Tops in crops

Kevin Moore exemplifies CCA program’s emphasis on knowledge, commitment to growers

Kevin Moore, left, receives recognition for being Missouri’s top Certified Crop Adviser at the 2018 University of Missouri Crops Conference in Columbia, Mo. Presenting the award is MFA senior agronomist Jason Worthington. Moore is one of 75 CCAs employed by MFA. There are 296 CCAs in Missouri.MFA Crop-Trak area sales manager Kevin Moore was named the 2018 Missouri Certified Crop Adviser of the Year Dec. 18 during the University of Missouri Crops Conference in Columbia, Mo.

The award is designed to recognize a crop advisor who delivers exceptional customer service, is highly innovative, has shown leadership, and has contributed substantially to the exchange of ideas and the transfer of agronomic knowledge within Missouri’s agricultural industry.

“I’d say there is a formula to being a top-notch CCA,” said Jason Worthington, MFA senior agronomist and Moore’s supervisor. “It takes a deep knowledge of agronomy, a keen eye, genuine curiosity and a high level of commitment to the growers you are helping. You also need to put in the hours—and to sweat. Someone like Kevin walks miles and miles in Missouri’s summer heat to get the job done.”

The Certified Crop Adviser program is coordinated through the American Society of Agronomy. To become certified, a candidate must have two years of crop production experience and a bachelor’s degree in agronomy or at least four years of post-high school experience, pass a CCA state and international exam as well as sign a code of ethics. CCAs must earn continuing education credits to remain certified.
Missouri has 296 certified crop advisers. MFA employs 75 of them.

“Kevin is a great example of the value of the Certified Crop Adviser program,” Worthington said. “To get certified, there is an expectation for the level of agronomic expertise you must have. There is a requirement for real-world experience and a real commitment to the customer. There is an expectation that you continue to learn throughout your career and stay involved with the changes the industry undergoes. I think it’s an important program for agriculture and valuable to growers.”
Moore made news in Today’s Farmer and around the state in 2016 when he discovered populations of extended-diapause rootworm in northwest Missouri and southwest Iowa. It was the first confirmed case of the pest in Missouri. Its discovery has helped corn growers better understand the agronomic and economic threat posed by the pest and to adjust management practices accordingly.

Interestingly, this wasn’t Moore’s first rootworm discovery. In 2013 when he was a crop consultant in Illinois, Moore was first to discover Bt-resistant soybean-variant western corn rootworm. Again, it was relevant information for growers in the area to understand and consider in management decisions.

Jeff Leonard, who administers the Certified Crop Adviser program for the Missouri Agribusiness Association, said he is impressed every year when the top CCA is announced.

“It reminds me that we are providing a valuable service,” he said. “Kevin Moore, a 14-year crop consulting veteran, exemplifies why this program exists. When he started in the business, we didn’t have extended-diapause corn rootworm in Missouri. But things change. He identified that change and passed that information on to the industry. The goal with certification requirements for knowledge and continuing education are meant to drive our business toward excellence. Clearly, Kevin is leading the way.”

CLICK TO READ more stories from the Feb. 2019 Today’s Farmer Magazine.

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Pipe dreams

For the past 150 years, the Missouri Meerschaum Company has manufactured pipes fit for authors and artists, presidents and generals. Among those of note are American novelist Mark Twain, famed illustrator Norman Rockwell, President Herbert Hoover and General Douglas MacArthur.

Corn cob pipes were emblematic of the times. Men smoked them in drawing rooms and women adorned their hats with them. Rockwell depicted soldiers, businessmen and sailors with a corn cob pipe in many of his works created for the Saturday Evening Post. Through the generations, the corn cob pipe was an affordable option for the everyman.

“It’s one of the reasons for their popularity,” said Phil Morgan, general manager of Missouri Meerschaum, which has been anchored in downtown Washington, Mo., since 1869.

The company’s storied history is another.

“This company is old,” Marketing Director Dan Nemets said. “It will be 150 years old in 2019. And we’ve been continuously operating out of this building in this space for 135 years exclusively making corn cob pipes. That’s a rarity within itself.”

