Brand plans

For years, Brent Soendker was a DeKalb man. He tended to stick with relatively similar corn hybrids, season after season, on his farm in Odessa, Mo. His seed decisions were based somewhat on brand loyalty but largely on habit.

His philosophy changed about five years ago when he began working with MFA Agronomy Key Account Manager Matthew Beumer to devise a more strategic plan for seed. Rather than making selections according to brand, Beumer focuses on help­ing Soendker choose the right hybrids and varieties for the right acre, maximizing their potential.

And Soendker and other MFA customers have plenty of choices when it comes to corn and soybean seed. MFA’s of­ferings not only include its proprietary brands, MorCorn and MorSoy, but also a broad selection of products from national brands: Bayer’s DeKalb and Asgrow, Syngenta’s NK and Corteva’s Brevant, formerly Mycogen.

“Because we’re not stuck on one brand, we have the abili­ty to pull things together and customize a seed portfolio that fits every acre,” Beumer said. “It’s not about the brand. Every company has good hybrids and varieties. It’s all about tailoring a package that will lead the farmer to greater success.”

MFA’s ability to mix and match brands of seed opens up a world of possibilities for growers, said Steve Fleming, MFA Seed Division director, comparing the experience to a shopping mall. Just like a mall encompasses a wide range of stores and brands under one roof, customers have access to dozens of different seed products and trait platforms under the MFA shield.

“When you combine these four brands and all their products with our own MorCorn and MorSoy brands, MFA is uniquely positioned to offer a whole-farm solution—better than anyone else in the market,” Fleming said. “We know that the average grower is buying two to three brands of seed. If you only have one, that grower is going to go somewhere else. With the offering MFA has, we can approach a grower with a total package and satisfy that brand experience.”

Adopting this philosophy, Soendker now plants several MorCorn hybrids in addition to DeKalb, spreading his risk and stagger­ing his harvest schedule. He has also diver­sified his soybean brands in the past but opted for all MorSoy Enlist varieties this year to take advantage of this new technol­ogy trait. Enlist soybeans exhibit tolerance to both 2,4-D choline and glyphosate.

“My farm goes from gumbo creek-bottom ground to good, black dirt, so I’ve got to have different [hybrid or variety] num­bers,” said Soendker, who farms with his son, Austin, growing 1,100 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat in addition to raising cattle, alfalfa hay and hogs. “There have been years where I’ve planted the wrong ones in the wrong place, and it’s really costly."

Matthew helps me figure out which crops are better in certain situations, rather than trying to guess. He knows what works around here. Since we’ve been selecting seed this way, my yields keep increasing. It’s a good way to farm.”

Exclusive to MFA, MorCorn hybrids and MorSoy varieties must perform to the highest standards before they join the seed portfolio. In 2020, MFA has 17 test plots, each with multiple replicated trials of existing MorCorn and MorSoy products along with a number of experimental hybrids and varieties. Only a chosen few make it into the MFA lineup.

“In a given year, we test dozens of products, but very seldom do we advance more than one or two,” Fleming said. “Growers should take comfort that the products in the MFA portfolio have really been vetted in regard to geographical fit for our trade area.”

This year, MFA also included partner brands in these replicated plots to gather its own data and give employees and customers a chance to see their performance first­hand. MFA also has access to extensive research from these companies to supplement those local trials.

“We get to see a lot of different varieties and hybrids in many different situations, so we learn what fits different soil types and practices,” Beumer said. “We can see yield reports across thousands of acres and multiple years and hundreds of soil types. That allows us to make an educated guess instead of a passionate choice or knee-jerk reaction. We can make smarter farming decisions.”

Offering a full line of seed and comprehensive agronomic expertise helps fulfill MFA’s original purpose as a cooperative— to give farmers choices and advance their overall operation, Fleming said. Having multiple brands may add complexity to MFA’s operation, he added, but it also provides an advantage to the grower.

“As good as MorCorn and MorSoy brands are, they can’t do everything all the time,” Fleming said. “One single brand isn’t going to address all the issues on every farm. That’s why we have partners to help fill that space.”

For more information on MFA’s seed lineup, talk with the agronomists at your Agri Services or AGChoice location or visit online at mfaseed.com.

Dara MCC 5395Crazy about corn
Meet MorCorn manager Dara Bordman

Though she was raised in rural Barnett, Mo., surrounded by farms, MorCorn Product Manager Dara Board­man didn’t have an agricultural background herself. That is, until she discovered FFA in high school.

“Through FFA, I learned to love ag­riculture, and I knew this was what I wanted to do,” Boardman said. “I went to Mizzou and got an undergrad in plant breeding and genetics, did a master’s in crop physiology and then earned a Ph.D. in soil science. If you can’t tell, I’m pretty well a nerd!”

Joining MFA as MorCorn product manager in June 2019, Boardman’s job is to select new hybrids from seed genetics suppliers, put together production plans, work with the MFA agronomy team to design and plant replicated trials, and evaluate the results of that research. This year, more than 20 hybrids are being studied in trials throughout MFA’s trade territory.

“I go out four or five times each summer, from emer­gence to harvest, and take ratings on every single prod­uct,” Boardman said. “Then I combine that data at the end of the season to help me decide what products we should take forward. I try to balance what performed well at harvest with all the other characteristics and present a total package to the farmer.”

Boardman said her work as MorCorn manager nurtures her passion for plants.

“I love learning, and I love working with corn,” she said. “In this role, I get to look at a fresh set of plants each year, comparing what’s going on with that season with our current products but also looking at new products. The science is always there, but a number on a data sheet only provides so much. I’m hoping to provide a little more information, a little bit more insight and expertise, so that when farmers go out and plant, they know they’re getting a product that best fits their fields and is right for their conditions.”

Tommy MFA9477Bean leader
Meet MorSoy manager Tommy Lee

When Tommy Lee joined MFA Incorporated in 2017 as MorSoy product manager, the transition took him full circle in his agronomy career. He’d spent the previous three years as a salesman for MFA Agri Services in La Belle, Mo., where helping growers select the right Mor­Soy varieties was an integral part of his job. Now, he’s on the ground floor of those choices, responsible for what varieties ultimately go into the MorSoy lineup.

“In my sales role with MFA, I was out working with growers on their farms, and I could see the challenges they were facing from a variety standpoint,” Lee said. “That experience helps me understand the needs of our farmers and tailor new MorSoy varieties to meet those needs.”

A native of central Missouri, Lee attended Missouri State University and earned a bachelor’s degree in agronomy. Along with practical knowledge he gained in the field, Lee said his agronomy background is a defi­nite advantage in managing the MorSoy brand. His job entails selecting genetics, designing trials, making field evaluations, coordinating seed production and analyzing data to determine which varieties are worthy of carrying the MorSoy name.

“What makes MorSoy unique in the seed space is that our varieties are selected specifically for the fields our customers are planting,” Lee said. “We put all of our varieties through rigorous testing in our replicated trialing program. We’re one of the few companies that does such intensive testing in their own geography. Growers can have confidence that we’re only bringing them the absolute best products for their acres.”

This year, Lee said nearly 30 MorSoy varieties are being tested in MFA’s replicated trials, which are strategically placed across the region’s diverse agricultural landscape. He said, on average, only one or two new varieties will move forward. Yield is important in that selection, but it’s not the only consideration, Lee said.

“During the season, I’m evaluating everything from emergence to disease pressure to standability— everything our customers are looking for,” Lee said. “We’re not just looking for the highest-yielding varieties but also strongest agronomic varieties. We want to make sure that we are putting the right variety on the right field, which, in turn, helps make our customers more profitable.”

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