Q&A with MFA

Learn more about your cooperative leaders

This is a continuing series of interviews with MFA Incorporated’s board of directors to help members get to better know their cooperative’s leadership. In this edition, we feature District 3 director Jim Novinger of Kirksville, Mo., who runs a diversified farm with row-crop, beef cattle and feedlot operations.

When you look at MFA’s values statement, which one means the most to you and why?
Novinger: It’s hard to find any value that is more important than honesty. If customers don’t have trust in MFA—and we don’t have trust in them—then certainly it’s hard to move forward. Along with that comes the integrity to do what’s right if a problem does exist. As long as we’re looking out for our patrons just as we do our own jobs, I think we will remain successful and they will continue to have faith in us. How many times have we heard that without your word, you have nothing? It only takes a few times of losing that trust, and you’ll never get it back.

MFA ended its fiscal year in August with a strong financial performance. How has MFA been able to achieve positive results despite industry challenges?
Novinger: From the outset of this past year, everybody had the same frame of mind—we were going to roll up our sleeves and do whatever it was necessary to accomplish the goals we had in our strategic plan. I think a positive, can-do attitude had a lot to do with our success. Along with having a good year financially, MFA served farmers’ needs due to employees working on inventories, looking in other places to get certain products that we couldn’t find in our normal channels. We owe much of our success to those efforts. Of course, we got off to an awfully good fall last year and spread a lot of fertilizer. It seems to be a key to how well MFA’s year does if the farmer is able to get a good portion of inputs applied early and in the off-season.

As a diversified producer, you’ve had challenges in both the row-crop and cattle sectors. How has MFA helped farmers like you navigate those adversities?
Novinger: The local MFA employees, whether it’s the store manager or our agronomy and livestock KAMs (key account managers), have become a dependable source of information and have been able to satisfy my needs as a producer. For example, a year ago at this time, we didn’t know what we were going to do about certain herbicides because we didn’t have a source, or at least not our usual sources. It was true on the livestock side, too, with products like penicillin and certain vaccines. At the same time, commodities didn’t necessarily become unavailable, but they did become scarce enough that we had to refigure our rations. Thanks to MFA, none of these issues ended up being near as much of a problem as we thought, either by substitution or finding ways to get the products. As a producer—and member of the board—I felt good about that.

JimNovingerWhy are cooperatives like MFA still relevant in today’s agricultural marketplace? And why is it important for members to get involved?

Novinger: Most co-ops were started because of a need, whether it was ag inputs, like MFA’s business, or electricity and telephone service. Even though some of those needs have changed, co-ops continue to serve their members in that way. In addition, co-ops add competition to the marketplace, and as far as a producer is concerned, that never hurts anything. By getting involved in their co-ops, farmers can help management understand what’s really going on out in the country. I can tell you, as board members, we’re not afraid to give MFA management our unbiased opinions, and it helps everyone learn a lot of things that we may not otherwise know.

What have you learned about MFA during your tenure as director that you might not have learned without the closer involvement?
I’ve been around MFA since the late 1950s and early ’60s, but I was surprised to see how big its footprint was, how many facilities we have in areas that I really wasn’t familiar with, and how MFA serves farmers and customers all over Missouri and border states, too. I’ve been amazed at the complexity of this business and the number of important decisions that have to be made daily. I’ve learned so much from my time on the board, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

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Ground-truthing the carbon market

MFA completes one pilot, starts new collaborations to explore opportunities in ecosystem credits

As 2022 draws to a close, so does MFA’s initial two-year pilot program for carbon and water-quality markets.

Launched in late 2020, the pilot was MFA’s first experience in the rapidly changing carbon marketplace, generating certified ecosystem credits from eligible conservation farming practices. Nearly 9,000 acres of corn and soybeans from more than a dozen growers were enrolled in the exploratory program, conducted in partnership with the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council, the Missouri Corn Merchandising Council and the Ecosystem Services Market Consortium (ESMC), a nonprofit member-based organization.

