Feature

Oetting family named Missouri's fifth Leopold Conservation Award winner

Oetting Homestead Farms in Concordia is the recipient of the 2021 Missouri Leopold Conservation Award, which spot­lights agricultural achievements in voluntary stewardship and natural resources management.

The award was announced during the Missouri Governor’s Conference on Agriculture in Osage Beach on Nov. 18. The Oettings are the fifth Missouri farm family to receive this presti­gious award, which includes a $10,000 prize and crystal trophy. Missouri Farmers Care, a coalition of agricultural organizations that includes MFA Incorporated, partnered with the Sand County Foundation to bring the Leopold award to the Show-Me State for the first time in 2017.

The Sand County Foundation created this award in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold to inspire American landowners and recognize exceptional farmers, ranchers and foresters. Leopold’s 1949 collection of essays, “A Sand Coun­ty Almanac,” is one of the most influential books about the environment ever written. The foundation now supports and promotes conservation on working lands across the U.S. and presents the Leopold award in 24 states.

As the 2021 Missouri Leopold winners, Steve and Sharon Oetting—who farm along with their sons, Sean and Clint, and their families—have continually demonstrated the compatibility of conservation and commerce in their Lafayette County oper­ation, said Scott Edwards, NRCS Missouri State Conservationist.

“The Oetting family’s commitment to understand the impor­tance of soil health is a testament to their success,” Edwards said. “By taking steps to implement conservation practices and support monitoring efforts, the Oettings contribute to improved natural resource benefits and make this farm an excellent exam­ple of sustainable agriculture.”

The Oettings grow corn, soybeans and wheat and custom finish 3,000 hogs annually on land that has been in their family for more than 180 years. Oetting Homestead Farms was among the first to be certified in the Missouri Department of Agricul­ture’s Agricultural Stewardship Assurance Pro­gram, recognizing efforts to reduce soil erosion, enhance wildlife habitat and protect water and air quality.

“In agriculture, our greatest resource is the land, and as farmers, it is our duty to be good stewards of that land for fu­ture generations,” said Kyle Durham, chairman of the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council. “It’s outstanding to see the spotlight on the Oetting family’s example of stewardship.”

In the 1970s, the Oettings transitioned from dairy to pork production. To store swine manure, they constructed a three-lagoon system with an adjoining 2.8-acre lake, which eliminated the need to purchase 1.3 million gallons of fresh water annually. The lake is used for watering livestock and other farm uses, including washing barns. Effluent treated in the lagoons is recy­cled to provide nutrients for crops. 

As part of their conservation-minded cropping practices, the Oettings rotate no-till corn and soybeans, maintain under­ground tile outlets and terraces, and use variable-rate fertilizing and seeding technology. They participate in MFA’s Nutri-Track program, which enables them to apply crop nutrients in precise amounts to limit risk of runoff and increase yield potential while making best use of input costs.

“Grid sampling was a big step for us, and we’ve seen the ben­efits,” Steve said. “It keeps us from over-applying in some areas or under-applying other areas. We have taken it a step further now by layering yield monitor information over the grid maps, and it challenges our better soils to produce more and identi­fies the maximum potential on our poorer soils. Implementing those practices, along with the improved seed genetics, has resulted in a higher yields than I ever thought we would have.”

The Oettings have also planted pollinator habitats and nearly 10,000 trees in riparian buffer strips. They said they are always looking for more conservation opportunities.

“We made a conscious effort to take some of our farm that maybe wasn’t as productive and make it better so that the land is providing more value back to us,” Sharon said. “It makes sense to me to conserve. If you can do things that protect water quality and soil health or wildlife habitat, it’s more of a ‘Why not?’ than a ‘Why?’”

Other finalists for this year’s Leopold Award were Britt Farms of Clifton Hill in Randolph County and Cope Grass Farms of Truxton in Lincoln County. Nominations will be accepted again in the spring of 2022.

The Leopold Conservation Award Program in Missouri is made possible by support from the American Farmland Trust, Missouri Farmers Care Founda­tion, Missouri Soybean Association, Missouri Soybean Mer­chandising Council, Sand County Foundation, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Missouri Cattlemen’s Associa­tion, Missouri Corn Merchandising Council, MFA Incorporat­ed, Missouri Fertilizer Control Board, FCS Financial, Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Missouri Soil and Water Conser­vation Program, Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives, McDonald’s and The Nature Conservancy in Missouri.

