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Full speed ahead for River Valley Agronomy Center

Efficiencies highlighted during open house for legislators, leaders

Time can’t be bought, but it can be saved. And when farmers are under pressure to get their crops fertilized and sprayed, that time is precious.
That’s why efficiency was the focus when planning and constructing MFA’s new River Valley Agronomy Center in Higginsville, Mo. The $6.5 million complex features upgraded facilities and equipment that translate to a dramatically faster loading, unloading and delivery time for fertilizer ingredients and blends. For example, a tractor-trailer of fertilizer can be off-loaded into the building in 5 to 7 minutes, compared to 30 minutes under the old system. Likewise, a 24-ton tender truck can be filled with a blended fertilizer order in 5 to 7 minutes instead of 45 minutes.

“It’s pretty awesome to think about the technology, the tools that we have in place, and some of the things that are going to help us become more efficient and more employee friendly while being able to provide higher-quality service for our member-owners,” MFA Vice President of Agri Services Jason Weirich said. “It’s important that we keep our core value of customer partnering in mind with new facilities and assets that we’re putting into play.”

River Valley’s bulk fertilizer plant—the largest in the MFA system and one of the largest in the state—is equipped with a fully automated, declining-weight system that generates highly accurate, multi-product blends. The plant has a 14,000-ton capacity, significantly larger than the previous facility, built in 1977, which held only 2,000 tons. In fact, the largest bay in the new building has room for 3,000 tons of product, 1.5 times the size of the old plant.

The center will serve as a hub for row-crop producers in about a 70-mile radius, Weirich explained, consolidating smaller MFA fertilizer facilities into the larger, more modern operation.
“Most of the old green fertilizer plants you see scattered across the state were built in the ’60s and ’70s, and they’re coming to the end of their lives,” he said. “Stewardship is one of MFA’s core values, and when it comes to promoting safety and efficiency, being environmentally friendly and reducing waste and labor, this is the type of facility we need.”

An open house at the new agronomy center on June 28 gave legislators, state agriculture officials, media and special guests a chance to tour the state-of-the-art facility and learn more about its features. Along with Weirich, the event’s speakers included Missouri Department of Agriculture Director Chris Chinn and Congressman Mark Alford.

“This is going to have an impact not only on the Higginsville community but also this entire region,” Director Chinn said. “The dollars spent here are going to turn over time and time again, and that can help keep our young people coming back home to these rural areas, which is so vitally important. MFA is setting itself up to support Missouri farmers and ranchers well into the future.”

Alford, who represents Missouri’s District 4 in Congress, commented on the potential of technological advancements, such as those in the new agronomy center, to help transform agriculture and the U.S. economy.

“This is a historic moment for this town and for MFA, and I’m excited to be here in this new River Valley Agronomy Center,” Alford said. “It’s people from the heart of America—people like yourselves—who are responsible for the turnaround in the economy and the growth we’re seeing in productivity.”
Acknowledging the significance of the capital outlay, MFA Chief Executive Officer Ernie Verslues asserted that it’s the people in place who are ultimately responsible for the success of this investment.

“It’s not really about the cost. It’s about the team we have in place who can serve the producers in this area,” he said. “And I’ll tell you, the crew here is outstanding. And we have outstanding individuals across the state of Missouri and the other territories that we cover. People—that’s what makes a facility like this work.”

In addition to the fertilizer plant, MFA also built a new 2,640-square-foot operations center to house offices for MFA key account managers and precision agronomy personnel. The new location uses AgSync, a high-tech electronic logistics system that provides a comprehensive and interactive suite of scheduling, ordering and dispatch software for custom application services. AgSync helps streamline and organize daily operations and flow of information, from the moment a customer places an order to completion of the application in the field.

“This facility gives us the ability to capitalize on technology and gives this group the tools they need to move producers in this area forward,” Verslues said. “We have both speed and space here. These things also allow us to be better stewards in terms of providing the right product, the right time, the right place and the right amount.”

During a tour of the buildings, Ryun Morris, River Valley Agronomy Center manager, described AgSync as a “game-changer” and told guests that some 60% to 70% of the customers they serve are enrolled in MFA’s precision agriculture programs. He also said he considers the first spring of operation to be a success, allowing employees meet their customers’ needs while working fewer hours than they normally would during the hectic planting season.

“It’s all about being more efficient and getting across more acres in a shorter window of time,” Morris said. “This new facility will help us get more done in a day, and that helps farmers get more done in a day.”

CLICK HERE to read more articles from this August/September 2023 issue of Today's Farmer Magazine.

