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Built to last

FOR ABOUT A YEAR AND A HALF, Mark Thompson, who runs a cow/calf and row-crop operation with his son, Clayton, near Lohman, Mo., has been working to rebuild and replace pasture and pond fences on his family’s homeplace.

The sturdy woven wire and eight-strand barbed wire fences he has constructed on the farm not only provide peace of mind but also a sense of pride for the veteran cattleman.

“I believe in making a fence that’s built to last, one that’s inde­structible,” Thompson said. “I also wanted to make the farm look better. And it really did.”

With strength, longevity and aesthetics in mind, Thompson chose high-quality Herdsman and OK Brand materials from MFA for his fencing projects. Many of those products either originat­ed at Iowa Steel and Wire in Centerville, Iowa, or its sister company, Oklahoma Steel and Wire in Madill, Okla. Together, these two manufacturing facilities have been responsible for pro­ducing MFA’s Herdsman wire and fencing since the proprietary brand was launched in 2010.

But the partnership between MFA and the two steel companies dates back much further, said Tony McDermott, OK Brand agri­cultural sales specialist.

“I’ve been with Iowa Steel and Oklahoma Steel since 1984, and MFA was one of my first customers,” McDermott said. “I know MFA was doing business with us before that. It’s been a longstand­ing relationship between the two companies.”

Shared Midwestern values and family-oriented business phi­losophy are among the reasons why Iowa Steel/Oklahoma Steel has been a trusted supplier to MFA for so many years, said Allen Huhn, director of MFA Incorporated’s Farm Supply Division.

“Customer partnering is a big part of MFA, and we put trust in our vendors and the products they supply us with,” Huhn said. “That’s why we wanted to make Herdsman at Iowa Steel and Okla­homa Steel. We can count on their quality and the honesty and integrity of their people. They’re always looking out for the farmer’s best interest, just like MFA.”

Those grassroots values have been ingrained in the steel company since its hum­ble beginnings in the early 1970s, when B.L. Moore and his wife, Colleen, pur­chased the Iowa facility and started making cattle panels from steel rod. The Moores were a farm family, raising crops, cattle and hogs near Seymour, Iowa, and brought their agricultural knowledge and work ethic to the manufacturing enterprise. 

However, the energy crisis of the mid-1970s was tough on domestic steel manufacturers. In 1979, the Moores sold the Iowa plant and moved with their children—Max, Craig, John and Kathleen—to Madill, Okla. Tapping into their entrepre­neurial spirit once again, the Moores started a new company, Oklahoma Steel and Wire. They took with them several of the original Iowa Steel and Wire employees, including Clifford Selvy, whose son, Kevin, is now op­erations manager at the Iowa facility. Bill Zintz, now general manager of the Centerville plant, also followed the Moores to work at Oklaho­ma Steel in 1981.

“They were trying to relocate farther south, closer to raw material goods and a little warmer weather,” McDermott said. “As the story goes, B.L. happened to get in a conversation with a gentleman at the airport who knew of an empty manufacturing facility in Madill. The rest is history.”

A decade after establishing Oklahoma Steel and Wire, the Moores had the opportunity to reacquire the original Center­ville facility and opened a new version of Iowa Steel and Wire in 1989.

“The company that bought the plant from the Moores went bankrupt in 1979, so this place sat empty until ’87 when they bought it back,” McDermott explained. “They spent a year scrapping it out and getting the machines to run. Production began again in ’89, centered around industrial wire products such as concrete mesh.”

The new business gave Zintz the chance to return to his native Iowa to help get the plant up and running. It wasn’t long, however, before economic conditions would once again refocus the plant’s operations. When demand for industrial products hit a downturn in the recession of the late 2000s, Iowa Steel and Wire shifted more toward agricultural materials, with an emphasis on galvanized livestock panels, field fencing and barbed wire. The company produces a wide range of high-tensile fencing as well as low-carbon wire products, with 50 tons of materials running through the plant each week.

“When the construction industry died, so did a lot of what we made here,” he said. “That’s when we dove headfirst into the ag products. We already had the galvanized lines installed, so we just started making our own wire woven panels, brought in barbed wire equipment and built the high-tensile machines ourselves. We started out with 15 employees, but we’ve grown to 85 today, and we operate 24 hours a day, five days a week.”

Even as the companies have evolved, Iowa Steel and Oklaho­ma Steel have remained owned and operated by the Moore fam­ily. B.L. and Colleen’s children have all been involved in various capacities through the years. Their son, Max, was serving as president when he was killed in a mid-air plane crash in 2000. His brother, Craig, took the reins and still serves as president today, with their sister, Kathleen, in the role of chief financial officer.

