feed when there’s plenty of hay and no winter. There is no question, however, that we are the market leader in our trade territory, and we have high-quality products that set us apart from our competition.”
Total margins and operating revenues were $219 million, an impressive increase of $14 million from fiscal 2016. Joint venture earnings were $3 million compared to $2.5 million last year. Working capital was $80 million at year end.
Total assets at the end of August were up slightly to $479 million, due mainly to the increase in capital expenditures related to the MFA Rail Facility.
“It’s a pretty simple equation,” Raetz said. “The more we earn, the more we can afford to invest back into the business.”
Raetz reported that MFA Incorporated has long-term debt of $82 million, including a term loan with CoBank, which financed the rail project, and the MFA Bond Program, which is unsecured debt.
Total net worth increased to $164 million, divided into non-cooperative earnings at $108 million and member equities of $56 million.
“As a company, we are optimistic going into fiscal 2018 and beyond,” Raetz said. “Next year’s plan reflects net income before taxes of $10.2 million, but our expectations are always higher. We continue to set goals and develop operating plans to target growth and ensure the continued financial strength of your cooperative.”
Making your voice heard
Among special guests in attendance was Missouri Director of Agriculture Chris Chinn and several of the department’s leaders, who gathered feedback from farmers through a short survey at their booth. MFA’s annual meeting was the first stop on the Department of Ag’s “Reach MORE” tour.
“For us, being part of this meeting is all about seeing the farmers and ranchers,” Chinn said. “It’s hard for them to get to us, so we came to them. We wanted to get input on what they’d like to see at the next Governor’s Conference on Agriculture and get their opinions about what we can do to improve our service to them. We are their department, and we want them to help shape our path going forward.”
Farm broadcaster Max Armstrong, host of “This Week in AgriBusiness” television show and “Farm Progress America” and “Midwest Digest” radio programs, was the keynote speaker and conducted on-camera interviews with key MFA personnel as part of the pre-meeting activities. He said he welcomed the chance to be part of MFA’s meeting and connect with the cooperative’s members.
“This is like coming home for me,” Armstrong said. “I really enjoy warmth of the growers and the opportunity to visit with them and find out what’s going on. They share the challenges and successes of the past year and how they see the landscape around them.”
In his address, Armstrong encouraged the audience to make their voices heard to lawmakers, especially as key legislation such as NAFTA and the Farm Bill are being considered.
“It’s absolutely critical that we be engaged in the political process,” Armstrong said. “So many winds of change are buffeting Washington right now. I know it’s not easy for those of us in agriculture to get involved in politics. We can’t envision ourselves being lobbyists or politicians, but we can all play a role by keeping the line of communication open to our lawmakers to make sure our story is getting out there.”