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Q&A with MFA director Dwayne Schad

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. This edition features Dwayne Schad, District 8 director. He and his wife, Amy, raise cattle, corn, soybeans wheat and hay on about 750 acres just east of Versailles, Mo.

When you look at MFA’s values statement, which one means the most to you and why?

Being involved in a co-op, I believe each one of our core values is just as important as the other. But if I had to pick, I believe “Honesty and Integrity” would mean the most. If you cannot be honest and have integrity in what you do, not much else matters. Being fair and honest with everyone you deal with will go a long way in keeping the customer happy and coming back. Following through on a promise and delivering service promptly to the best of our ability are very important to all involved.

DwayneSchadTOctober is Co-op Month, and you’ve been a longtime member of MFA. What does that mean to you and why do you feel it’s important to be involved?

My parents used to say I cut my teeth on the steering wheel of a tractor. Likewise, I started doing business with MFA at a fairly young age while I was still in school, and I am still with MFA today. As a co-op, the only way that we can be profitable is to first do everything possible to make sure our members are profitable. They will only do more business with us if they are sustainable. I have always been passionate about helping others—as most farmers are—and the base of a co-op is to help each other provide more purchasing power and have stronger marketability. As for my involvement, President Theodore Roosevelt said, “Every man owes a part of his time and money to the business or industry in which he is engaged. No man has a moral right to withhold his support from an organization that is striving to improve conditions within his sphere.” Just as MFA has brought value, service and technology to me over the years, I would like to give a portion of my time, experience and common sense to the company that has been most involved with me.

Drought has been among the biggest challenges this growing season, and it’s not the only challenge that MFA and its members face. How does MFA help farmers navigate such adversities?

There will always be challenges in agriculture. Drought affects more than crops, grass and livestock. Extreme drought affects river levels and, in turn, availability of crop inputs and transportation of products to markets. MFA has the network of facilities and provides the best agronomic data and technology to help farmers minimize losses and achieve the greatest return. For livestock producers, MFA also provides all the equipment, vaccines and tools needed to meet the needs of their animals and operation and help manage what Mother Nature gives us.

You were on hand for the Farm Bill Listening Session at the State Fair. What is something you’d like to see in the 2023 version of that legislation and why?

In a year like this, it goes without saying that crop insurance is a No. 1 priority. It helps both crop producers and the livestock industry by minimizing risk of growing crops and providing economical feed sources. However, something beneficial to include in the Farm Bill would be increased funding for the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development. Expanding these programs would provide additional opportunities for row-crop and livestock farmers to build their customer base and market their products abroad. Strong trade is important to the continued success and growth of American agriculture.

What have you learned about MFA as a member of the board of directors that you might not have learned without the closer involvement?

MFA is a very important part of Missouri agriculture and adjoining states. I have learned more about our joint ventures and the value they bring to this company. There are a lot of behind-the-scenes decisions that must be taken into account to provide the maximum service possible for our customers and members. Many years ago, I had to memorize and recite the FFA Creed. It states “I believe in the future of agriculture with a faith born not of words but of deeds.” So does MFA. I have witnessed our leadership team and employees all working toward that goal.

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Drones reach new heights in agriculture

Farmers are embracing unmanned aerial technology for input delivery and more

A drone on most row-crop farms within the next 10 years. It’s a bold prediction, one that Taylor Moreland would never have made just a few years ago when agricultural drones were still considered a novelty.

But the rapid advancement, acceptance and adoption of this technology by farmers and agribusinesses have made the concept not only possible but probable.
“These aren’t just drones anymore. They’re ag equipment,” Moreland said. “I don’t see the technology replacing custom application, but just like a lot of farmers have their own spray rigs, I see them having their own spray drones for certain jobs.”

As owner of Agri Spray Drones in Boonville, Mo., Moreland has watched the technology soar in popularity from his unique vantage point as a pioneer in the industry. Seemingly overnight, unmanned aerial vehicles—commonly known as drones—have evolved from toy to tool as farmers embrace them for spraying crops, sowing cover crop seed and applying fertilizer, among other uses.