Visit www.leopoldconservationaward.org for more informa­tion on the program.

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Anstine family helps high-stress calves earn high price at auction

Every year, thousands of high-stress calves pile out of livestock trailers at the Anstine farm in Holden, Mo. They come from all over the country and as far away as Montana—more than 1,000 miles in some cases. The calves are hungry. They’re tired. And they’re stressed.

That’s where Jeremy Anstine comes in. He and his wife, Dawn, along with their three children and farm man­ager, John Hunter, run diversified stocker, backgrounding and 450-head cow-calf operations. They take those high-quality yet highly stressed cattle and deploy a regimen of rest, nutrition and animal health to build them up from their arrival weight of 400 to 550 pounds to 800 to 900 pounds at auction.

This year alone the Anstines processed more than 2,700 calves.

“You’ve got to get them straightened out and back on track,” Anstine said. “We have good protocols on medicine, vaccinations and a special mix of feed that we use to get them there.”

That blend of feed is hand-fed and tailored to every calf that comes through his chutes. What’s so special about it? It’s a combination of MFA’s Cattle Charge feed with prime prairie hay, designed to help calves wean, rest, build immunity and start naturally gaining weight.

“When newly received calves don’t want to eat, then you’ve got problems,” Anstine said. “The biggest key is to keep new calves eating, keep them drinking and keep their stomachs full. The calves seem to want the feed right away and start eating on it quick.”

But it’s not all diet, Anstine added. It’s also rest. After the calves are received at the farm, they are given up to three days to recuperate from their long, stressful journey on a livestock trailer. Then, depending on the individual pen of cattle, they will be vaccinated based on risk, treated for internal and external parasites, implanted, branded, ear-tagged and sorted to size.

“I would highly recommend a protocol that delays processing at arrival and allows the cattle to rest and start moving them toward grass,” Anstine said. “If you don’t have the death loss or sickness in the long run, it pays off huge in the end.”

As they get acclimated to their new surroundings, the calves are provided palatable, low-starch, nutrient-dense feed, with vitamins, minerals and medication in a concentrated form to help prevent illness and jump-start their performance.

“Their morbidity and mor­tality numbers are some of the best I’ve seen in the industry,” said Jon Roberts, the MFA livestock specialist who has worked with four generations of the Anstine family to max­imize the selling potential of their cattle. “To enjoy the ex­tremely low incidence of sickness and death that the Anstines’ livestock have, they have to be doing everything right.”

Almost all the decisions about nutrition and animal health on the Anstine farm are dependent on risk factors such as the history of the cattle, inbounding condition, weather and length of transport, Roberts said.

“October is a terrible month for bawling calves, and we just processed about 1,400 of them,” Anstine said. “I’ll be honest with you, we probably only have two at the max that we’ve had to re-treat, and that’s it. So, we feel like we’re on the right track.”

The operation has come a long way since Jeremy and his wife, Dawn, married and started the farm from scratch 22 years ago. Like many cattle businesses, the Anstines started small and grew.

“It’s been a journey,” Dawn said. “I grew up crop farming. So, at the beginning, when Jeremy said we needed to buy 40 cow/ calf pairs, I almost had a heart attack. But Jeremy is a master at this. He’s a genius with livestock, and I trusted him—didn’t make writing that initial check any easier, but I trusted him. Now, 22 years later, we’ve built up a heck of a livestock enterprise here.”

Roberts said the secret to their success is strategically sourcing high-quality cattle with the potential to perform and then giving them the right environment and care to thrive. As livestock specialist for the Anstines, he helps bring out the best potential for their calves by serving up all the experience, technology and resources MFA has to offer.

“It isn’t just one thing that’s made the Anstines successful,” Roberts said. “Their business model is to make a significant investment in high-quality genetics, and, to quote Jeremy, ‘make sure they never have a bad day.’ Letting newly received calves rest and recu­perate helps a lot, but you have to follow that up with getting them eating and strong. The Anstines have a comprehensive system with good-quality feed ingredients that deliver a cost-effective gain.”

Received cattle at the Anstine farm start out on grass hay and MFA Cattle Charge 2X, which contains chlortetracycline and sulfamethazine (CTC-sulfa) and requires a veterinary feed direc­tive. Depending on how the cattle progress, other feedstuffs on inventory are incorporated into the ration, Roberts explained.

