CoBank event hosted by MFA

Written by Steve Fairchild on .

Cooperative board members gather to exchange ideas

In February, corporate board members of MFA Incorporated, Growmark, Southern States and Alabama Farmers Cooperative gathered for a leadership workshop sponsored by cooperative banking leader, CoBank. Participants spent a couple days in Columbia, Mo., discussing the challenges a modern cooperative board faces and gleaning insight into the new directions of the agriculture from guest speakers from the  University of Missouri.

Joining the group as keynote speaker was Brett Begemann, Chief Commercial Officer at Monsanto. Begemann’s remarks focused on Monsanto’s commitment to double yield by 2030 and the challenges agriculture faces from finite resources, the public perspective of traditional agriculture and climate fluctuation. Begemann was straightforward in explaining his company’s focus toward that goal. Its R&D resources are pointed squarely at realistic advances in yield for customers of Monsanto corn, soybean and cotton seed. The company will use genetics to push plants toward additional yield, of course, but it will also breed plants that provide better protection against pests and better weed control.

For Monsanto to hit its goal, corn production in the prominent agricultural markets of Argentina, Brazil and the United States would need to reach a weighted average of 220 bushels per acre by 2030, compared to 109.1 bushels per acre in 2000. Soybean production in those countries would rise from a weighted average of 39.5 bushels per acre in 2000 to 79 bushels per acre in 2030. Cotton would increase from 1.4 bales (672 pounds) per acre to 2.8 bales (1,344 pounds) per acre. While seed companies like Monsanto may lead the charge in seed genetics, Begemann pointed out that suppliers like MFA and other cooperatives will be challenged with additional demand for plant food and other crop inputs. One aspect of Begemann’s address that holds promise for MFA is precision agriculture.

“The piece that is yet to be defined,” he said, “is precision agriculture. We haven’t touched the tip of this technology.” He added that a researcher at Monsanto believes there are an additional 50 bushels per acre to be added through precision technology. Begemann pointed out that current precision practices take advantage of shifting seed planting population on-the-go. He said if that worked, why wouldn’t we adjust row spacing, too? And why wouldn’t we change corn hybrids as we crossed a field to better match soil types? Begemann implied that these questions weren’t so much blue-sky thinking as something that is obtainable prior to Monsanto’s 2030 deadline.

As he reminded the crowd that Monsanto wasn’t the only company with plans to make great gains in crop yields, he asked another question that was out of Monsanto’s and all other seed companies’ purview: If they deliver on the tremendous yield increases they seem capable of, will the rural infrastructure that gets food from field to table be up to the challenge?

Leadership means keeping up

Aside from Bregemann’s address, participants in the event discussed the changing technology in agriculture and how company know-how needs to pass through generations of employees as more than mere information but rather knowledge that is ready for uptake by new employees. Group discussion focused on how effective owner/member boards select, retain and train their members. The event is sponsored by CoBank each year.

What do exports mean to you?

Written by Nancy Jorgensen on .

Two U.S. farmers trek to Asia to promote our products

Kenny McNamar calls his trip last fall to China an eye-opener. At a feed mill near Shanghai, he was surprised to see how corn arrived.

“They opened the back of the truck and it was filled with gunny sacks,” said McNamar, who farms near Gorin, in northeastern Missouri. “Workers cut open the bags by hand to dump the corn into the pit.”

This is just one example that McNamar witnessed of the labor-intensive nature of Chinese agriculture, leading him to believe that there’s great hope for U.S. ag export growth. It helps explain why McNamar found that the price farmers receive for corn in China runs higher than the U.S. price. “It would be cheaper for them to import corn than to grow it,” he said.

McNamar, president of the Missouri Corn Growers Association, raises 700 acres of soybeans and corn and 150 beef cows, with help from his wife, Donna and son, Chris. He traveled to China, Japan and Taiwan to promote U.S. ag exports with three other farmers, two corn staffers and representatives of the U.S. Grains Council.

McNamar thinks this type of promotional effort is well worth it. “Most farmers don’t realize the importance of exports,” he said. “Exports help stabilize the price we receive for our products.”

