Feature

MFA Oil launches biomass project

Written by James D. Ritchie on .

 

Alternative energy is nothing new for MFA Oil Company (a separate entity from MFA Incorporated). The member-owned cooperative has marketed ethanol/gasoline blended fuels since at least the 1970s. Now, MFA Oil is embarking on the next phase: producing its own energy from biomass sources.

Earlier this year, MFA Oil Company announced a joint venture with Aloterra Energy to form MFA Oil Biomass, LLC, a vertically-integrated firm that will team up with Missouri and Arkansas farmers to produce a renewable-energy crop to provide a clean burning source for power generation, farm heating and next-generation liquid fuels.

“After researching several biomass crops, including switchgrass and giant reed, we decided Miscanthus giganteus provided the best opportunity for creating a viable energy source,” said Jerry Taylor, president, MFA Oil Company. “As good fortune would have it, Aloterra had done its own research and had come to the same conclusion.”

Miscanthus is a tall-growing, cane-like perennial grass native to Asia. Until recently, it had been grown in North America primarily as an ornamental yard and landscape planting (where it sometimes is called “Elephant Grass”). Miscanthus has been used as a source of heat and electricity generation in Europe for a decade or more. As a crop, miscanthus is stingy with water, requiring only 24 inches or so annual rainfall, and requires less fertilizer than most food and feed crops. It also appears to be resistant to most pests.

Don't Bet the farm on hitting the peak price

Written by James D. Ritchie on .

Marketing plans help level income

In normal times, successful grain marketing is a complex enterprise, although no other single activity has more impact on showing a profit. And the past several months have been anything but “normal.”

“The trouble with deciphering this market, it’s both supply-driven and demand-driven,” said Melvin Brees, crops analyst at Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri. “That makes for a volatile market and traditional trend lines are broken all over the place. Strong demand in relation to supply bids in stronger markets.”

On the supply side with corn, 2010 produced less than a bumper crop. Missouri growers harvested 369 million bushels, which was 77 million bushels less than in 2009. 

And overall corn demand is strong.

“We’ve cut back on livestock use,” said Brees. “But ethanol use continues to grow [USDA raised its estimate of corn used for ethanol in the past few months] and worldwide demand is still growing.”

From Iraq to MFA

Written by Steve Fairchild on .

A flag is raised to honor U.S. troops and their service

Thank-yous are best offered in person. On March 21, Major Jason West, son of Steelville, Mo., MFA Agri Services manager Steve West, raised a United States flag at the MFA home office in Columbia, Mo. He was returning from duty in Iraq and wanted to thank MFA employees for the care packages they have sent to deployed soldiers over the years. 

West is an operations officer and aviator in the 3rd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment of the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division. Before he left the Iraq, he and his fellow soldiers flew the flag in the skies above the country as they worked to close down operations there. 

In a brief ceremony before West raised the flag, MFA president and CEO, Bill Streeter addressed MFA employees who had gathered for the event. 

Managing help on the farm

Written by Nancy Jorgenson on .

Scott Hays manages 20 full-time employees at his family’s hog business near Monroe City, Mo. His brother Todd Hays oversees three employees on a separate pork operation nearby. The brothers agree, managing workers isn’t easy, no matter what your farm size. Especially when family members participate in the business.

Scott learned military-style management while stationed in a U.S. Army missile site in Germany. “I learned to have a well-defined chain of command and defined goals and objectives,” he said. These rules hold true on the farm, but he’s found that farm workers want something more.

“I don’t have the authority to demand things here,” said Scott. “I have to understand each person’s demeanor and motivate them accordingly to get the job done.”

Scott and his wife, Riss, bought her grandparents’ farm in 1994, and today six family members own Two Mile Pork. Here, 4,200 sows produce about 2,000 pigs a week. In total, the crew cares for 40,000 pigs at a time.

Get rid of the low-carbon blues

Written by Allen Huhn on .

MFA’s new Herdsman barb wire makes efficient, long-lasting fence

As spring weather clears, we can finally get some fence built. And if you’re going to the trouble to build a fence, it might as well be strong and long lasting. So I’d like to make your fence-building shopping list a little easier by explaining the difference between hi-tensile and low-carbon barb wire.

Low-carbon barb wire has been around for years—ever since barb wire was introduced. This barb wire is generally a 12 ?-gauge construction, Class 1 zinc coating with post spacing of 10 to 12 feet (about 3 or 4 mid-stride steps). Hi-tensile wire has a higher breaking strength, Class 3 Galvanization with post spacing up to 15 to 18 feet (5 to 6 steps).

It’s worth explaining the classifications of wire coating mentioned above. This rating tells us how much galvanization or zinc coating is on the wire. These wire classification standards are determined and certified by the American Society for Testing Materials. Class 1 and Class 3 measure the thickness of zinc coating on the wire. Generally speaking, Class 3 wire has 2 ? times more zinc than Class 1 and,  respectively, will last 2 ? times longer before rust appears.

When I mention hi-tensile wire to the occasional fence builder, I often get a look of anxiety and a sideways nod along with an opinion about the difficulties of working with this wire.

But most of the time when someone mentions hi-tensile barb wire, the first thing that comes to mind is a smaller-diameter, springier wire—the kind of wire that, when it breaks, tears things up. I know this wire has caused nightmares for some fence builders. But, I believe that the main reason for their troubles is that this wire was overstretched.

The truth is that fence wire often ends up stretched too tight. You never want a fence to be “fiddle string” tight. When a fence is this tight several things happen. First, the memory is taken out of the fence, making it easier to break. Memory is what allows the wire to contract on the cold days and lengthen on the hot days, and here in Midwest, we can see that all in the same day. Second, the wire’s galvanization is stretched out of the manufacturers proportions allowing “stress cracks” to form within the galvanization. These cracks allow moisture to seep through the galvanization down to the wire core, which causes pre-mature rust. That weakens wire and leads to quicker failure.

So, let me introduce you to a compromise between these two types of wires—our Herdsman 14-gauge, hi-tensile. This wire costs approximately $6 per roll less than low-carbon barb wire and it delivers potential post spacing of 15 to 18 feet apart. This is a third fewer posts compared to low-carbon barb wire. On a quarter-mile, 4-wire fence, this would save about $100 in material costs, not including the savings of labor of driving a third fewer posts and tying a third fewer clips. Many contractors estimate labor at the same cost as fence materials. Therefore, this $100 savings quickly turns into at least $200 back in your pocket. And, the fence lasts 2 ? times longer than conventional barb-wire fence.

Even though this wire is hi-tensile, it ties very similar to low-carbon wire and does not have the wicked recoil effect of 15 ?-gauge barb wire.
From what I’ve seen of Herdsman in the field, it’s time to get rid of those low-carbon blues and put up Herdsman 14-gauge hi-tensile.
(Please follow local ordinances on number of wires and post spacing.)

Allen Huhn is manager of steel products for MFA Incorporated’s Farm Supply division.

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