Famous foundings

As the story goes, a local farmer whittled a pipe from a corn cob in 1869, and he liked it so much he asked Henry Tibbe, a Dutch immigrant woodworker, to make one for him on his lathe. The farmer was happy with the result, so Tibbe started selling the pipes in his woodworking shop.

From there, the Tibbe family began to build a corn cob empire. At 5 cents each, the pipes were accessible.

“The Tibbe family didn’t invent the corn cob pipe,” Nemets said, “but they did commercialize it. They would send out Anton Tibbe, Henry’s son, as an agent on behalf of the company and maybe adver­tise occasionally in trade journals. That’s basically all they could do.”

The Missouri Meershaum’s showroom, store and museum are housed in the same building as the factory. Inside the showroom, Nemets points to two massive wooden panels embellished with hun­dreds, if not thousands, of pipes, hanging above a glass case.

“Anton would send these panels off to exhibition, as they called them back then,” Nemets said. “We now know those exhibitions to be the world’s fair. These are the only ones we ever got back. Anton is also responsible for bringing running water, electricity and the first telephone to Washington.”

By 1925, more corn cob pipe shops sprang up in Franklin County, but the first and largest, the Missouri Meerschaum Company, is the only one left. Remnant stems and bowls of previous competitors are stored on part of the third floor of the company’s expansive building.

Currently, Missouri Meerschaum pro­duces roughly 600,000 to 700,000 pipes a year with 33 employees constructing approximately 3,000 pipes per day.

“In what I call the pipe-smoking heyday, in the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s and even into the ’50s, we had 125 employees and were shipping 25 million pipes per year,” Morgan said.

This type of pipe is so named because traditionally it was coated in “meer­schaum,” a white clay-like substance native to the country of Turkey. Often ornately carved, an original meerschaum pipe typi­cally costs between $200 to $300.

The Missouri Meerschaum Company mimics that look by using Henry Tibbe’s patented process, even though his patent expired long ago. A nice solid cob, lathe and plaster of Paris achieve an appearance similar to the high-end meerschaum.

“Henry Tibbe liked the look of the traditional meerschaum pipe and believed the corn cob to smoke cooler than a wood pipe, much like the original,” Morgan said. “So he got with friend who was a local pharmacist and chemist. They devised the plaster of Paris method. In 1907, the company was renamed from H. Tibbe & Son Co. to the Missouri Meerschaum Pipe Company.”

Forgotten Formula

Corn cobs produced by farmers today ar­en’t suited for pipes, but in the 1800s, field corn was much different, Morgan said.

“At that time, field corn was bigger,” he said. “The kernels were smaller, but the cobs were great for pipes. When Tibbe started, he would just buy the corn from local farmers.”

A century of hybridization, however, created corn with larger kernels and smaller cobs. In the 1950s, the Otto family, who purchased the com­pany from the Tibbes, started working with the University of Missouri to develop a corn hybrid with a bigger cob.

“We have two families to primarily thank for the success of the company,” Nemets said. “The Tibbe family for developing many of the man­ufacturing processes, and the Otto family for cultivating the corn hybrid with the university.”

To make pipes, the cob needs to be at least an inch and a half in diameter. On the cob, the corn kernels are nearly white.

“The white corn produces a cob that is denser,” Morgan said. “The middle is known as the pith, and that gets drilled out, but it’s the woody ring around it we really care about. Once the cob dries out, that ring becomes literally as hard as wood, and that’s why we can make a pipe out of it.”

Missouri Meerschaum’s seed comes from four heritage corn varieties, Morgan added.

“They cross two, cross the other two, and then cross those,” he explained.

About 10 years ago, the company nearly lost this recipe when two of the varieties were inadvertently left out of the breeding process for several years.

“We had some bad years,” said Christina Lehr, finishing room supervisor, a 26-year em­ployee. She and her husband, Dave, both work for the com­pany. “Some of the cobs were small or soft and odd shaped and we weren’t sure why.”

Fortunately, a professor who worked on the project in the ’50s wrote a chapter called “Pipe Corn” in one of his books charting the hybrids.

“That’s how we found out what was wrong with our hybrid,” Morgan said. “At that time, we had to go back to the university and ask them if they still had any of the miss­ing seeds. Luckily they did, but we basically had to start from scratch.”