“I started playing with drones on the farm back in 2014, taking pictures, using imagery and doing crop scouting,” Moreland said. “They were cool, but you really couldn’t do anything with the visual data you were gathering. I felt like the technology was being oversold at the time.”

A few years later, when the first spray drones started making their way into the United States, Moreland took a closer look. This time, he recognized the potential benefits of being able to apply crop protection products on fields where aerial spraying was the only option.

“About that time, around 2017-2018, demand for fungicide application was rising, but the supply of pilots was not keeping pace,” Moreland said. “Fields weren’t being sprayed because we couldn’t get airplanes booked. That’s what got me looking into spray drones. The first ones were very small, only holding about 2.5 gallons and kind of difficult to use, but we got one and began testing its viability.”

Those early spray drones were useful to a point, he said, but the real game-changer was when the industry leader, DJI, came out with the Agras T20 spray system in 2020. With a 5-gallon capacity and ability to cover about 25 acres per hour, the technology was now becoming practical and sophisticated enough for widespread adoption.

“Originally, I didn’t intend to actually sell these drones,” Moreland said. “I was just looking to provide a service for farmers. But I realized that the suppliers in the U.S. at that time didn’t understand agriculture at all. They didn’t understand how farmers operated. They didn’t understand the sense of urgency when it comes to application season. That’s why we became a dealer—not to sell the drone as a platform, but to provide it as a solution for growers.”

Agri Spray sold its first Agras T20 in January 2021 and, in less than three years, has deployed more than 1,000 drones into the agricultural industry. The company not only works directly with farmers but also with businesses such as MFA that are adding these drones to their precision technology toolboxes. Based on the 2023 CropLife/Purdue Precision Ag Adoption Survey, drone use among ag retailers is now in the 30% range, and dealers surveyed anticipate that percentage will reach 54% by 2025. This compares with usage rates in the single digits just a few years ago.

“Spray drones have become the new hot topic in agriculture,” said Allen Scott, MFA Incorporated precision agronomy logistics specialist. “Farmers are really starting to see the potential, and I think there’s a lot of opportunity for this technology in the future.”
Moreland attributes the growth in agricultural drone adoption to a combination of factors.

“First of all, I would say it is demand-driven. More and more farmers are recognizing the return on investment for fungicides, and drones are an effective tool to make those late-season applications,” he said. “There is also the supply side. Drones have become more available, affordable and efficient. And then there’s awareness. We went from selling our first drone to the nation’s largest supplier in about 15 months. That wasn’t just due to the fact that we could get more drones. We understood the technology, the solution that it was providing and how to use it. We also provide a lot of education to farmers so they understand it as well.”

Drones aren’t new to MFA, which actually purchased its first drones—camera-only DJI models—in 2018 to enhance crop-scouting services. The idea was to capture aerial crop imagery that could help agronomists more accurately pinpoint problem areas such as insect and disease infestations and nutrient deficiencies. Input delivery wasn’t even on the radar.

That changed when MFA purchased two Agras T20 drones from Moreland’s company last year and began testing their applications in research plots. This summer, one of MFA’s Ag Experience interns, Addie Thessen, spearheaded a project to compare coverage and drift when spraying at different heights above the crop canopy. This fall, Scott plans to seed cover crops and apply fertilizer to evaluate the effectiveness of the drone’s spreading system, an optional feature for DJI T-series units.

Pilot“We used the spray drones on one of our soybean plots down in the Bootheel because the plants got too tall for our Gator to make a post application,” Scott said. “It was only about an acre-sized plot, so the drone was much more efficient than trying to get a big sprayer in there. It was our first real-world test of the spray drone, other than some small-scale trials, and it worked really well.”