B.L. and Colleen both continued to be active in the operation until their deaths. When B.L. passed away in 2011, the couple had been married 62 years. The family matriarch carried on for another decade, working as much as she could until a couple of weeks before she died in March 2021 at age 92.

“When I look at the blessings of working for Oklahoma Steel, family is by far the No. 1 thing,” McDermott said. “You see gen­erations of people working here, and that’s because the compa­ny has always taken good care of its employees.”

The close connections between the two operations became even more evident in April 2020, when an EF2 tornado ravaged the town of Madill. The Oklaho­ma Steel plant took a direct hit from the destructive storm, which ripped off roofing and tore through walls. Workers were able to get inside a storm shelter, and no one inside was hurt.

Manufacturing capacity, however, was severely hampered. It took eight months to get the facility up and running again. During that time, Iowa Steel and Wire plant employees stepped in to help, ramping up production around the clock seven days a week to keep products supplied to customers.

“Iowa Steel was the savior for Oklahoma Steel after the tornado hit,” McDermott said. “I think that situa­tion really emphasized that we’re all the same compa­ny, and we help each other when it’s needed.”

Along with their family-forward philosophy, a strong point of pride for both Iowa Steel and Oklahoma Steel is that all their products are 100% made in America— from the raw materials to the finished goods. A melt shop added to the Madill facility in 2010 completed the cycle, allowing the company to use scrap metal to create billets that are then transformed into steel rod and eventually wire.

“Being a fully integrated company is one of our biggest strengths,” said Selvy, who has been with the company 29 years. “We’re in control from start to fin­ish. We melt our own steel, build our own billets, roll our own rod. That gives our products better quality and consistency, which really does matter when you’re talking about fencing.”

With miles of fencing projects on his to-do list every year, mid-Missouri farmer Mark Thompson would agree. In fact, he says that quality fencing can often have a direct correlation to quality of life.

“The way I look at it, I’m 61, and if I ever have any grandkids, I don’t want to end up missing their T-ball games because I’m out chasing cows,” he said. “When I build a fence, I want to be able to turn out any of my animals into it and keep them there. Putting up a good fence also gives you a sense of accomplishment. When you get done, you’ve got something worth looking at. And knowing it’s going to last makes it all the better.”

Check with your local MFA Agri Services or AG­Choice for more information on Herdsman and OK Brand fencing products. To learn more about Iowa Steel and Wire and Oklahoma Steel and Wire, visit online at okbrandwire.com.

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Show-Me soil sense

“Out of the long list of nature’s gifts to man, none is perhaps so utterly essential to human life as soil.” That was the assessment of Hugh Hammond Bennett, the first chief of what is now known as USDA’s Natural Resources Con­servation Service (NRCS) and widely considered the father of soil conservation.

Soil is the foundation of our natural world and the lifeblood for agriculture, whether growing crops or raising livestock. Yet not all soils are created equal. Soils are classified by differing characteristics and behavior to help make wise land use deci­sions, whether farming or building a house, digging a well or constructing a highway.

The variability of soil is especially evident in Missouri. The Show-Me State is made up of more than 500 different soil “series,” which is the lowest category of the national soil classi­fication system and the common reference term used for soil map units. The diversity in soil makeup accounts for Missouri’s diversity in agriculture.

“Soil type will drastically affect what you can grow, how you grow it and how productive you can be,” said Landry Jones, MFA conservation grazing specialist. “It’s different for every grower and for every operation.”

If there was a star of these series, it would be Menfro, named Missouri’s official state soil in 2004. More than 780,000 acres in 40 counties have been identified as Menfro soil, which is very productive for farming. This type of soil was formed on wood­ed upland and slopes along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and their major tributaries.

The distribution of the Menfro soil overlaps into many of state’s six major ecoregions, which are further broken down into 28 more detailed ecoregions. Jorge Lugo-Camacho, Missouri state soil scientist with NRCS, explains the regions in simple terms using I-70 as the dividing line.

“North of I-70, the soil is more suited for growing row crops,” he said. “There is less sloping, roots can grow deeper, and the soil holds onto moisture better. In many of those areas, the deep soil is high in organic matter, good for growing corn and soybeans. One limitation of this area is the central claypan areas, like in Audrain County, which can limit yields of some crops.”