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Get ready for harvest

Before the rush of harvest gets overwhelming, be sure to have a plan for managing grain storage. There are numerous models to follow, but Johnny Wilson, technical services specialist for Central Life Sciences, recommends the S.L.A.M. method.

“These are all management practices that will not only have a positive effect on insect control but will also give you better control over your grain quality in general,” he said.
Steps to this method are:
  • Sanitation — Starting with a clean bin is the first defense against grain spoilage from insects. Grain-feeding pests can survive on residual grain, broken kernels, fines, foreign material and molds accumulated inside grain bins and around the bin perimeter. Trim vegetation around the bins, equipment and storage buildings to reduce any potential refuge areas between seasons. This is also a good time to check mechanical parts of the bin and conduct any maintenance needed before new grain is stored.

  • Loading — Practices such as slow rate of drying and conveying will limit physical damage to the grain. On the pest control side, this includes steps such as coring the fines out of the bin, watching for moisture discrepancies and minimizing overall handling to reduce breaks.

  • Aeration — Proper air-flow techniques will keep moisture content and migration in check. It will also aid in reaching cooler grain mass temperatures, which will cause stored product insects to die or go dormant. Keep in mind that as temperatures rise, the insects that went dormant or the eggs that were laid will start to show signs of emergence if there were no treatments in place.

  • Monitoring — This can be as simple as checking a temperature probe inserted at various points in the grain mass to acquiring grain trier samples and analyzing those for various metrics throughout the storage season. Part of this monitoring step also involves the facilities themselves and making sure to note when bins need repaired. A leaky bin can lead to rapid spoilage due to both moisture introduction and an additional entry point for pests. Seal aeration fans when not in use to prevent warm or moist air and insects from entering the grain mass.

    To learn more about Central Life Science's S.L.A.M method Click here: https://mfa.ag/SLAM

Click to read a related article HERE: https://www.todaysfarmermagazine.com/mag/2138

CLICK HERE to read more articles from this August/September 2023 issue of Today's Farmer Magazine.

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Plotting for success

The 2022 growing season is nearly a year behind us, but its challenges have not escaped memory. While the year was drier than average, our MorCorn and MorSoy lineup still produced outstanding yields in all 14 locations from which we collected data. Presented here are results from last year’s yield trials at MFA research sites in Boonville, Mo., and just east of Columbia.

Both sites are on a corn-soybean rotation. In Boonville, corn plots were planted May 12, 2022, at a population of 32,500 seeds per acre, and soybeans were planted June 13 at a population of 140,000 seeds per acre. The corn was fertilized with SuperU at planting with 300 pounds of actual nitrogen per acre. Since this is a testing site, we push the nitrogen fertilization to attempt to eliminate the possibility of this nutrient being a limiting factor that affects yield. These research fields are located in the Missouri River bottoms, where the soil is well-drained silt loam. Screen Shot 2023 08 22 at 3.25.42 PM

At our research site east of Columbia, corn was planted on May 16 at a population of 32,500 seeds per acre, and soybeans were planted on June 16 at a population of 140,000 seeds per acre. The corn was fertilized with SuperU at 180 pounds of actual nitrogen per acre. This site is an average-yielding location situated on clay pan soils that are poorly drained.

The 2022 growing season presented many of the same weather challenges that we’ve seen so far this year. While both locations were dry, they were not excessively hot through the entire summer. Boonville began the season 2 inches behind on rainfall, whereas Columbia was near normal to start. However, both sites ended well below the average cumulative precipitation for the May to October time period. By the end of the season, our research site east of Columbia was 6.5 inches behind normal, with Boonville 12.2 inches behind. The lack of rainfall reduced disease pressure at both locations. Except for excessive heat during June in Boonville, both research sites followed the average high and low temperatures fairly well last year. Timely rains in mid to late July helped produce typical yields in both corn and soybeans.

MorCorn Hybrids
In the 2022 growing season, a total of 26 hybrids were tested across MFA’s territory, including 17 experimental products under consideration as additions to the lineup. Two hybrids that caught our attention were XP 2141 and XP 2152. We are excited to bring both to market for the 2024 growing season.

MorCorn Hybrid Trials copyClick to EnlargeXP 2141, now formally named MC 4390 TRE, showed off in 2022 as a very attractive late-season product that offers excellent above-ground insect control stacked with the Trecepta® trait, which combines three unique modes of action for more complete control of above-ground pests.

Looking at the data in Figure 1, MC 4390 TRE outperformed our current lineup of late-season products at both locations. It yielded well with average productivity on our site just east of Columbia and excelled on the rich river bottom ground in Boonville.