CRD Advisors, an Iowa-based company that special­izes in maize product devel­opment and breeding, now maintains the Missouri Meer­schaum’s hybrid seed. It’s an exceptional task, growing corn from 50-plus years ago with what amounted to a handful of seeds, but CRD Advisors was able to do it.

“That saved us,” Lehr said.

Pipe production

Because the pipe company could no longer buy corn directly from farmers, it needed to grow its own. For a while, Missouri Meerschaum con­tracted with farmers to grow the specialty corn, but in the 1980s, current owners Michael Lecht­enberg, Robert Moore and Larry Horton decided to purchase acreage next to the nearby Missouri River. The company owns 150 acres and rents land from local farmers to adhere to standard rotation practices. MFA affiliate Cooperative As­sociation No. 2 in Washington fertilizes the corn fields for the pipe company.

Using New Idea pickers from the late 1980s and early ’90s, field supervisor Dave Lehr and employee Rex Miller harvested 270 acres of corn in 2017.

“This year we’re harvesting 170 acres, and we’re hoping we’ll have enough that we can rotate everything back into soybeans next year,” Morgan said.

Once harvested, the corn goes to a corn crib outside of town where it is stored until it is shelled. To remove the kernels without damaging the cob, employees use a converted walnut huller combined with parts from another old picker. What they shell amounts to about 1,500 bushels of grain per month.

“This is probably the only one in the world be­cause we invented it ourselves,” Dave Lehr said. “We’ve manipulated the cage of this old black walnut sheller, replacing the tire straps with chains. With this, we’re able to separate the cob from the grain, and then we’ll sell the grain. It’s not the fastest process, but it’s our process.”

The company has plans to modernize the pro­cess by adding a stationary combine.

“We’ll have to manipulate that a little bit, too, by removing the chopper and spreader, opening up the throat and adding a couple hoppers,” Lehr said.

From the corn crib, the cobs are moved to the main factory and stored on the third floor to harden. There, cobs piled more than halfway to the ceiling will cure for at least two years. Below is the rumble of machinery that has been ser­viced and rebuilt through the decades. There’s no replacing the custom tools specifically engineered for this job.

“So much of what we do is the way we did it years ago,” Morgan said.

Once dried and hardened, the cobs travel to the second floor down an elevator installed in the 1890s. Next, they are cut into two-inch sections by a piece of machinery Morgan calls a “gang saw”—a machine of their own design that uses four saw blades to cut the cob into the desired length.

“A lot of the machines we have are ones we made,” Morgan said. “This isn’t a machine you can just go buy somewhere. We have to put it together, so that means it has to be tweaked every once and awhile.”

For larger pipes, cobs are sawed at each end and hand-turned on a lathe.

“It seems like there’s more demand for some of the larger pipes right now,” Phil said. “What style we make at any given time all just depends on the cob and our demand for a particular product.”

After the cob is sectioned, the bowl is bored, and the pipe is sanded and smoothed. The pipe may then be finished with plaster of Paris and set aside to dry.

A stem hole is drilled and the top and bottom of the bowl are ground until level. The stems are adhered, and the pipe may receive an additional coat of lacquer. In the final steps, filters are insert­ed, mouthpieces are attached, and the pipes are packaged for sale.

Boxes wait to be shipped next to the building’s loadout dock. Their destinations are handwrit­ten in permanent marker—Spain, Russia, Czech Republic, Italy and Denmark.

“We sell all over the world to about 70 different countries,” Morgan said. “I would say about 30 percent of what we make is exported. We have wholesale items we sell to distributors and both physical and online retailers. Since we’re still relatively small, we try to market everywhere we can.”

Competition for the corn cob pipe

While the Missouri Meerschaum Company was once the world’s only manufacturer of corn cob pipes, China has recently entered the market­place.

“Several years ago, a delegation from China came for a tour to see how we do things,” Morgan said. “Now they make pipes, but it’s our corn that makes the pipe, and it doesn’t grow the same there.”