“In this pilot, we learned a lot about the system as a whole, and we had an opportunity to meet with some of the companies that are purchasing these credits,” said Adam Jones, MFA conservation specialist. “It was very beneficial just to get our heads wrapped around this market, because it’s such an evolving space. Going forward, however, this particular partnership wasn’t going to be sustainable long-term, so we are moving on to something different.”

To further explore opportunities in carbon farming, MFA recently signed a one-year agreement with Indigo Agriculture, a Boston-based technology company founded in 2013 with a focus on microbial seed treatment products. Indigo Carbon was introduced three years ago and, counting MFA, now has collaborations with 16 agribusinesses to help farmers navigate the complex soil carbon market. Worldwide, Indigo has the largest carbon farming program by acres enrolled.

MFA is also working on finalizing a second pilot with Agoro Carbon Alliance, which would offer additional ways to monetize certain conservation practices, including those implemented on range and pasture acres. Agoro, backed by the fertilizer company, Yara International, was launched in 2021 and distributed more than $9 million in payments to U.S. farmers and ranchers in its first year.
Jones said MFA will participate in both programs on a trial basis without a long-term commitment.

“As grower-focused partners, we feel like MFA has a role to play in these markets, but it’s a matter of figuring out which company offers the best support and, honestly, who is able to market the credits for maximum dollars to participants,” he said. “To a certain extent, we’re trying to ground-truth some of these programs and see how they work. The more we learn, the better we can help interested farmers understand the system and give them peace of mind.”
MFA customers who participated in the ESMC pilot will be able to roll their acres into the new programs, Jones said. Eligibility will extend to any qualifying producer in MFA’s trade territory, he added, and includes more than just corn and soybeans. Just as before, growers must have introduced a practice change, such as planting cover crops, managing nitrogen more efficiently or moving away from conventional tillage, to participate. For forage producers, practice changes also include nutrient efficiency along with adding rotational grazing or biodiversity to pastures.

The Hemme family, who raise row crops and operate a dairy in Sweet Springs, Mo., qualified for MFA’s initial carbon pilot by introducing cover crops behind soybeans. They have participated in the program for the past two years, enrolling 300 acres of the 2,000 that they farm.

“We’ve been doing a lot of these practices on a fair amount of our acres anyway, and when I heard about this program, I liked the idea,” said Jon Hemme, who oversees the agronomic side of the farm. “Planting cover crops takes a higher level of management, and there really is no financial incentive other than being a good steward of the land. Yes, you are building soil health for the future, but it’s nice to get a payment for that extra management.”
While he’s still unsure about the value of carbon farming in the long run, Hemme said he has no doubt that the climate-friendly practices it promotes can make a difference in soil health. He’s seen it firsthand.

“We have a farm where we’ve been devoutly using cover crops for seven years, and we’ve raised organic matter 2% in that time,” Hemme said. “That farm is way more productive now than it was seven years ago. So, I know there’s merit to it. The question is, will the carbon markets evolve to truly incentivize more farmers to do these things?”

While Jones said carbon credit payments from the first pilot with ESMC were not as competitive as he would have liked, the newly formed partnerships with Indigo and Agoro could be more promising. Indigo recently announced that farmers earned $30 per verified credit produced and sold in the 2020 and 2021 crop years.

“Right now, I’d say the potential for carbon payments is a benefit for people who are already considering practice changes. I don’t think we’re there yet as far as monetarily incentivizing people to go that direction,” Jones said. “But if you’ve got somebody who’s looking at these things anyway, then using carbon credits to essentially recoup costs makes sense. You can plant cover crops for $30 an acre. You cover your costs and then get all the other benefits—improving soil health, controlling weeds, reducing erosion and more.”

In the initial pilot through ESMC, baseline soil-sampling services were provided by MFA with lab fees covered by Missouri Corn and Soybean Merchandising Councils. Going forward, the new pilot partners will conduct the sampling, and MFA will assist with data collection and provide guidance to growers throughout the process, Jones said.