The ecoregions of the north include Central Irregular Plains, Western Corn Belt Plains, and Interior River Valley and Hills, where Menfro is prevalent. Northwestern Missouri has deep, dark prairie soils, which contrast with the light-colored and stony soils of the Ozarks. As the color and depth vary, so does the fertility, Lugo-Camacho said. In some areas, the soil can produce 70 bushels of corn while other areas can only produce shrubs and trees.

Making regional recommendations

MFA agronomists who consult with growers across these regions must know how to deal with a wide range of soil types, said Davin Harms, precision manager for districts 3 and 6, which includes areas in northeast and east-central Missouri.

“We have heavy clay pan soils that can be productive but require timely rains to deliver the highest yields,” Harms said. “Soils with higher clay content and higher cation exchange capacity values require different management from a fertility aspect. We factor that into the fertility recommendations we make, especially for potassium. Most of the areas I cover tend to have more acidic soils that need to be amended with lime to raise soil pH to create better plant growing conditions. The Missouri river bottoms are the exception as they tend to have higher soil pH, which creates issues and management concerns with phosphate applications.”

South of I-70 there are more soil limitations for crops, but the area is abundant with forests, grasslands, natural springs and sink holes, explained Lugo-Camacho. The Central Irregular Plains soil series spills into this region. With soil derived from cherty carbonate rocks, the Ozark Highlands makes up two-thirds of the region.

“The shallow soil has low pH and the bedrock and hardpan, known as fragipan, make it difficult to grow crops,” he said.

In the Bootheel, the Mississippi Valley Loess Plains and Mississippi Alluvial Plain regions have a wide range of soils, along with a warmer and longer growing season that allows a variety of crops to grow.

As Garrett Christian, MFA precision manager for district 10 in this region, described it, “We have blow sand all the way to heavy gumbo and everything in between—sometimes versions of that all in the same field. Sandier soils in the Delta can bring peanuts, potatoes, peas and melons into play. These same fields may have cotton, corn and soybeans in the rotation as well. Heavy ground may have rice with either corn or soybeans also in the rotation.”

Using input intelligence

These crops have different fertility demands, which can be affected by various rotations, Christian said.

“For instance, peanuts fix nitrogen, so corn and cotton follow­ing peanuts can require less added nitrogen fertilizer to achieve the same yield goal,” he explained. “The need to account for this in cotton is more magnified because you can have too much nitrogen.”

Sandy soil offers its own set of challenges, Christian continued.

“One example would be potassium,” he said. “Many growers wait until spring because they are afraid of leaching when ap­plying potash on sand. There is work being done to help figure out just how much it can actually hold.”

When talking with producers about forage production, Jones said understanding the farm’s soil type is crucial to determining what species will grow best.

“If they have rocky ground or shallow soils, just 5 or 6 inches before hitting bedrock, I typically increase the rate of little bluestem and sideoats grama,” he said. “If they have good, deep, productive soils that are also kind of dry and sandy, then big bluestem and Indiangrass work well. If the producer has wet clay that holds water or drains poorly, then I look at planting switchgrass and gammagrass. But to find the most productive forage, you really need to understand the soils on the farm.”

Knowing soil type is also vital when applying herbicides, said Doug Spaunhorst, MFA director of agronomy. He pointed out that herbicide labels categorize soils more broadly into coarse, medium or fine texture.

“It is important to consider the soil texture, the distribution of sand, silt and clay particles that make up the soil colloid,” Spaunhorst explained. “For example, clay soils like to hold on to herbicides in the same way they like to hold on to water particles. Rainfall and temperature also influence herbicide persistence and soil pH.”

Saving the soil

Jones pointed out that NRCS offers science-based soil infor­mation to help farmers, ranchers, foresters and other land managers effectively manage and conserve their most valuable investment—the soil.

“The health of that soil is what our industry is built on, and we have to take care of it,” he said.

The USDA offers four principles to promote soil health. First is to minimize soil disturbance by limiting tillage, using proper chemical input and rotating livestock. The second is to maxi­mize the soil cover year-round by planting cover crops, leaving plant residue and using organic mulch. Third is to expand biodiversity above and below ground by using diverse cover crops and rotations as well as integrating livestock. The fourth principle is to boost the presence of living roots, which help reduce soil erosion and provide food for microbes and earth­worms.

“I don’t necessarily believe that cover crops are the panacea, but I do believe they hold soil,” Scott Wilburn, MFA senior staff agronomist, said. “Drive around in the country during a heavy rain and compare the runoff from the fields with a cover crop or wheat to the fields that are worked clean. It’s dramatic. Soil is foundational to all we do, so anything that protects it should be utilized.”

