Q&A with MFA

This is the third in a series of interviews with MFA Incorporated’s board of directors to help members get to better know their cooperative’s leadership. In this edition, we’re featuring Carlton Spencer, District 4 director from Faucett, Mo., located between Kansas City and St. Joseph. He and his son, Casey, operate a row-crop and beef cattle farm.

When you look at MFA’s values statement, which one means the most to you and why?

Honesty and integrity have to be first. Without them, you can’t have any of the other values, like team spirit or customer partnering. If you’re not honest, the customer’s not going to deal with you. You lie to him one time, he’s not going to be back.

You’re one of the longest-tenured members on the MFA board with a total of 28 years, serving from 1979 to 1995 and then re-elected in 2008. What are some of the most notable changes for MFA since you were first elected?

The bylaws change in 1983 where the board hires the president and chief executive officer was the best move we ever made. Before that, the president was elected at the annual meeting, and it made lenders uneasy because they could have a new person to work with every year. There’s a lot more consistency now. The bylaws change that put in director term limits is also a plus. Without term limits, you can end up with directors who have been on the board for so long that they’re more of a hindrance than a help. New directors bring new ideas and perspectives, and that’s good for the company.

What would you say are some of MFA’s greatest achievements during your time on the board?

MFA has been a leader in introducing new technology and innovations in both livestock and field crop production. We have improved our feeds and developed new corn and soybean varieties. MFA was on the forefront of precision technology, such as grid sampling and variable-rate fertilizing, and that’s been a big plus for our company and the farmer.

As your term ends in 2020, new directors will be coming on board. What advice would you give to those who will lead our cooperative in the future?

Look beyond your local Exchange. You have to make decisions for good of the whole system, and some of those decisions won’t sit well at home. Just about every location needs some upgrades and new equipment, and it all takes money. You just try to divide it up and make everyone happy. The new directors will find out we’ve got a good board and executive team to work with. You may not agree on everything, but you need to be willing to discuss the issue and walk out the door in agreement at the end of the meeting.

October is Co-op Month. Do you think co-ops like MFA are still relevant to farmers today?

I think farmers need MFA just as much as ever—or even more than ever—especially during the past few years. We’ve had some tough times in agriculture. Farmers can be sure MFA has their best interests in mind, whether it’s putting out information to help them farm more efficiently and stay in business or keeping elected officials in Jefferson City and Washington, D.C., informed about our needs and problems.

What have you learned about MFA during your tenure as director that you might not have learned without the closer involvement?

MFA is a lot bigger than I ever dreamed it was when I first started. There’s no limit to the amount of money we could spend to update facilities and equipment, and it’s our job as a board to make sure it’s spent in all the right places. Being a director has given me the chance to work with some great people, and I have friends all over the state. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.

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Research shows cover crops' value as cattle feed

GrazingCoverCropsA cereal rye cover crop provides early grazing on the Martin farm near Thompson, Mo. Cover crops are known to protect soil and water quality, but they also can offer valuable livestock feed, according to Iowa State University research.   Cover crops are known to protect soil and water quality, but they also can offer valuable livestock feed, according to Iowa State University research.   

Five plots at three Iowa State research farms were selected for the study to reflect weather and soil conditions around the state. Plot treatments include grazed cover crops of cereal rye and oats interseeded into standing corn or soybeans, ungrazed cover crop and no cover crop. Researchers are evaluating forage yield and quality, cattle performance and soil health.

The early findings confirm that forage yields vary widely from year to year due to field location, weather patterns and planting dates. Spring biomass yields of cereal rye for 2016-2018 ranged from an average of about 800 to almost 2,900 pounds of dry matter per acre at different plots. While in some years the forage yield per acre was nearly 4 tons (dry matter) per acre following corn silage, in other years, the forage yield was less than 200 pounds of dry matter per acre when following full-season corn and beans.

On a good year, at stocking rates of about 1.5 head of cattle per acre, the cereal rye offered 20 to 27 days of spring grazing. In the fall, the cereal rye and oat cover crop mix provided suitable grazing for eight to 13 days. Other years, such as 2018, the spring weather conditions were unfavorable for grazing.

Preliminary data on cattle performance suggests that weight gain is similar for stocker cattle grazed on cover crops compared to cattle grazing on pasture.

For livestock producers who are uncertain about adding new water and fencing for grazing, cover crops can be harvested as silage or hay to extend winter feed supplies or to market to other producers. Farmers without cattle might sell rights to custom graze or harvest in the late fall or spring.

The study is also looking at how grazing cover crops affects soil health and compaction. Preliminary bulk density tests that measure compaction levels are encouraging. To avoid problems, researchers recommend that producers take livestock off fields during especially wet periods when the cattle will cause more compaction issues that could hamper planting next year’s cash crop—especially corn, which is more sensitive to planting depth.

The project continues through spring 2020. When completed, the researchers plan to highlight their findings in a fact sheet.

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It pays to feed MFA

Show season may be winding down for many 4-H and FFA members, but that means it’s time to start new livestock projects. As you make plans for next year’s events, keep MFA’s Project Premium Program in mind. Special incentives are available for using MFA feeds with your show animals. Bring home a win in the show ring, and you’ll win again with financial rewards from MFA’s Feed Division and your local MFA feed supplier.

This year’s project premiums are $50 for a market steer, beef heifer or dairy heifer and $20 for a market hog, market lamb, goat or bucket calf. To participate, animals must be fed a qualifying MFA feed product from weigh-in and it must be fed at recommended amounts throughout the project. The animal’s initial weight, ending weight and other information is verified by the group leader and should be submitted to your local MFA.

For project animals that place at the top of county rate-of-gain contests or state or national carcass-evaluation contests, there are additional financial rewards of up to $1,000. There is one project premium and one contest cash prize allowed per participant.

Horse projects can earn money for their non-profit club by saving proof of purchase seals from the bags of Easykeeper, Exceltra or Suprema Horse Feed.

MFA takes pride in rewarding our youth who work hard and achieve success. Those interested in the 4-H/FFA Livestock Project Premium Program must visit their local MFA to complete the enrollment and results forms.

For more information on the program and qualifying feeds, visit mfa-inc.com/About/Youth.

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