“We are planning to have a core crew of MFA personnel in the field in each of our districts who will be experts on whatever platforms we’re marketing,” he said. “One of the main things we learned in this first pilot was that the data load is significant. It’s very important to keep good records and know field history and that type of thing. If not, there’s a lot of tracking down information, which can be exhaustively time consuming.”
Because these programs are still in their infancy, Jones said it will take years to gauge a true measurement of carbon sequestration. That’s why carbon contracts are typically generated on five- and 10-year increments, he explained. Payments in the first few years are based on computer models that take into account factors such as soil type, geography, practices and baseline sample results.

“You input all that information, and the model creates a curve that predicts how much carbon you will sequester through the years,” Jones said. “Then you start climbing the curve, and payments are based on what the model thinks you should be sequestering. You’re not going to see major differences in soil carbon after one or two years. In most protocols, sampling occurs year one, year five and year 10—in other words, where you start, where you are at midpoint and then where you are at that 10-year mark.”

Regardless of the platform MFA or its customers choose, all indications are that the carbon-credit system is poised to grow. The value of the voluntary carbon market has more than quadrupled since 2020, reaching almost $2 billion in 2021. Demand is coming from companies that have increased pressure to decarbonize their operations and achieve emission reduction goals. Whereas ESMC was marketing mainly to food companies looking to offset the carbon footprint of their supply chain—General Mills purchased the program’s 2020 credits—Indigo and Agoro market to a wide variety of customers, Jones explained. 

“This is not going away anytime soon. There’s too much demand out there and not enough supply,” he said. “Whether we like it or not, companies are being held accountable for climate impacts, and they need a story to tell about what they’re doing to offset those impacts. It’s just how everybody does business these days.”

That being the case, Hemme said he believes agriculture can play an important role in the carbon market while improving farming operations in the process.

“If a company has made promises to reduce carbon, and a farmer can deliver them a solution and get paid for his practices, I think it’s a great deal,” Hemme said. “At the same time, we didn’t get into this to sell carbon credits. We are trying make our soils more productive over time. That’s the real benefit. And if you can sell a carbon credit, I look at it as icing on the cake.”

Once personnel are trained and agreements are fully in place, MFA will be actively working with eligible growers to enroll in these new carbon pilot programs. For more information, visit with your local MFA representatives or contact Adam Jones at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Confused about Carbon?

If you’re unsure about how the carbon marketplace works, you’re not alone. Even MFA is still in the exploratory phase when it comes to offering customers opportunities for capitalizing on carbon credit incentives.

Admittedly, the process can seem incredibly complex, but it boils down to supply and demand, said Adam Jones, MFA conservation specialist. With new greenhouse gas emissions regulations and growing consumer pressure surrounding climate change, industrial manufacturers need to purchase carbon credits to stay in line with certain environmental standards and meet company goals. Farmers can create these credits for companies to buy.

You may ask, “Buy where?” The simple answer is the voluntary carbon marketplace, which has turned carbon dioxide emissions into a commodity that can be priced and traded. Carbon credits are issued by national or international governmental organizations based on emissions targets. These “carbon registries” certify the credits that are generated and keep track of how many are available to trade in the marketplace. Each credit is assigned a serial number, and that information is publicly available through a ledger. When a purchaser buys a credit to offset emissions, the registry will retire that credit on the ledger to make sure no one else can buy it again.

In agriculture, the process works like this.
· Farmers adopt sustainable practices known to capture more carbon in the soil. 
· The impact of those practices is quantified and calculated into carbon credits.  
· The data is verified and submitted to a carbon registry, which makes the credits available for trade. 
· A corporate buyer purchases the credits on the voluntary carbon marketplace.
· Farmers are paid for the value of the credits they produced.

At least, that’s how the system works today. As with any emerging market—especially one largely based on government regulations—the processes and protocols are continually evolving. Helping to clarify the complexities is a main reason MFA has entered this space, Jones said.