As MFA continues to evaluate how the technology will fit into its operation, Scott said the Agronomy Division has recently developed policies to approve third-party companies to offer drone services to customers. Several MFA locations are already working with drone operators in this contract capacity.

One example is Ally Ag Force, a drone application company launched in 2022 by Dan Haney and his family in Taos, Mo. Haney, a recently retired National Guard veteran, brought in his son, Levi, a student at the University of Central Missouri, to help get the business off the ground. They completed their first job last February, spraying burndown chemicals for a neighboring farmer who planned to renovate some hay ground.

“Growing up in Southeast Missouri, I would see crop dusters all the time. But you don’t see that many up here in Central Missouri, and that’s where I recognized an opportunity for drones,” Dan said. “I started running the numbers on what it would cost and what I thought we could do, put together a business plan and pitched it to my family. I was almost hoping they’d talk me out of it, but everyone thought it made sense.”

In August, the Haneys were invited to Centralia MFA’s Plot Day to demonstrate the technology. Soon after, they had several requests for their services, ranging from spraying fungicide on corn to spreading cover crop seed.

“After that field day, we were hired to spray 40 acres of fungicide on corn,” Levi said. “As soon as the farmer saw what the drone could do, he went back to MFA, bought more chemical and said, ‘Hey, can you do some more?’ It turned into 150 acres by the end of the day.”

While aerial application of traditional row-crop inputs is currently making up much of the agricultural drone demand, the sky is the limit for what they can do, Moreland said.

“The nice thing about a drone is that you can also use it for ponds and lakes, terrace channels, field edges and spots where you’ve had weed flushes or fertilizer skips,” he added. “You can do your invasive species management with it and spray trees and fencerows. Drones are the perfect platform for those uses because they’re easily deployable and won’t damage anything on the ground.”

Drones have also found their niche in cranberry production, forestry, wetland management and the nursery industry. They are particularly useful in specialty crops, which are typically labor-intensive and high-dollar operations. Landry Jones, MFA conservation grazing specialist, said drones are becoming popular to spray pastures that are too rough or steep for ground rigs to cover. And researchers are also testing the ability of drones to pollinate orchards and vineyards.

“We’ve even done work with the University of Missouri painting greenhouses with drones,” Moreland added. “The process uses a chalk-based paint that acts like a temporary shade canopy, which can be washed off later. We’re trying the same thing with poultry and cattle barns that have galvanized roofs to help make them cooler in the summer. Drones are phenomenal for that application.”

Though uses may be endless, Scott said he believes size constraints will eventually limit growth of the technology. While the Agras T40, with a 10.5-gallon capacity, is currently the biggest model DJI offers, the Federal Aviation Administration just approved an agricultural drone with a 70-gallon capacity. Manufactured by the autonomous aircraft company Pyka, it’s the largest unmanned aircraft system to receive commercial approval.

“How big can these things get without actually having a person flying it?” Scott said. “I believe we are experiencing the upper limit of the size a drone can reach and still be practical. At a certain point, they’re going to get too difficult to transport and handle. I could be wrong. This technology could change overnight. But there are a lot of unknowns for me to truthfully say what might happen.”

Regardless, Scott added, drones have undoubtedly found a place to land in agriculture, but how far they will go in the future is still up in the air.

“On good days, in good fields and in good conditions, drones aren’t in a position to outcompete airplanes and custom applicators,” Scott said. “But you get into situations where it might be a little wet, the field is small, there are specialty crops being grown, equipment is booked up or growers don’t want big ground rigs running through their crops, drones can fill that gap. I think that’s where they are going to succeed.”


When it comes to drone technology in agriculture, there is a lot to know—more than we can possibly cover here—but here are a few important pieces of information that many farmers and prospective unmanned aerial vehicle pilots often ask.

How much do spray drones cost?
Taylor Moreland, owner of Agri Spray Drones, said a DJI Agras T20 and its full package runs about $35,000, which includes spare batteries, recharger and tanks as well as in-house training and Federal Aviation Administration licensing. Operators will also need a generator to charge batteries and run the mixing and pumping system, and certain sizes of drones may require a trailer for transport. In all, a complete setup could run around $50,000.

