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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