“We know farmers have lots of questions about carbon markets. So does MFA,” he said. “There’s a pretty big learning curve to understand all the differences in the marketplace and the companies that issue and pay for credits. That’s why we continue to explore different partnerships, to answer some of those questions and help our customers tap into the full benefits of the stored carbon on their farms.”

Biodiversity credit program returns for second year

Carbon sequestration isn’t the only way farmers can be compensated for their stewardship practices. Corn and soybean producers once again have an opportunity to participate in a biodiversity credit program, offered by MFA Incorporated in collaboration with other agricultural and conservation entities.

Biodiversity SidebarProducers working to create or enhance pollinator habitat within existing or new field borders, buffers, waterways or other non-productive agricultural grounds are eligible for this pilot program, now in its second and final year.
Along with MFA, other partners in the pilot are the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council (MSMC), Missouri Corn Merchandising Council, Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), MFA Incorporated, Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever and the Ecosystem Services Market Consortium (ESMC).

The pilot offers farmers an opportunity to earn biodiversity credits along with agricultural carbon and water-quality credits. Once credits are quantified and verified, ESMC makes the credits available for purchase to interested buyers.

“Creating healthy habitat for pollinators benefits people, crop production, soils, water and wildlife,” said Jason Jensen, MDC community private lands field chief. “By working with like-minded partners and producers, we all achieve the goal of profitable farming through sustainable conservation practices. The biodiversity pilot allows producers to increase conservation practices on their working lands with relatively little investment or risk.”

Because this is the last year of the biodiversity pilot, only one year of commitment is needed. Incentive payments will be offered to interested farmers to offset initial costs and keep this a low-risk opportunity.
For more information, visit https://mosoy.org/about-soybeans/environment/environmental-programs/.

To view this article as originally printed via flipbook, click HERE: http://mfa.uberflip.com/i/1482738-nov2022todays-farmer-magazine/11?


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All over for OTC

Remaining nonprescription livestock antibiotics will soon only be available through veterinarians

By next June, producers will no longer find most over-the-counter livestock antibiotics on the shelves or in the animal health cooler at their local MFA or AGChoice location. Instead, a veterinarian’s prescription will be required to purchase these medications.
The change comes as an extension of Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) regulations, which went into effect in 2017 by the Food and Drug Administration and brought most antibiotic use in the livestock industry under veterinary supervision. However, a small percentage remained available over the counter (OTC) in the form of injectables, intramammary tubes, boluses and topical products.

With the next step in the FDA’s Veterinary Feed Directive rules, which first went into effect in 2017, most remaining over-the-counter livestock antibiotics will only be available by veterinarian prescription. The antibiotic forms affected include injectables, boluses, intramammary tubes and topical products.“We knew shortly after the VFD regulation was implemented that the remaining OTC versions of these same antibiotics would likely be the next group to be regulated,” said Dr. Tony Martin, MFA Incorporated manager of animal health. “Since that was confirmed last year, we’ve been proactively working to make sure our locations and customers are prepared for the changes.”

Current products that will be affected include penicillin, tetracycline, erythromycin, sulfamethazine, sulfadimethoxine and tylosin, among others. Producers will find familiar names such as LA-200, Bio-Mycin, Terramycin and Sustain III on that list.

“For MFA, this means the loss of our ability to carry these products, which include antibiotics commonly used to treat issues such as pinkeye, calf scours, infections, pneumonia and other respiratory diseases,” Martin said. “For producers, it means that instead of being able to make their own judgment call when they need an antibiotic, they will have to go to a veterinarian to get a prescription and either buy that product from their veterinarian or take it somewhere else to fulfill.”

The affected antibiotics are considered “medically important,” which means they are also used in some form to treat human disease, and the FDA says the stepped-up regulations are part of a broader stewardship effort to combat resistance to these drugs. The intent is to only allow veterinarians to prescribe antibiotics when necessary for the treatment, control or prevention of specific diseases in food-producing animals.

