MFA grants help fund community projects

Several new projects have been given a financial boost by the MFA Incor­porated Charitable Foundation, which was established to support communities where MFA serves. Concern for community is not only one of the key coopera­tive principles but also demonstrates MFA’s stewardship value.

This fund—separate from MFA’s annual scholarship program—provides monetary support for worthy projects that build knowledge and leadership skills of rural youth, agriculture and cooperative education programs, and or­ganizations active in solving community problems and improving quality of life. Since its founding in 2005, the Charitable Foundation has donated more than $2.1 million to these causes.

Last year, the foundation distributed more than $310,000 to nonprofit orga­nizations throughout the territory where MFA and its affiliates operate. In 2023, nearly $60,000 has already been awarded to worthy projects.

Among the more substantial donations committed for later in 2023 are $50,000 for volunteer fire departments, $25,000 for FFA Supervised Agricul­tural Experience projects and $10,000 for the Missouri Farmers Care Drive to Feed Kids. Other grants range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. The opposite page highlights a few of the recent recipients.

Grant requests require an MFA employee sponsor. Learn more and find a link where organizations can apply here: mfa-inc.com/About/Charity.

Callaway youth expo


Callaway Youth Expo

The Callaway Youth Expo received a $2,000 donation to go toward new facilities, including a building to house updated concession stands, restrooms, office and multipurpose room that will be used for meetings of 4-H and FFA clubs and other community groups. This year’s Expo is planned for July 11-15 on the show grounds in Auxvasse. Cedar Creek Agri Services Manager Phillip Willer presented the check to committee members Carley Allen, Bryli DeLashmutt, Jennifer DeLashmutt and Meredith Allen.


Mizzou Collegiate Cattlewomen

The Mizzou Collegiate Cattlewomen were awarded $1,000 for their “Meet Your Meat” event, which was held April 21 on the Columbia campus. The promotional activity featured a live calf on site, sales of steak sandwiches and educational materials and efforts to help inform those from outside the agriculture industry about the benefits of beef production. Accepting the check were back row, from left, Chloe Sims, Lucy Gay, Alaina Link, Madi Ridder and Alicia Heinecke. In front were Jessie Edwards, Rachel Keilholz and Alexis Lloyd.


New Franklin PTO

The foundation awarded a $2,000 grant to the New Franklin PTO’s “Project Play” campaign. The goal is to make much-needed updates to playground equipment at New Franklin Elementary School. The funds from MFA will help purchase a new play system with slides and climbing features. Paige Schanzmeyer, Boonville MFA assistant manager, presented the check to, from left, Paige Kircher, New Franklin PTO president; Nichole Wilmsmeyer, Project Play chair; Elle and Gray Wilmsmeyer; and Dawn Shipp, New Franklin Elementary School principal.

Macon charitable grantMacon High School Ag Department

Students at Macon High School will benefit from a $2,000 MFA grant to purchase tools for the agriculture department’s shop, which teaches introductory skills in woodworking and welding. With enrollment numbers at 123 and growing in the program, instructors say the need for new, updated shop tools is becoming a necessity to ensure that all interested students have an opportunity for hands-on learning. Macon MFA Agri Services Manager Billy Robertson presented the check to FFA officers, from left, Jasper Shannon, treasurer; Tysen Wilson, president; and Grace McClellan, vice president—all seniors at the school. Advisors for the chapter are Kathryn Thrasher and Kristina Parman. 
READ MORE from the June/July 2023 Today’s Farmer’s Magazine, the MFA Incorporated member magazine.
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Dairy in their DNA

Much has changed since Darrell Kraus’ great-grandfather, Charles, purchased 320 acres in the valleys of Jefferson County, Mo., in 1892 and started a dairy farm. Yet plenty has remained the same for the Krauses, who, 131 years later, are still farming this beautiful, rolling terrain that’s reminiscent of the family’s homeland in Germany.

Darrell, now the family’s fourth-generation dairy farmer, is president of Kraus Dairy Farm, Inc. He operates the 800-acre, Grade A dairy in Barnhart, Mo., full time with his sister, Connie Stuckmeyer, and his son, Andrew. When more help is needed, other family members are just a phone call away.

“My great-grandpa started farming here in 1894. My grandpa, Henry, took over the dairy from him. Then my dad, Norvill, purchased the farm in the early 1950s after he got home from the service,” Darrell explained.

Through the years, the Krauses expanded their acreage with land purchases from surrounding farms and added more dairy cows. Darrell stepped into the operation in the early 1980s.