Missourians have long known the importance of soil health and show it through their funding of soil and water conserva­tion by supporting the 0.1 of 1% Parks, Soils and Water Sales Tax. First approved in 1984, Show-Me State voters have contin­ued to renew the tax on the ballot every 10 years.

About 50% of the tax revenue is designated to saving soil and protecting the state’s water resources. Most of those dollars help agricultural landowners through voluntary programs developed by the Soil and Water Districts Commission and administered by the Soil and Water Conservation Program through district boards in Missouri’s 114 counties.

It’s an effort that Hugh Hammond Bennett would no doubt be proud to see as today’s growers and agronomists continue his quest to preserve the soil, and in turn, preserve life itself.

“Sustainable management practices will improve soil health,” Lugo-Camacho said. “Mother Nature is very good at healing degraded soil, but we must do our part.”

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Career connections

AGRICULTURE STUDENTS LEARNED ABOUT a “world of opportunity” in the industry at MFA’s Ag Life conference Dec. 7 at the Civic Center in Jackson, Mo. More than 180 sophomores, juniors and seniors from 11 area schools participated in the event, which featured nine different educational sessions.

The idea was to connect with the community and invest in local students, said Tony Lucius, MFA director of retail strategy, who led efforts to organize the event.

“I think there’s a common perception that farming is all about driving a tractor. Those of us involved in ag know that’s not an accurate perception, but sometimes perception is reality,” Lucius said. “We’re trying to bust that myth, so to speak, and educate stu­dents on what agriculture really is in a changing environment. This event is designed to provide a quick snapshot of the real world of agriculture across many different categories.”

The interactive conference was a follow-up to a similar event held in 2019 at MFA in Piggott, Ark. This time, Lucius said the idea was to open it up to a wider audience and “ramp up” the offerings.

“We wanted to test the water to see if the schools in this area wanted to be a part of something like this and if there was a need for this type of educational event,” he said. “By the great turnout today, we can see that they’re embracing it and want more of it. We’ve had positive comments from all the teachers.”

More than 30 volunteers helped put the activities together, from MFA employees to vendors and community partners. Sessions included agronomy, precision technology, drones in agricul­ture, application equipment, fertilizer’s global connections, career building and resumes, veteri­nary science, and range and pasture management. Speakers also took time to discuss their career path with the participating students.

In his opening address, Scott Mink, sales trainer with Syngen­ta, told the group that he had begun his college education with the intention of becoming a physical therapist. He said his first eye-opening day in anatomy and physiology class changed his mind, and he returned to his agricultural roots.

“What I realized is that the agricultural community is special, and it’s the best industry to work in,” Mink said. “And it’s an industry that’s constantly looking for good, young talent—not just on the farm. No matter what your interest or skill, I can promise you there’s something in agriculture that can get you to where you want to be in your career. That’s what I want you to focus on today as you go through your sessions.”

One of the attendees, sophomore Trae Yamintz of Meadow Heights FFA, said the event gave him and fellow classmates a chance to experience some of the latest technologies and learn more about real-world agricultural jobs from people who are working in the field.

“I’ve really enjoyed seeing all the new equipment and learning about things in agriculture that I didn’t know before,” said Yamintz as he inspected the controls of a new John Deere 600R fertilizer spreader. “I didn’t realize there were so many branches through­out agriculture and all the different jobs.”

Agriculture instructors Abby Burke and Jamie Miller of Perryville High School brought 15 students to the Ag Life confer­ence. They said they appreciated the diver­sity of career opportunities on display as well as the chance to have the young men and women learn from a variety of industry professionals.

“We didn’t really know what to expect coming into this event, but we love MFA as an organization and knew anything that they put on would be great,” Burke said. “Here in the southeast part of the state, our opportunities can sometimes get a little far away, so having something so close has been really rewarding and easy on us and our school system.”

An essay contest was also held prior to the event. Andrew Nix of Chaffee High School was named as the winner.

Lucius said plans are to repeat the conference in another two or three years with a new crop of 10th-12th graders. He’d also like to see the Ag Life conference expand into other areas.

“At the end of the day, we hope that these students really do see a world of opportunities, whether they’re into science, math, FFA, or whatever,” Lucius said. “What we’re doing here today can expose them to information and opportunities in ag that might become a fulfilling career later in life.”