By June 11, 2023, the FDA expects all of the “medically important” antibiotics that are currently available over the counter to display the following statement on the label: “Caution: Federal law restricts this drug to use by or on the order of a licensed veterinarian.” As soon as animal health companies make that label change—even if it’s before the deadline—the product will be prescription only, Martin said.

Legally, prescriptions must be issued through an established veterinarian-client-patient relationship. In Missouri, this means a veterinarian is acquainted with the producer and the animals either by examination or timely visits to the operation.

“The veterinarian should know enough about the producer and the farm to be able to make the medical judgment and be available for follow-up if there are problems,” Martin explained. “And the producer is agreeing to follow the veterinarian’s recommendations. The relationship has to be more than just over the phone.

He encourages farmers to consult with their veterinarian to have a plan in place during this transition period, including how to access appropriate antimicrobial products when a veterinary visit is not feasible or not considered necessary.

“Understand how it’s going to affect you, know what products you’re going to start having more restricted access to and discuss what your veterinarian’s approach is going to be to providing prescriptions for those products,” Martin advised. “Open the line of communication now and talk about what this is going to mean to your operation.”

The new rules could add more stress to rural veterinarians who are already in short supply. The U.S. Census Bureau anticipates a possible national shortage of 15,000 veterinarians by 2025, with the bulk of those needed in rural areas. Only about 10% of final-year veterinary students express an interest in working with livestock after graduation, according to recent survey data from the American Veterinary Medical Association.

“I’m afraid it’s going to bring even more awareness to how unavailable that veterinary resource is in a lot of our trade territory,” Martin said.

Julie Braun, executive director of the Missouri Veterinary Medical Association (MVMA), doesn’t share that concern. Since the VFD guidance was first published in the federal register in 2013, she said the association has been working to make its members aware of the regulatory changes so they are prepared to serve their producer-clients. The topic will also be presented at the MVMA’s annual convention in January to address this latest extension.

“Veterinarians and livestock producers should be exercising this practice with the antibiotics that are already under the federal law, so I don’t think there is going to be a huge change,” Braun said. “They’re already going to have that relationship set, which is good. The whole point is to put antibiotic usage under the jurisdiction of the veterinarian so that it is used properly and thoroughly to prevent antibiotic resistance.”

Braun said she expects veterinarians to handle prescriptions under the new rules differently, depending on the situation with each client. She also said the price difference of prescription-versus-OTC medications is unclear at this time, adding that “veterinarians have no control over that.”

Both Braun and Martin agree that livestock producers who do not currently use a veterinarian on a regular basis are the ones who will be most affected by the changes. They encourage those farmers to establish a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship before June to ensure continued access to antibiotics when needed.

By June 2023—or before— customers will no longer be able to find livestock antibiotics such as these stocked on the shelves at their local MFA store. As soon as animal health manufacturers label these products as “prescription only,” they cannot be sold over the counter.In Missouri, any entity within the state selling, dispensing or filling orders for animal prescription drugs, with the exception of a veterinarian, is required to have a pharmacy permit—an expensive and complicated process. That’s why Martin said MFA will no longer carry most livestock antibiotics after the June 2023 deadline, with the exception of a few minor products.

However, Martin emphasizes that producers will still be able to purchase feeds with antibiotic additives through MFA with a valid VFD as well as a full line of animal health products that do not require prescriptions. He also stressed that antibiotics aren’t always the answer.

“These restrictions are going to put even more focus on the importance of genetics, nutrition, management and preventive animal health practices that all livestock producers should be doing,” Martin said. “Are you minimizing the stressors? Are you feeding a fully balanced diet? Are you doing a good job with parasite control and vaccinations to minimize disease? Are you using additives like Shield Technology that help support immunity?”

“We can’t totally do away with the need for antibiotics,” he added. “I’ll admit that up front. But we can try to minimize the occurrence of disease and keep animals at a higher level of health so we will need less of them.”
For more details from the FDA on the new rules, visit online at https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/cvm-updates/fda-finalizes-guidance-bring-remaining-approved-over-counter-medically-important-antimicrobial-drugs.

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