XP 2152 is now officially MC 4412 TRE, another MorCorn option with Trecepta® insect protection. MC 4412 TRE is a highly productive hybrid in a variety of yield environments. In fact, across all MFA replicated trial sites in 2022, this product earned the highest average yield.

We are also excited about MC 4652 VT2P, a full-season product launched in 2023. This product has great late-season appearance with excellent grain and silage potential. When bringing new products into our portfolio, we focus on their ability to produce in a variety of yield environments and soil conditions. MC 4652 VT2P does not disappoint.

Our hybrid trials are now underway for the 2023 growing season, and we look forward to gathering yield data on 18 different experimental corn products from across MFA’s trade territory. This challenging season has brought many learning opportunities, including high winds and drought conditions, along with a new trial in gumbo soil.

MorSoy Varieties
In the 2022 growing season, a total of 40 MorSoy varieties were tested across MFA’s territory. These trials included 25 experimental varieties that we were considering for our product lineup.

MorSoyTrialsClick to enlargeOf these experimental varieties, XP 2408 advanced to our portfolio as MS 4623 XF. It replaces our previous 4.6 maturity XtendFlex variety, MS 4640 XF, beating its yield by 6 bushels per acre at our Boonville research site and performing better at our other replicated plots last year. Along with an increase in yield, MS 4623 XF also has a better agronomic package than its predecessor.

XP 2307 is our new 3.9 XtendFlex product, officially entering the portfolio as MS 3965 XF. This variety led the pack in yield at the East Columbia site and ended up being the top yielder of all the late Group 3 XtendFlex varieties that we tested last year. This product is suitable for tough acres as well as highly productive ground and is considered a place-anywhere type of bean in MFA territory.
XP 2401 became our new 4.1 XtendFlex product, MS 4130 XF. This product exhibited a strong performance and had the best yield at Boonville. MS 4130 XF is best suited on moderate- to high-yield environments.

For the 2023 growing season, we will gather yield data on 22 different experimental soybean varieties from our trade territory. Again, the challenges of the season will also provide learning opportunities. We will have a chance to see how the broad planting timing and drought conditions affected their performance. We also added a soybean trial in gumbo soil this year. Results from the 2023 trials will be presented in future editions of Today’s Farmer and available from your MFA agronomy specialists.

View the digital edition of this issue online at todaysfarmer.com for videos and additional content related to MorCorn and MorSoy seed. (Coming soon.)

New season of study
While results of MFA’s 2022 variety and hybrid trials are presented in this edition of Today’s Farmer, the studies continue for the 2023 season at MFA’s Training Camp research site as well as other replicated plots across our trade territory.

This year’s annual field day was held July 19 at a new testing location about 15 miles east of Columbia, Mo. More than 270 MFA employees and ag industry personnel toured the site and learned about the research at 10 different educational sessions. The event gives attendees an opportunity to get hands-on participation in MFA’s testing and product evaluation process.

In addition to yield trials on MorCorn, MorSoy and our partner brands, 2023 sessions included planter setup and diagnostics, fungicide effectiveness, sulfur needs, weed management in corn and native warm-season grass establishment. Other research considers how field conditions influence corn yield, how to manage early and late-planted soybeans and whether biologicals improve nitrogen-use efficiency.

Look for results and more information on MFA’s most current agronomic research in upcoming issues of Today’s Farmer and online at mfa-inc.com.

CLICK HERE to read more articles from this August/September 2023 issue of Today's Farmer Magazine.

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Filling the gap

MFA precision technology, customer partnering help Davis Farms cover more acres with less worry

When it comes to spraying, planting, fertilizing or scouting his crops, Ross Davis has no room for error. The Martinsburg, Mo., producer farms in several counties and manages multiple acres of corn, soybeans and winter wheat. There’s no way he can be in each location every day.

That’s why Davis relies on Cory Clermont, MFA precision agronomy specialist, and other MFA team members for input recommendations, grid soil sampling, application timing and scheduling, and crop scouting through Crop-Trak Complete.

The program combines MFA’s Nutri-Track nutrient management services along with detailed planning and scouting service for an equation that gives growers an extra edge. After being enrolled in the program and working with Clermont for more than three years, Davis said he has seen yields increase and he knows he is taking better care of his land and crops.

“Cory is really there for me,” he said. “He is able to help me with decisions about my crops and what is needed as far as nutrients and other chemicals. He helps with scheduling and the timing of things so I’m not showing up late to the party. Cory fills that gap for us. I can think about things that need to get done, but he helps me make sure that each task gets to the right people. I just called him today to make sure someone could top-dress our corn tomorrow, and I know that it will get it done.” 

