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Service pays off

MFA is a cooperative, owned by the customers we serve. October is Co-op Month, and it’s a great time to assess MFA’s impact on the communities where we operate.

If you live in one of the 165 communities that MFA serves, you have probably seen MFA representatives bidding on 4-H and FFA animals at your county fair, presenting a college scholarship to a high school senior, or sponsoring events at your 4th of July celebration.

These types of activities help communities, but they also position MFA to grow. We asked three MFA Agri Services managers to explain:

  • Dave Cooper, general manager of the Grand River Group, headquartered in Albany, Mo.
  • Kevin Daniel, general manager of the Sedalia (Missouri) Group and
  • Tony Lucius, general manager of the Midsouth Division, based in Piggott, Ark.

MFA Incorporated ranks in the top 10 in retail agriculture in the U.S., based on retail farm supply sales, number of storefronts, grain volume, plant food sales, crop protection sales, seed sales and precision ag sales.

“We’re involved in our communities up to our ears, and that’s a big reason for our success,” Cooper said. “Our contributions help us bond with our customers and draw our communities together.”

Invigorating the Albany area

Cooper manages MFA Agri Services Centers in Albany, Bethany, Pattonsburg, Gallatin and Hamilton. From 2014 to 2015, they sold 3.5 million bushels of grain—mostly corn, soybeans and wheat—and 12,000 tons of fertilizer. They employ 32 full-time and nine seasonal workers.

“Everything hinges on agriculture here, and MFA plays a critical role,” Cooper said. “We’re among the largest businesses in most of our communities, and our payroll energizes local economies. We’re growing each year, and as we grow, we have to get smarter and more efficient.”

MFA recently invested in upgrades including a new rail facility in Hamilton that can load 120 grain cars, which increases capacity for volume, speed and access to markets. The Gallatin store doubled its grain handling capacity so it can feed additional grain to Hamilton. In Pattonsburg, MFA renovated grain storage, anhydrous and office facilities.

Cooper grew up on a farm nearby in Stanberry. These days, he and his wife rent out the family farm. They raised three daughters, now grown and living close by, and all are involved in agriculture.

“It was important to me to stick around this area,” said Cooper, who has racked up almost 40 years in agricultural sales, mostly with MFA. “When I walk down the street, I know everyone by first name—and I know their vehicles!”

MFA retail locations provide funds, labor, trophies and equipment to county fairs and purchase animals at 4-H and FFA auctions. Local MFA operations also contribute to festivals, concerts and tractor pulls.

“Whatever it takes to make it happen—we’re there,” Cooper said.

Many evenings, Cooper attends meetings as a township trustee, as a director with the University of Missouri Research Farm board, and as a member of the Gentry County Cattlemen’s Association.

“MFA is a 100-year-old cooperative,” Cooper said. “Focusing on our communities positions us to serve for another 100 years.”

Making the Sedalia area a great place to live

Like Cooper, Kevin Daniel has worked for MFA for decades. Daniel manages MFA Agri Services in Sedalia, Cole Camp and Windsor, where farmers raise a diverse blend of cattle, hogs, poultry, horses, sheep, goats and dairy, as well as corn, soybeans, grain sorghum, wheat and forages.

Daniel grew up on a farm near Independence, and his dad bought cattle and hog feed from MFA. Today, Daniel has two grown stepchildren, and he and his wife keep horses at their rural home.

He feels lucky to be part of the Sedalia community. “We help each other in time of need,” said Daniel, who serves on the county’s University of Missouri Extension Council, the Central Missouri Ag Club, the Sedalia tourism board, and the FIT board, which grants student internships.

Under Daniel’s leadership, the three MFA retail locations contribute to 4-H and FFA fundraisers, school and church events and the farmers market. Staff members work at MFA customer appreciation events and volunteer at other agriculture affairs. They’re especially busy in August during the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia.

MFA may present a down-home image at fairs, but its staff keeps up with changing times. Daniel reported that MFA is seeing major growth in seed sales, agronomy scouting and precision services. Local expertise remains essential, and staff members receive strong technical support from the home office in Columbia.

David Dick, presiding commissioner for Pettis County, offers a testimonial. “Agriculture is the largest piece of Pettis County’s economy, and MFA plays a significant role in everything from handling grain to providing electric fencing for your garden,” he said. “I’ve known MFA my entire life. They’ve always provided quality service and products, but I’ve seen them change over the last 10 or 12 years to offer more technical services like seed selection, soil testing and precision services.”