What do drone applicators charge?
This will vary by company, but Moreland said he suggests charging per-acre rates for field coverage that are competitive or slightly more than what a helicopter service might charge for aerial application. An hourly rate might be more cost-effective for smaller jobs and site-specific treatments.

How many acres can drones spray per hour?
As a rule of thumb, Moreland explained, 2 gallons per acre is commonly labeled as the carrier volume for most aerial-applied products. At that rate, spray drones on the market today can cover 15 to 40 acres per hour, depending on capacity. This range includes landing and refill time.

How long can a spray drone fly on one battery?
Flight times vary depending on battery and ambient temperature, payload weight, wind and how quickly the drone disperses its inputs. With the DJI T-series drones, Moreland said one battery charge lasts approximately two tankloads (10 to 15 minutes) when spraying at a 2-gallons-per-acre rate.

What regulations do spray drone operators have to follow?
The FAA officially published rules for commercial drone operations in 2016, but those rules have been continually evolving—especially when it comes to agriculture. In a nutshell, to operate spray drones in the U.S., pilots need proper licensing and certification mandated by the FAA as well as state agriculture, business and transportation departments. Additional permissions may also be required by the FAA for certain materials and types of drones. Commercial applicators will also need liability insurance. Dealers such as Moreland will usually help operators navigate the training, testing, licensing and regulatory process.

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Kansas rancher Rex Buchman enjoys the cowboy life while making his mark on the cattle and equine industries

Dust-filled winds sweeping through the vast plains. Native sunflowers lining the roads. Wheat fields, ghost towns and cattle drives.

This is rural Kansas.

Missouri author William Least Heat-Moon devoted his 624-page book, PrairyErth, to the geography, history and people of Chase County, Kansas. He described it as, “A paradigm of infinity, a clearing full of many things except boundaries, and its power comes from its apparent limitlessness.”

Third-generation rancher and cowboy, Rex Buchman, understands and lives that feeling of limitlessness. For Buchman, the Flint Hills region of Kansas offers limitless potential, and there’s no place he would rather be than on his family’s Bar U Ranch.

“I was born on this ranch,” said Buchman, who lives in his grandparents’ 1889-model Sears and Roebuck two-story home that arrived by train and was assembled near Burdick, Kan., about 10 miles off the nearest blacktop. “I grew up right here with a beautiful little Palomino filly that my grandfather gave me, that .22 rifle (displayed on the kitchen wall), a coon dog and a fishing pole. I didn’t need anything more than that.”
Buchman’s father, Burton Lou, and his grandfather, Louis Charles (L.C.), instilled a love of ranching, breeding, animal genetics and entrepreneurship into the young Burton Rex.

“Ranching—cattle and horses—this is what I’ve always wanted to do. And if it wasn’t for horses, I probably wouldn’t like to have cattle,” Buchman said.
After graduating from Kansas State University with a bachelor’s degree in animal science in 1976, Buchman tried his luck in the cattle business.

“I came home for a few years to raise bulls and went broke,” he said. “So I moved to East Texas where I was the farm supervisor at Stephen F. Austin State University. After that, I moved to New Mexico where I served as an extension county agent in agriculture. My primary responsibility was with 4-H and youth programs.”

In 2005, the Flint Hills and Bar U Ranch called Buchman back to his roots to help his father with the cattle operation, which had been established by L.C. in 1933. L.C. had originally moved to the ranch as a tenant farmer, leasing the headquarters and farm ground from an insurance company. The year he bought the ranch turned out to be plagued by drought.

“The banker helping Grandpa Lou tore up the contract and advised him to just lease the farm for a couple years, then try to buy it again,” Buchman explained. “Grandpa Lou decided to try something different and bought cattle from Clovis, New Mexico and Childers, Texas. The cattle were shipped up here by rail. He wintered the herd on harvested feedstuffs like corn silage and sorghum silage back in those days. He grazed them, sold them off grass and fattened some of them.”