Having reliable partners makes his farming operation run a bit smoother and maximizes his resources, Davis said, plus lessens his worry in an industry where so many factors are outside his control.

“We stay in contact with the crop scouts and our agronomy KAM (key account manager), Justin Talley, to help provide the best services and products for Ross and his operation,” said David Bertels, manager of MFA Agri Services in Martinsburg. “If a problem pops up, we are able to take care of it in a timely matter. Ross knows he can call me anytime.”

With farms from Centralia to Louisiana, figuring out logistics for each crop in different fields is a complex task.

“Between the row crops, hay, pastures and cattle, you just need someone to pick up all the loose ends, follow through and just make sure stuff gets done,” Clermont said. “I coordinate the traffic between all the MFAs that provide custom applications for his acres. Ross relies on me every day for his operation, and I think that’s how his trust and our partnership have grown.”  

Through the comprehensive Crop-Trak Complete program, Davis receives fertility recommendations, 2.5-acre grid sampling, yield monitor nutrient-removal analysis and variable-rate phosphorus, potassium, lime and micronutrient prescriptions—plus advanced nitrogen modeling and additional MFA Precision Advantage offerings.  

“I would say that Ross follows our recommendations 99% of the time,” Clermont said with a grin. “With the data we collect from sampling, we are able to make the appropriate recommendations for each of Ross’ crops and how to prep his fields.”   

Providing inputs and services to each field is only part of Clermont’s responsibilities with Davis Farms. The other half is to effectively implement variable-rate technology (VRT) recommendations, which help maintain soil health, reduce waste and enhance land and crop efficiency. VRT decisions and parameters are based on various data gathered from GPS, in-field sensors and maps of each operation. The data collected is used to direct the automated and precise application of seed, fertilizers and crop protection products to Davis’ cropland.  

“I make VRT seeding recs for all of their corn acres based on multiyear analysis zones,” Clermont explained. “We talked about possibly doing VRT anhydrous ammonia recs within the next season or two as well.” 

By using variable-rate technology rather than uniform applications and seeding rates, Davis said he’s been able to lower his input and service costs while increasing yields and being a more responsible steward of the land. Being a good steward is important to Davis because there’s another generation involved in the operation. His son, Grant, helps with planting and harvesting and is now farming on his own land. Davis’ daughter, Rachel, is also interested farming as is his 3-year-old grandson, Owen. 

“I was a freshman in high school when I started farming about 100 acres,” Davis said. “My dad said to figure out what I’d do for free every day for the rest of my life and then figure out a way to make money at it. I always wanted to farm, but the making money part was little tougher.”

“I told Ross to go to town and watch the guys who were doing it right and learn from them,” added his father, Alan Davis.
Working with MFA is one way Davis tries to “do things right” and swing the balance in his favor.

“We do a very good job of creating a plan,” Clermont said. “We also try to follow the reports to a T where we can, but sometimes we have to change things on the fly. Mother Nature can really throw you some curveballs.”

Preparation is key, he added. Cropping plans start well before the growing season begins.

“It all starts with the combine, trying to get good, accurate yield data and then making sure that we have record of everything. From there we create fertilizer recommendations, usually in the fall,” Clermont said. “That gives us until spring to make tweaks, such as figuring out rotation differences. We try to get all that squared away.”

For this type of customer partnership to be successful, Clermont emphasizes that two-way communication is critical throughout the entire season.
“Ross makes all the final decisions, but he usually calls me to get my opinion,” Clermont said. “We have really good conversations to make sure we’re all on board, which is key when we have so many different fields to cover. It really is a team effort. I couldn’t do my job effectively if I didn’t have the expertise and support from people like David and Justin.”  

Davis agreed, adding, “It’s nice to have someone you trust to bounce ideas off of. We’ve increased yields, and we’re using less fertilizer in some places, more in others. But we are putting things where they’re supposed to be. Throughout the growing season they are scouting our fields once every seven to 10 days, and that sure makes a big difference. It’s been a great partnership.”   

To discover how MFA’s whole-farm solutions can help you increase profit, production and stewardship on your farm, visit with your Agri Services or AGChoice location or key account manager for more information.

CLICK HERE to read more articles from this August/September 2023 issue of Today's Farmer Magazine.

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About Today's Farmer magazine

Today's Farmer is published 9 times annually. Printed issues arrive monthly except combined issues for June/July, August/September and December/January. Subscriptions are available only in the United States.

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