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Off to a great start

In agriculture, everything doesn’t always go as planned. Livestock producer Dakota Turley knows this unavoidable truth all too well. The young farmer has seen his fair share of ups and downs since starting his own cattle operation at age 16, and calving season is inevitably one of the most stressful times on his farm in Hartville, Mo.

This fall was no exception. One particularly difficult birth presented an extraor­dinary challenge for Turley Cattle Company, the 220-head Angus-based cow/calf operation that the 30-year-old cattleman runs with his wife, Amanda, and their daughters, Carleigh and Claira.

“I was doing my usual evening routine of feeding and checking heifers when I noticed that there were three missing,” said Turley, who also manages MFA’s fertil­izer plant in Grovespring, Mo. “After a bit of searching, I found them. One heifer had a calf on the ground, and the other two were in labor. I checked on the two again about an hour later. One had calved, but the other heifer had only managed to push out the front two hooves of her calf. I decided it would be best to give her a little more time and to check on her again in an hour.”

After the second check, the calf had not progressed.

“My rule for heifers is if they have not had the calf in two hours, we get them up and pull it,” Turley explained. “That night, I gave this heifer a little longer than I should have.”

Once he got the laboring heifer up and in the chute, the cattleman said he had a bad feeling.

“I knew it had been too long because the calf’s head and tongue were swollen,” Turley recalled. “By the time we pulled the calf, which was larger than I thought, I was sure it would not survive.”

That’s when he remembered a recent conversation with Paul Brune, MFA affiliate livestock specialist. While working cattle together on a neighboring farm, Brune had discussed the benefits of MFA’s Shield Plus, an oral supplement that stimu­lates appetite, provides quick energy and helps develop immunity in newborns and stressed animals.

“Shield Plus contains concentrated colos­trum extract, synbiotics, botanical extracts, fatty acids and vitamins that are essential for a newborn,” Brune said. “Little calves get stressed in the cold temperatures and on the wet ground, so this gives them an energy boost to get up and get milk.”

Though he expected the worst from the struggling calf, Turley said he decided now was the time to put Shield Plus to the test.

“The calf gave a slight twitch of his ear and took a deep breath. So, I grabbed him and held him up for the fluid to drain,” he said. “Based on my experience, anytime I encountered this situation, the outcome was never good. But I ran to the truck and took the Shield Plus off my dash. I gave the calf a dose and left mama to take care of her baby.”

Not able to sleep, knowing that he had a calf in distress, Tur­ley went out about 2 a.m.

“The calf, whose head had been so swollen and his tongue would not stay in his mouth, was over in the corner with mama, nursing away,” he said. “This little calf was supposed to be dead, but he was now up and trying to buck and kick. I know that giving the dose of Shield Plus is what made the difference.”

When MFA introduced Shield Technology in 2015, MFA minerals and feeds were the first to receive the proprietary, research-based blend of essential oils and other additives designed to enhance animal performance and health. Since then, the Shield line has expanded to include a complete selection of products to fit just about any livestock feeding situation.

Shield Plus was added to the offerings in 2017. The all-natural formula contains anti-inflammatory compounds that help reduce fever, botanical extracts with antimicrobial, antifun­gal and antioxidant properties along with probiotics and pre­biotic fiber that provide “good bacteria” to improve gut health. Vitamins A, D and E assist with calcium absorption, protect cells from free radicals and help prevent oxidative stress. And spray-dried egg antibodies combat scours, one of the biggest threats to calf health.

Shield Plus is administered with a convenient dosing syringe or pump bottle, which allows the product to go over the tonsils of the animal and be absorbed immediately, Brune said.

“Best of all, Shield Plus doesn’t require a veterinary feed directive,” he added. “This June, most livestock antibiotics will need a prescription from the veterinarian. By keeping the calf healthier with Shield Plus, there will be less of a need for this.”

For livestock producers, losing a calf takes a toll both finan­cially as well as emotionally. At a cost of about $2 per dose, Turley said the cost-effectiveness of using Shield Plus is a no-brainer. He now gives the supple­ment to every calf born on his farm and has seen improved health throughout his herd.

“Usually in the fall, we have to doctor three or four calves for pneumonia. This, year we doctored zero calves, and I believe it is due to Shield Plus,” he said. “The only thing we’ve changed on the calf side is giving them the Shield Plus at birth. It seems to provide that lit­tle extra that is needed for a healthy start in life.”

For more information on MFA Shield Technology, visit with the livestock ex­perts at your local MFA affiliate or online at mfa-inc.com/Products/Feed/shield.

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