“Growing up here, I learned by watching and doing,” he said. “My dad and grandpa milked about 20 cows. Each day I discovered something new about farming. I understood how to be efficient with the resources we had.”

Of the five children Norvill and his wife, Joyce, raised on the Kraus farm, Darrell and Connie still carry on the family tradition daily as partners in the corporation. Andrew helps full time and Darrell’s wife, Teresa, does some field work and milking. Their daughter, Sarah Saputo, who teaches elemen­tary school in Antonia, Mo., helps out on the farm during the summer.

“I also have a brother who will pitch in, and a few nephews help feed,” Darrell said. “We are fairly self-sufficient. The only person outside the family we pay is the man who hauls our milk.”

The Krauses have a herd of about 300 Holstein-Jersey crossbred cows, which Darrell said is their peak number.

“Our facilities support milking about 120 cows,” he added. “We raise all our replacement cows and grow all our corn, barley and hay.”

The Krauses use MFA Dairy 32 feed, MFA AAA milk replacer, Standout Dairy calf starter with Shield, Rico­chet mineral, and Natural 36 in their heifer rations. They also started using Clarifly larvacide for feed-through fly control in rations for the milk cows and growing heifers.

Darrell said he has worked with MFA for about 30 years, “keeping things local.”

“I’d say we are solidly dedicated MFA for seed, feeds and nutritional advice,” he added.

Farming through history

For the Krauses, sustainable farming goes back to the ear­ly days when Darrell’s great-grandparents grew what they needed to provide for their family. The surplus was sold to local markets. In addition to the dairy cows, the earlier generations raised chickens and a few hogs, planted grains—mainly wheat—and had apple and peach trees.

“We had everything we needed,” said Norvill, who is now 90 years old.

As a young man, Norvill’s grandfather, Charles, and his wife traveled from Offenburg, Germany, to the United States. For many Germans during the late 19th century, the Midwest offered a new life filled with opportunities and a promise for a better future. Five generations of Krauses have been raised on and worked the original “half section of land” Charles purchased in Barnhart, now considered a suburb of St. Louis.

“When my wife and I purchased the farm and dairy from my father, Henry, we milked 12 to 15 cows and had Grade A milk that we sold to Pevely Dairy in St. Louis,” Norvill recalled. “Before all the modernization and regulations, our milk was stored in milking cans, cooled by well water and then loaded on the train in Barnhart where it then made its way to St. Louis.”

An interesting story Norvill shared was that during World War II, the United States military stationed at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis used about 1,000 acres in Jefferson County, including parts of his family’s farm, as a rifle range. The Kraus property had a sub-machine gun range, while down the road was a rifle range. 

“The military had a barbed wire fence around the area to keep the livestock and local residents off the range,” Norvill said. “During that time, I served in the Army for two years and then went back to the farm.”

Dairy farming demands dedication, long hours and hard work. The Krauses are a tight-knit family who say they enjoy living off the land and are grateful for its many blessings. Many days you will see Joyce, 85, walking down Moss Hollow Road and then back to the family home where you can purchase eggs from the porch. She and Norvill will celebrate 66 years of mar­riage later this year.

“It’s been quite an honor to raise a family here,” he said.

Celebrating dairy heritage

Reagan Bluel, Extension field specialist in dairy and Missouri dairy educational director, said that dairy farming has a posi­tive impact on the state. “Neighboring dairy farm owners are community minded,” she said. “They often contribute as an employer, volunteer and economic engine to the surrounding small communities.”

That statement rings true with the Kraus family. Each year, Darrell helps his daughter with a career day at the elementary school where she teaches.

“We basically take the farm to the school,” he said. “It’s pretty cool. She created a video on how cows are milked, and the students are amazed. The adults usually have more questions than the kids.”

The industry is an important contributor to Missouri’s econ­omy, according to a study conducted in 2021. It reported that dairy products alone accounted for $205 million annually.

“There are other industries supported by dairy producers,” Bluel added. “A University of Missouri study in 2015 reported the economic output effect per cow was $14,464. In 2022, Missouri had 67,000 dairy cows, resulting in the calculated eco­nomic output of nearly $970 million.”

Although Missouri’s milk cow numbers dipped slightly to start 2023, she said the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service expects the state’s dairy farms to produce more than 1 billion pounds of milk this year.

“While Missouri may not be one of the top dairy-producing states in the U.S., ranking 24th in dairy cow numbers and 26th in milk production, our dairy farmers work to improve their production practices and carve out niches for their products,” Bluel said. “Along the way, these farmers innovate and partner with others to make the dairy industry more sustainable.”