“Before MFA had much to do with their backgrounding operation, the Anstines were successful and doing an outstand­ing job, but they are constantly trying to do a little bit better,” Roberts said. “One thing they thought they could improve on was their receiving and inbounding ration on their high-stress, immunologically naive cattle.”

Cattle Charge is just one product in MFA’s lineup of scientifically formulated livestock feed. The pelleted version of Cattle Charge is most widely used, but it is also manufactured in meal form. Several medicated options are available, including versions with ionophores Rumensin and Bovatec. It is also available with Shield Technology—an all-natural blend of essential oils, probiotics and additives to help prevent sickness, mitigate stress and promote performance without requiring a VFD.

“We began by testing their forages and feedstuffs on hand and had our ruminant nutritionist, Marc Epp, come out and tour the facility and operation,” Roberts said. “The Anstines have extensive infrastructure and natural resources to contribute to the business, and I wanted to make sure we took full advantage of what their farm had to offer.”

Anstine and Roberts identified some production objectives and went to work formulating a nutrition program to meet those objectives, based on calf risk assessments during the receiving period.

“We want to feed them pellets in the morning and then come back at noon with treated hay from Kansas in the bunks,” Anstine said. “It’s in big squares, and we just flake it off for the calves and lay Cattle Charge over the top.”

The Anstine livestock operation has a lot of moving parts— and mouths. MFA Cattle Charge products play a big role in the health and wellbeing of their calves, Roberts said. Since incorporating Cattle Charge into the receiving ration for their highest-risk cattle, the Anstines have seen intakes happen faster, at higher levels and with more consistency across each pen.

“Before Cattle Charge, we used some grain or some other kind of starter feed,” Anstine said. “One group of calves would just take off right away, but the next group over wouldn’t eat as much as we wanted them to. With Cattle Charge, it seems like everything’s more consistent.”

After the backgrounders recover from the stress of transporta­tion, the Anstines have the flexibility to move from the receiving ration to other types of feed. Within a two-week period, Roberts said the inbound cattle have transitioned away from Cattle Charge and are on their background ration.

“It really depends on the weather and how temperatures fluctuate,” Anstine explained. “I’ve added covered bunks and aprons, which helps protect the cattle from weather. But we’ve also had really good luck with putting salt and mineral blocks beside the cattle waterer. It’s close to their bunks, and it draws their attention, so we can pull them to the feed a lot easier.”

For most of the backgrounding period, the Anstines provide the calves with small-grain, sorghum and alfalfa haylage along with dry hay and corn silage. In addition to produced and purchased forages, they also use distillers grains, corn gluten and corn along with a QLF liquid supplement and a vitamin, mineral and ionophore package.

MFA monitors the nutritional status of these feedstuffs through routine lab analysis, and Epp balances the ration to hit the average daily gain objectives that Anstine has outlined to reach his target sale weight and date.

“Acceptance of feed at the arrival bunk is far too critical to chance on low-cost ingredients that would otherwise work well on a calf that has completed the preconditioning phase,” Rob­erts said. “The results achieved by the Anstines in their back­grounding operation have occurred by paying attention to every possible detail and constantly refining their system.”

Anstine said a top priority is to get these calves out on grass. After the preconditioning process, they move to stockpiled pas­ture and supplementation through the winter and graze in the Flint Hills of Kansas through the spring and summer.

The ultimate goal is to have calves that are happy, healthy and primed for finishing when the Anstines get ready to sell them at auction. The marketing side of the business is something the family knows well. They run the Kingsville Livestock Auction barn near their farm in Holden, and Jeremy serves as auctioneer. The Anstine team works together to keep the auction running smoothly and the livestock moving through. It has given them a unique wis­dom about backgrounder sales and profits.

Describing the Anstine family as both “aggressive and progressive,” Roberts said they have been profit­able operating in this environment as a result of their dedication and commitment to detail.

“The stocker-backgrounder busi­ness has the potential for high risk, but it also has potential for high reward,” Roberts said. “The Anstine family has made the investment and commitment where it counts to ensure success.”

For more information about MFA’s lineup of complete cattle feed, visit mfa-inc.com/Feed/ Beef/CompleteFeeds.

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Facilities for the future

Three significant capital expenditure projects are underway that com­pany leaders say will improve MFA’s commitment to customer partnering and help the cooperative maintain a leading position in our trade territory.

In Nodaway and Lafayette counties, MFA plans to build brand-new, state-of-the-art agronomy centers that will serve as a service hub for row-crop producers in the sur­rounding areas. In addition, construction is now taking place to rebuild, expand and upgrade the grain facilities at West Central AGRIServices in Adrian, Mo.