Within three years of buying the first herd, L.C. was able to pay off the farm.

“The next set of cattle took him 10 years to pay for,” Buchman said with a chuckle. “It’s typical. That’s the way the cattle business goes.”

Turning black to red
When he returned to the ranch, Rex Buchman’s entrepreneurial wheels started to turn. What types of agribusiness ventures might thrive in the Flint Hills? He and his wife, Teresa, decided that their love of cattle and horses would blend nicely into a ranching experience.

They also starting thinking about ways to set their Angus-based cattle operation apart. He noticed that the red bred heifers were bringing $200 to $400 a head more than the black heifers.

“The red heifers were just more popular,” Buchman said. “That was the first thing that turned my head. When we moved from the bred heifer program to a seedstock development, my thought was red—it’s something new.”
Once he and Teresa started focusing on producing red cattle, several benefits became apparent, Buchman said.

“One was the heat tolerance,” he said. “Daddy used to run his black cows in one pasture and his red cows in the other pasture. There were hours of difference in how soon the red cows came out of the timber to start grazing as opposed to the black cows. One pasture doesn’t have any shade trees in it, and the red cows do fine in that pasture. The black cows suffer in it. Heat tolerance in Kansas is a big deal.”

The second aspect Buchman likes about red cattle is their docility.

“At calving time, these old red cows, they’ll come up and blow your hair back while you’re tagging their calf. They might lick your face,” Buchman said. “The black Angus cattle act completely different.”

Another positive, he added, is that gentle cattle are safer to handle.

“They really work well for our dude ranch program because people can do everything wrong, and we still get our work done without endangering our clients, the cows or the horses,” he said. “The cows move slow, so it is easier to teach someone how to handle them.”

Buchman’s ranch-raised custom beef business benefits from the calm cows as well. Genetics plays a role in the carcass quality as does the demeanor and handling of the cows.

“Our steers are walking off the trailer calmly and looking around while other cattle are nervous and wild,” he said. “That much adrenaline in them when they go to the slaughterhouse is going to affect the way the meat tastes. So gentle cattle are really important all the way through, and these red cattle have all those great traits.”

The Buchmans runs about 60 cows, smaller than many operations in the area. They also custom-graze 100 bred heifers for a friend and take care of 60 to 80 cows for another friend.

“It makes sense to have 60 of the best cows you can possibly have,” explained Buchman. “We can’t make $1 a head on a million cattle to make it work. We have to make about $500 or $600 a head to have enough income to keep us going. My plan is to move them from average to elite as fast as I can.”

With two clear creeks and rolling pastures covered with native tall grass, Buchman’s cattle thrive in the Flint Hills, an area that was once a shallow sea. The ranch encompasses 1,100 acres, and Buchman leases about 1,400 acres from neighboring ranches so the cattle can graze on the nutrient-rich prairie grasses.

“Genetics is part of the equation, but you must have the nutrition to match. Our cattle and horses have to be developed for a high-end, luxury market,” Buchman said. “Partnering with MFA for a nutrient plan has really improved our efficiency with the cows. When Brian (Bartels, MFA livestock key account manager) and I go out and look at the cattle, we don’t say, ‘Do they look good enough?’ We’re asking ourselves if they look too good. That’s where we’re at in our program right now.” (See sidebar on page 18 for details.)

Heritage of horses
Cattle and horses go hand in hand for the Buchmans. Rex and Teresa have decades of experience in raising, riding and training quarter horses.

“One of my favorite stories is when I came back home at the age of 50 and was cleaning out a grain bin with my Dad,” Buchman said. “He pulled out an old wooden rocking horse from the corner. He said to me, ‘Here, you take it home. Mother’s been saving this for you for 50 years. I tried my very best to make a cowboy out of you.’ He paused for a little bit, then said, ‘I might’ve overdone it.’”
Being back on the ranch may have been Rex’s dream, but Teresa took on his dream when they returned to their home state. To watch the couple work the cattle by horseback is a delight.