To reproduce the pipe’s quality, the seed profile and environment would need to be replicated exactly. While the Chinese pipes have popped up in the United States, the Missouri Meerschaum Company has always been known for quality and affordability.

“I think the neat thing is our pipes cost $12 on average,” Nemets said. “A lot of our customers appreciate the fact that all of our pipes are grown and sourced here.”

Over a century later

Back in the museum, Nemets reaches for the “MacArthur Natural Straight Corn Cob Pipe.” Above the display is a photo of the famed general looking off camera, with a large corn cob pipe hanging from his lips.

“MacArthur actually came to us to have this pipe made,” Dan commented. “There’s a story about him going ashore in the Philippines during WWII with a corn cob pipe in his mouth.”

Customers mill about the small shop examining both the products and the history. Two college-age students come in to purchase a pipe for one of their fathers. A local man stopped in because he’d never been before. Another couple marvel over the Tibbe family’s accomplishments while passing through on a long weekend.

It’s the history that attracts both employees and customers to the company, Morgan said.

“I attribute the longevity and success of the company to the uniqueness of the product and the dedication of the people who have worked here,” he said. “We were the first to commercialize the corn cob pipe and for all intents and purposes, we’re the last. Through the years, people have come and gone, but there have always been those who want to keep it operating—people who view it not just as a job but as dedication to a prod­uct that has now superseded any one person’s lifetime.”

The Missouri Meerschaum is located at 400 West Front Street in Washington, Mo. For more infor­mation, visit its website at corncobpipe.com.

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Borders in order

Nearly 20 years of yield-monitor maps have helped David McCutchan pinpoint places to potentially increase production on his northeast Missouri farm.

That same data has also helped him determine what acreage to take out of production and put to work for wildlife instead.

He’s not alone. The challenging agriculture economy coupled with the availability of government cost-share programs have increased interest in conservation practices such as field borders, buffer strips and habitat plots that help make farms more profitable while also improving the land for wildlife.

“Farm productivity is getting to be less about total bushels produced and more about the efficiency of producing them,” said Matt Hill, MFA Incorporated precision agronomy manager. “If growers can identify unproductive acres and reduce the cost of inputs, that could help increase the overall profitability of the entire farm. What’s more, there’s opportunity to not just fallow those acres but to install conservation practices that could provide cost-share funds and increase the return on investment.”

The desire to boost quail populations on his Lewis County farm prompted McCutchan to establish some 20 acres of wildlife-friendly field borders along the edges of his corn and soybean fields. He used his yield maps to determine some of the least-productive areas and enrolled them in the CP33 “Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds” program, administered by the Farm Service Agency’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

The program provides cost-share funds to help establish the buffers, which must be 30 to 120 feet wide. McCutchan planted a quail-conducive mixture of warm-season grasses, legumes and forbs. There’s also a per-acre annual payment for the span of his 10-year contract.

“With this program, there’s income, and then there’s wildlife,” McCutchan said. “First of all, I’m not losing money on those field edges because the inputs, by far, cost more than what they return. With the cost-share, we’re not spending a lot money to get the plots established, and then you get paid throughout the contract. And I like to quail hunt, so that’s a bonus.”

An active member of the Ten Rivers Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever chapter, McCutchan said quail numbers have dwindled over the past 10 to 15 years, mainly due to habitat loss. Buffers around field edges benefit the birds by providing food, nesting habitat and protection from predators and harsh weather. Edge feathering of nearby trees and shrub plantings also enhance the habitat.

“In my lifetime, the quail population has definitely declined,” McCutchan said. “I graduated from high school in 1986, and back then you could go out after school and kill your limit of quail—if you had a good dog and could shoot. Hunting is a lot more work now. A lot has changed, and it takes time to correct some of the things we’ve done.”

The 51-year-old producer, who raises 4,000 acres of row crops with his son, Cole, near Monticello, Mo., said he believes conservation efforts are making difference both on his farm and throughout the Midwest.

“People have been talking more and more about seeing pairs of quail and coveys in this area and even north of us,” McCutchan said, standing in a 30-foot wide buffer planted last April on one of his rented farms. “There was only one small covey here before, but I’m pretty sure there are two pretty good-size coveys now. Once this cover comes in good, it should help them a bunch.”