“As we look at the future for MFA, we identified those three locations as being key to our retail operations,” said Dr. Jason Weirich, MFA Incorporated vice president of Agri Services. “These projects will help MFA meet the needs of growers in these highly productive areas. They will be important assets for the company going forward and momentum we can build on.”

The MFA Incorporated Board of Directors approved funding for these growth projects during the September board meeting. MFA ended its 2021 fiscal year with a pre-tax profit of $23.5 million, a substantial figure that not only allows the cooperative to recover from a couple of tough financial years but also allocate resources to improve operations. MFA Incorporated’s 2022 plan includes $15.1 million in capital expendi­tures for operations in addition to $3.5 million for the Adrian rebuild project.

“As we have great years like 2021, we get the opportunity to invest back in the busi­ness,” Weirich said. “These facilities will be equipped with automation, computers and technology that will help our team be more efficient and make better use of our assets.”

The northwest Missouri agronomy center will be positioned near Ravenwood, just outside Maryville. It will feature a high-speed 6,500-ton fertilizer plant, ag chemi­cal building and centralized seed treatment warehouse. The fertilizer plant will be a high-volume throughput system with a modular declining-weight blender. The ag chem facility will be a fully automated precision system to mix products for MFA cus­tom applicators as well as offer custom mixing for customers. It will be capable of bulk liquids, bulk dry, mini bulk liquids, dry flowable and micro ingredients.

“This is a greenfield site, which means it’s undeveloped—there’s nothing on it today,” Weirich said. “So we’ll be starting fresh with this facility.”

The other new agronomy center will be located on the site of the existing MFA Agri Services bulk plant at Higgins­ville and will support the entire River Valley Group. The mod­ern, 14,000-ton fertilizer plant will be equipped similarly to the Ravenwood facility with the ability to deliver highly accurate, multi-product fertilizer blends. When complete, it will be the largest bulk fertilizer plant in the MFA system.

Weirich said the facilities at Ravenwood and Higginsville will be agronomy service hubs for current MFA retail locations, which will likely see some changes in their business operations as a result. To gain greatest efficien­cies, the plans call for consolidations of equipment, people and assets.

“Our Northwest and River Valley groups have been very prof­itable for MFA, but they’ve been running 1960s- and ’70s-era facilities,” Weirich said. “These new infrastructure investments will bring MFA into the 21st century in those areas.”

Both the Ravenwood and Higginsville projects are expected to be up and running by the fall of 2022.

At MFA’s Adrian location, construction plans go well beyond replacement of the grain-handling facilities that were destroyed by an explosion on Dec. 31, 2020. The project will vastly in­crease capacity for unloading, storing and shipping grain from the facility.

In the rebuilding phase, which is now underway, improve­ments include a new dump shed, hopper and drag and new grain legs that increase capacity from 23,000 bushels per hour in the old system to 90,000 bushels per hour. The rail loadout capacity is doubling, from 20,000 to 40,000 bushels per hour, which will decrease car loading time from about 12 minutes to 5½ minutes. The main truck receiving pit will also increase from a 900-bushel to 1,300-bushel capacity, cutting unload time in half.

Among other improvements, three new concrete grain silos will add 1.2 million bushels in storage space, taking total eleva­tor capacity to 2.5 million bushels. In addition, the grain dryer is being upgraded from 1,000 bushels per hour to 5,000 bush­els per hour with a fully automated continuous flow system served by its own wet and dry legs. New truck scales, intercom system and ticket printer have also been installed, making the loading and unloading process more efficient for drivers.

The construction at Adrian is on track to be completed by the summer of 2022.

“I’m excited to see this next step in our business come to fruition,” said Dale Guss, Adrian Agri Services manager. “We’ve been in a steady growth pattern for many years until the vol­umes caught up with our capacity. When we got into soybean harvest, our storage space was waning fast, and rail loadout capacity was slow. Customers either went to competitors to un­load grain or stopped the combines to wait on us, leaving crops standing in the field into the winter months. We have always said that our job is to keep combines running.”

Overall, the strategic goal of these intensive infrastructure projects is to bring better service to MFA customers and increase efficiency for company operations in their respective regions, Weirich said.

“There’s a real opportunity here,” he said. “We’re thrilled to see MFA move in the right direction to make long-term invest­ments that will help us better serve our producers well into the future.” “

 

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