“I was a city girl before moving back, so it took me a little bit to get back into the groove of riding,” she said. “My parents broke horses and everyone brought their outlaw horses to my dad. He could break anything—horse teams, draft mules, draft horses, quarter horses.”

Buchman is well known in the horse community, whether he is riding, judging, coaching, training or breeding. While working in New Mexico, he was asked to help with local tourism. He worked with a number of different agencies, landowners and politicians to create a trail ride adventure on horseback, retracing the 125-mile journey of Billy the Kid.

“It took two or three years to get it done, and it was really an adventure to develop,” he said. “The first try we got lost, we ran out of food and water, and somebody had to rescue us. Once we had it all figured out, we had people from across the country and all over the world joining us to experience Billy the Kid’s journey.”

Ranching adventures 
Combining their two passions, horses and cattle, along with the love of the Flint Hills region and Rex’s agritourism experiences, the Buchmans now host Flint Hills Ranching Adventures with Matt and Angie Jobe from Windsor, Mo.

“I’ve always wanted to come home and run the ranch. Yet, I knew that it wasn’t big enough and there wasn’t enough money in cows to make it work,” Buchman explained. “So, in the back of my mind, I was always looking for other streams of income. We’d like to build a business big enough that one of our five kids can come back and run it. It’s a serious goal. Tourism is money that’s not tied to drought or cattle markets. And there’s a huge market for it.”

The “dude ranch” experiences the Buchmans offer include trail rides, cattle drives, branding, cowboy camp, roping, horsemanship lessons and photography clinics. The ranch’s cattle drive provides guests a chance to experience a historical Flint Hills event like it was a century-and-a-half ago, when fat steers were sorted and sent by rail to Kansas City or Chicago. The Buchmans also operate a bed-and-breakfast near the ranch, and Teresa prepares all the meals.

The scenic beauty of the ranch, the quality of the Buchmans’ quarter horses and their hospitality are what keep people coming back for more.

“There is no set schedule for our dude ranch adventure, but it’s somewhat seasonal. The horses don’t act nice in the winter. We also have people who come here just to ride,” Buchman said. “The most common size group for an event is eight to 15 people. Many times, we just have a grandparent who brings five or six grandkids for a great experience. They prefer to provide a unique trip rather than buy them trinkets.”

Like the vastness of the surrounding scenery, Buchman has limitless plans for the future.

Invest in quality
Rex Buchman will tell you that producing quality animals means investing in quality, and that applies to both genetics and nutrition. The veteran rancher takes care of the genetics while he relies on Brian Bartels, livestock key account manager at the MFA’s feed mill in Emporia, Kan., to help formulate an effective nutrition plan for Bar U Ranch’s cattle and horses.
“When I started working with Brian, the customer service went through the roof,” Buchman said. “He works hard for us, and MFA is always doing what they can to help us succeed in the luxury cattle and horse business.”
The MFA Range Cube is one of the MFA feed products that Buchman feeds the cattle on his Flint Hills ranch.
“The quality and consistency of our Range Cube sets us apart,” Bartels said. “Our nutritional team has created a completely balanced ration made from high-quality ingredients. We have been using the same formulation for more than 60 years. The physical quality is second to none.”
Buchman also uses MFA’s Cattle Charge, Vitalix tubs as well as custom feed. EasyKeeper is Buchman’s go-to feed for his highly sought-after quarter horses. “It’s a quality product, and it really produces excellent results for us,” he said.
Buchman also forward-contracts his feed to estimate how many tons the ranch will use. “By doing this we can keep our expenses predictable while getting the best prices possible for superior MFA products,” he said.
“The quickest way to drive up the cost of production is to do something that doesn’t work,” Buchman added. “Partnering with MFA works.”

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