As you look over your fields, consider this: In the U.S., about 20 percent of your corn and 59 percent of your soybeans go to export markets, according to the U.S. Grains Council and the Missouri Soybean Association.
Gary Marshall, CEO of Missouri Corn Growers Association, explains how farmers like McNamar, who live near the Mississippi River, especially benefit from exports. “The corn market is 20 to 25 cents higher within 75 miles of major users and/or river terminals,” he said. “With Missouri having the good fortune of two major rivers, we also have a distinct advantage over other corn states in transportation costs.”

Kansas grower sees rising demand
Keith Miller of Great Bend, Kan., lives about 250 miles from the nearest river grain hub, but he, too, benefits from exports. He raises wheat, corn, soybeans, milo, alfalfa and 350 head of Angus on 7,500 acres. Like McNamar, he’s seen export opportunities first-hand, trekking to Asia several times as president of the U.S. Meat Export Federation. In addition to meeting with trade officials in urban centers, he traveled through the Chinese countryside by train.

“Things are still done by hand,” Miller said. “There’s no

Missouri excels at teaching ag teachers

Written by James D. Ritchie on .

When it comes to producing high school agriculture teachers, Missouri seems to be bucking a national trend. As national agricultural educators worry about a shortage in the field, Missouri’s main schools (the University of Missouri and Missouri State University) are seeing steady growth in the number of students interested in teaching agriculture.

Missouri high schools employ about 480 ag teachers. Normal attrition builds a demand for 65 to 70 new teachers each year. So far, that need is being met primarily by graduates from MU and MSU. But, while Missouri is one of a few states with an ample supply of ag teachers, across the country, a shortage of teachers has been growing for the past decade or more.
Ag Ed educators have some guesses about Missouri’s success.

“First off, Missouri has a strong network of teachers, state staff and educators all working toward the same goal,” said Anna Ball, chairman of MU’s Ag Ed Department.

“We communicate with each other on a regular basis, and [high school] teachers nominate students from their own programs who they think would be good ag teachers. Missouri universities follow up on this.”

Pin it on human resources

Written by Steve Fairchild on .

What did the future look like in 1959?

In 1959, Richard Collins, editor of Missouri Farmer (as Today’s Farmer was known at the time), peered into the tea leaves. He considered how things might change as the 21st Century (distantly) rolled onto his generation. Collins asked the right questions, many of which, even a decade past his forward vision, have yet to be answered.

He was right to guess we’d be living longer, even if we’d gotten the better of longevity gains by the time of his column (stretching from an expected life of 47 years in 1900 to 70 years in 1959, and having reached a life expectancy of 78.2 by 2010).
With 2000 now in the history books, the news cycle reminds us that Collin’s questions are perennial. Can we stretch our commodity resources to accommodate an increasing population? And can we remain open-minded enough to employ our greatest resource—human talent and ingenuity—without succumbing to human folly? Here is Collins in September 1959:

Look to the future
WHAT will it be like here in the year 2000? Well, for one thing, you can expect a population numbering more than 350,000,000 persons.

Think of the change such a growth would involve. Twice as many to feed, clothe, house, educate, transport, entertain, etc. On the surface it looks like a big order.

One of the reasons authorities expect many more persons around in the future is due to the fact that we’re learning more about how to combat and control disease. In 1900, for instance, the life expectancy of the average American was 47 years. Today it is 70. It’s not only possible, but entirely probable that medical science will continue to find ways to add years onto our life span. So in the future there will be a much lager number and proportion of our population up into the twilight-age bracket.
Will we devise ways for these oldsters to continue to contribute to society? Surely we will.

What will we do then for food? This country has never experienced the problem of finding its growth and development limited by the amount of food it can produce—but the problem is far from unique in much of the world. In many places the Grim Reaper makes most of his harvest because of malnutrition and slow starvation.

How about other resources?
What will we do for sufficient water?
Will we find new sources of power to harness?
Can we stretch our supply of building materials—wood, concrete, steel, and plastic—or develop other materials for such use?
Certainly it will be an interesting and challenging period in which to live. Such a time will require an open-minded and progressive citizenry to make the most of it.

Time to watch those bins

Written by Diana DeHart on .

Unlike the past several years, Mother Nature gave us a bit of a break this year. Harvest progressed quickly and grain, for the most part, was dry when it was harvested and put in grain bins. However, just because the grain was dry and in good condition when it went into the bin doesn’t mean you can ignore it until spring and not have any quality issues. Bins still need to have the centers cored, and they need to be monitored to make sure problems do not arise.

Corn in bins


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