Defying the odds

Building on a strong foundation on his own family farm, Darrell has modernized and grown the operation through the years.

“We remodeled the milking parlor a couple of times,” he said. “We went from a bypass three to six-on-six herringbone style, and then expanded to what we have right now, a double-10 herringbone.”

A computerized feeding system records each cow’s milk weight, lactation cycle, when she eats and her rations. A tran­sponder hanging around the cow’s neck collects feeding and milking data.

“Each cow is fed accordingly, so the big boss cow doesn’t get all the feed,” Darrell explained. “I can see which cows are efficient and making us money. I can program what should be in each ration into my feeding table and into the computerized feeding system.”

Through the winter, the family milks around 120 cows. In the warmer months, Darrell said they dry off some cows and milk about 100.

“Throughout the summer, our dry cows move around to the different pastures,” Darrell said. “The lactating cows are housed in a free-stall facility with straw bedding. We also have dirt lots for them to get out and exercise and stretch out a bit, the old-style way.”

The Kraus Dairy has been a member of Prairie Farms cooper­ative for about 30 years and last year was named one of the top 10 producers in Missouri. “We have won the gold standard for probably the last 15 years with Prairie Farms,” said Darrell.

Among the criteria that help the Kraus earn this reputation are consistently low somatic cell counts and preliminary incu­bation (PI) bacteria count. Somatic cells occur naturally, and dairy farmers monitor them to measure of the health of their cows. The PI count tests for psychrotrophic bacteria, which grow in cold environments. Prairie Farms uses this test to detect for bacteria by holding milk at 55° for 18 hours.

“We strive for quality,” Darrell said. “By mixing the Jerseys with the Holsteins, we run better components, which is the but­terfat and protein in our milk.”

The success of the Kraus Dairy not only depends on the well-being of the herd but also how they treat the land, said Chris Klein, MFA agronomy key account manager in Ste. Gen­evieve, Mo.

“Darrell is enrolled in Nutri-Track so we can check the fertil­ity and health of the soil,” Klein said. “With the soil test, we can see where we are sitting with the fertility numbers and figure out what we need to do to make it better because we are trying to grow more on every acre. We help with seed and fertility or a bit of spraying, but Darrell’s pretty self-sufficient. I enjoy partnering with him because of all the knowledge he has. It is an excellent dairy operation.”

The Kraus herd depends on the nutrition they receive from the MFA feed and supplements as well as corn, barley and wheat raised on the farm. Klein said that the feed is delivered directly from the MFA mill in Gerald, Mo., to help ensure that the dairy cows have the nutrition they need to produce the best-quality milk.

Stephen Daume, MFA livestock specialist, has worked with Darrell for more than a decade and has nothing but praise for the Kraus farm.

“We go back a long way, even though my role with the farm has changed over the last few years,” Daume said. “Now, whenever something’s not going right or if they are looking at changing something, Chris or Darrell will call me. For exam­ple, a few years ago we worked through an aflatoxin situation, but issues are rare. Honestly, Darrell does such a good job. His somatic cell counts are probably one of the lowest of any of the dairies that I work with. He’s just really on top of things. It’s a joy to work with somebody that takes so much pride his operation and in taking care of his cows. It just makes farming a lot easier and life a lot better.”

Preparing for the future

Just as his father learned the trade, Andrew is gaining experience and practical knowledge each day working with Darrell.

“My dad has taught me every­thing I know—from bucketing calves to grinding feed,” Andrew said. “I still have so much more to learn, no doubt, but my dad has always been in my corner, support­ing me with playing sports in high school and college as well as with learning about farming. He’s my best friend because we’ve just done everything in my life together.”

In fact, Andrew pointed out that growing up on a dairy farm has created a closeness among all his family members.

“You just grow up differently,” he said. “It’s something difficult to explain or put into words. Our families are together all the time. You just become more of a family than you could ever think of. It’s kind of magical.”

Bluel also marvels in the dairy magic. Through her role with MU Extension, she works with dairy farm families to help with farm succession planning, to support growth within those dairies seeking to continue, to encourage out-of-state producers to consider Missouri and to assist with value-added processing opportunities.

“We should pause and appreciate how the dairy farm supports the family and creates a generation—or more—who value endurance and perseverance,” Bluel said. “I love to see a dairy farm persist on to the next generation, but generational transfer of a farming operation requires a passion and strong commitment. I applaud every gen­eration of the Kraus Dairy for the dedication and patience it took to see the process through to 2023.”