Daniel’s group generated net sales of more than $18 million in the last fiscal year and sold 12,000 tons of fertilizer and about 500,000 bushels of grain. The group employs 20 full-time and three to five part-timers.
Sedalia’s population is 21,000; Cole Camp and Windsor are much smaller. “Our area is a good place to live because it’s small enough that people know and help each other, but it is big enough to have plenty of places to shop, dine and entertain,” Daniel said. “We always have something going on.”

Commitment to community is ingrained in the MFA culture, from the Columbia headquarters to the smallest village in the network. “MFA leadership encourages us to make a difference in our communities,” Daniel said. “Working for a farmer-owned cooperative gives us a huge advantage because it ties us closer to our customers. We are all in this together.”

Growing together in northeast Arkansas

Tony Lucius manages eight MFA Agri Services Midsouth locations including Greenway, Piggott, McDougal, Paragould, Pollard, Rector and St. Francis in Arkansas, and Poplar Bluff in Missouri. Here, farmers produce rice, cotton, corn, soybeans, peanuts, watermelon, potatoes and other vegetables.

“We offer a wide range of services, but recently we’ve been emphasizing seed, which is the most changed segment of our business regarding new technology designed to work in our area,” Lucius said. “It’s helping growers boost yields and profitability.”

Lucius has been with MFA for five years. He was raised in Arkansas and has lived in Paragould for 23 years, where he and his wife have a son who recently graduated from high school. He created an AgLife student conference to highlight agriculture’s impact and sponsors an essay contest that awards an iPad to the best student essay on agriculture’s community impact. He’s active in the Paragould leadership development program, the Arkansas Seed Dealers Association, Rotary International, his church and charitable organizations.

MFA Midsouth employs 50 people and adds another 13 during peak seasons. Last fiscal year, the division sold more than 30,000 tons of fertilizer and handled more than 2.5 million bushels of grain.

“Our employees are key to our success,” Lucius said. He encourages them to volunteer and support things like the FFA, the chamber of commerce and community picnics. They also sponsor fund raisers to help the community purchase grain bin rescue equipment.

“A big part of MFA’s success can be traced to our active role at the local level,” Lucius explained. “We do more than sell products and services. Our employees care about their performance, and they care about our customers, our communities and our local economies. MFA Incorporated believes in doing the right thing, and they give us the tools and resources to do our job well and improve our communities.”

Every MFA dollar grows in your community

As an agricultural economist at the University of Missouri, Ray Massey researches the impact of livestock, corn and soybeans on the Missouri economy. He and other economists use a national database called IMPLAN to model each sector’s impact. We asked him to draw on that knowledge to explain how MFA impacts local economies.

“Recent studies show that every dollar earned by MFA’s grain storage and warehousing services results in approximately $1.94 in benefits to the local community,” Massey said.

“For every dollar earned by other MFA support activities such as retail merchandising of materials, equipment and supplies, the local community sees benefits of about $1.88,” he added.

For example, if MFA sells $1 of herbicide to a farmer, the farmer and other associated businesses will spend an additional 88 cents in labor, fuel, equipment and other items needed to use the herbicide.

Massey added that MFA helps stabilize farm supply prices. “Prices for supplies like fertilizer jump around every week, creating a lot of risk for farmers. Regional suppliers like MFA help stabilize costs and reduce some of that risk.”

MFA Foundation grants $16 million in scholarships over 50 years

Diane Schlesselman won an MFA scholarship in 2005 and used it to help pay for her education at the University of Missouri. She’s now an athletic trainer for the high school in Marshall, Mo.

While she didn’t choose a career in agriculture, farming is in her blood. “My parents farm, and my dad, Don, is on the Concordia MFA Advisory board,” Schlesselman said. He also serves on the MFA Incorporated board. “MFA was always part of growing up, and I appreciated MFA’s support.”

Schlesselman is one of more than 12,000 high school seniors who have earned an MFA scholarships over the past 50 years.

MFA Incorporated, MFA Oil and local MFA affiliates are all part of the foundation, which targets students in their rural communities. Each year, the foundation grants several hundred scholarships, co-funded by local MFA agencies. Most winners receive $2,000. High school counselors can obtain applications from participating MFA locations.

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