McCutchan participates in MFA’s Nutri-Track precision program and said the “yield by soil type” reports he receives are especially helpful in showing current or prospective landlords what they can expect from his production and conservation practices. Most of his buffers are placed in fields he rents from absentee landowners who expect income from their renter but also enjoy seeing more wildlife on their property.

“I act as the go-between with Missouri Department of Conservation and the landowners to introduce them to the practice,” McCutchan said. “The cost-share is a good incentive to do it. They still get paid, I don’t lose money farming against the trees, and it makes it easier for them to hunt.”

Benefits beyond wildlife

In addition to working for wildlife, conservation practices such as habitat buffers and field borders also help control erosion and runoff. Steve Jackson has experienced those benefits on his farm near Cardwell in Missouri’s Bootheel, where he raises 1,250 acres of row crops in furrow-irrigated fields. Jackson has exclusively used no-till practices since 1996 to help keep the farm’s sandy soil in place. He mainly grew cotton until about six years ago, when low prices and disease pressure prompted him to switch to corn and soybeans.

Over the past four years, he has added cover crops on all his acreage with cost-share assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). To benefit wildlife, he also has established several miles of field borders through the CSP and CRP.

Though the environmental benefits are undeniable, he has more personal reasons to improve wildlife habitat on his farm.

“I grew up quail hunting with an English setter named Jake,” Jackson said. “Now, I have a grandson named Jake, and I want to take him on a good quail hunt before I die. He’s 9, so I need to get things going!”

Jackson worked with Missouri Department of Conservation planners to help choose the programs and locations that would work best on his farm. Like McCutchan, the southeast Missouri farmer said he looked for unproductive areas—adjacent to woods or fencerows or in wet spots—to improve with wildlife habitat.

His efforts seem to be paying off, Jackson said. He saw several good coveys on his farm last year.

“These programs will help you pay for it, so why not do it?” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, if I can break even, and see more quail, then it’s worth it.”

Perfect partnerships

For wildlife conservation to succeed, such partnerships with private landowners are critical, said Wes Buchheit, farm bill wildlife biologist with Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever.

“If we really want to have impact, it’s going to be on private land,” he said. “Where producers and landowners are creating habitat, we’re seeing response in the quail population and in other wildlife such as deer and turkey.”

While precision technology isn’t required to implement these conservation practices, data from yield monitors and grid sampling can give producers some added assurance, Buchheit said.

“Whenever you have data to help make those decisions, you can truly see the dollar signs and how things will weigh out,” he said. “You’ll benefit from having habitat in those poor-performing areas, and you can concentrate more on the productive acres with your farming operation. It makes the whole landscape more usable for wildlife. It’s win-win.”

MFA precision specialists can help producers interpret yield data and soil maps to identify areas that might be better suited for conservation than crops, MFA’s Matt Hill said. MFA will also have a natural resources conservation specialist on staff to serve as a liaison to the agencies that administer these programs. Hill formerly served in that role until becoming precision agronomy manager in October, and a replacement for the position will be hired soon.

“We can help point producers to programs and partnering agencies that fit their situation,” Hill explained. “And for those who participate in our Crop-Trak program, their consultant can be a real resource to identify places where conservation practices would work well.”

Although the CRP sign-ups are at a standstill right now in the absence of a new farm bill, farmers and landowners can enroll in other conservation programs to improve wildlife habitat in low-production areas. For example, Missouri Department of Conservation private land conservationists listed these as some of NRCS’s most popular practices:
•    Access Control
•    Forage and Biomass Planting
•    Conservation Cover
•    Contour Buffer Strips
•    Critical Area Planting
•    Field Border
•    Riparian Forest Buffer
•    Riparian Herbaceous Cover

“Farmers are looking for ways to make the most out of tight margins, and these may be opportunities to help make their acres more profitable,” Hill said. “Instead of continuing to pour input costs into them with little or no return, there’s a return on investment every year. Wildlife value may not drive your decisions, but it’s a great ancillary benefit that you can enjoy.”

For more information, contact your local MFA crop consultant, MDC private land conservationist, Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever biologist or conservation experts at your FSA or NRCS office.

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