As the population of Jefferson County continues to grow, the Krauses are standing firm and holding on to heritage. At one time there were 10 small dairies operat­ing throughout the valley, Norvill said. Today, only two remain.

“We have real-estate people ask­ing to buy some of the farm all the time,” he said. “We just say, ‘Well, it’s not for sale.’”

As the next generation poised to carry on the family tradition, 28-year-old Andrew is looking forward to running the operation on his own one day. He is also fully aware of the tough road ahead.

“Yes, the plan is for me to take the reins from my dad, but I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t scared,” he said. “I know I’ve got my hands full, but I’m up for the challenge.”

READ MORE from the June/July 2023 Today’s Farmer’s Magazine, the MFA Incorporated member magazine.

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More crop per drop

FARMERS CAN’T SET MARKET PRICES for their crops. They can’t stop government from creating new regulations. They can’t control the cost of inputs or keep land values from rising.

But they can make rain—with irrigation, that is.

“So much about farming is out of our hands, but irrigation is one thing you can control. It takes away a lot of the risk,” said Robert Lange, who raises corn and soy­beans on 400 irrigated acres in the Missouri Bootheel, just outside Cape Girardeau. His grandfather, also named Robert, graded all the fields, installed wells and started farming with furrow irrigation here in the mid-1980s. The younger Lange took over a portion of the farm from his uncle, David, when he retired in 2020.

With water being one of the biggest factors in determining yield, irrigation can help improve both productivity and profitability in crop production. Only about 15% of harvested land in the U.S. is irrigated yet those acres contribute 40% of the country’s agricultural production, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, the latest figures available. Data from the 2022 census will likely show an increase in those numbers, although cost, water availability and suitability of the land for irrigation are barriers to more widespread adoption.

In Missouri, irrigation is found on some 1.5 million acres, representing about 10% of the state’s total cropland. Around 800,000 of those acres are set up for surface irri­gation—furrow or flood—while center pivot sprinklers make up most of the rest.

“It costs a lot and is a lot of work, but it by far pays for itself,” MFA District Agron­omist Jesse Surface said. “In general, irrigating soybeans gives you an increased yield of 10 to 20 bushels per acre over dryland beans. In corn, we see a 50- to 60-bushel increase. And the biggest benefit is yield stabilization, knowing from year to year what your production will be. That allows growers to more confidently market their crops.”

As an MFA agronomist, Surface works with growers throughout the Missouri Bootheel, where more than 85% of the state’s irrigated acres are located. Furrow irri­gation is the most common system in the region. This gravity-powered method works by creating furrows between elevated crop beds and pumping water into these sloping channels through poly pipes with strategically placed holes. This system requires rela­tively level land that can be precision-graded to allow for the ideal flow of water.

On the other hand, center pivots, the second-most prevalent irrigation system in Missouri, offer the ability to water fields where surface irrigation is impossible or impractical. In this method, an overhead sprinkler system rotates around a central point connected to a water supply. Pivots are best suited for large square-, rectangular- or circular-shaped fields free of obsta­cles such as trees, fences, roads and power poles.

No matter what type of system, making every drop count through proper irrigation scheduling is both environmentally and economically important. However, determining when to irrigate and how much water to apply during the growing season can be a challenge. With too little water, the crop is stressed. With too much water, plants are stunted and fertilizer leaches below the root zone. Either way, the crop suffers.

“People talk about the science, but irrigation is truly an art form,” Surface said. “The biggest thing to under­stand is when crop needs its water the most, especially when we talk about soybeans. They almost use more water than corn when they get to the grain fill stage. Knowing when the crop really starts ramping up water intake helps you stay on top of it. And sometimes, you have to just trust your gut.”

From emergence to maturity, corn typically uses around 26 inches of water, with peak demand during reproductive stages from tassel (R1) to beginning dent (R4). Similarly, soybeans will use nearly 23 inches of water during the growing season, needing the most moisture from beginning bloom (R1) to pod fill (R5-R6). Unless the soil is extremely dry, supplemental irrigation is generally not needed during germination or vegetative growth stages.

When soil moisture becomes limiting, that’s the time to turn on the water for the first time each season, Surface said. In making that decision, growers must not only consider the soil moisture but also factors such as crop stage, soil type and weather forecast.

“Nobody likes to get started until they have to, because the general rule is, once you start irrigating, you don’t stop,” Surface said. “A lot of guys will wait too long on this step, and it hits them in the back end. Once you get behind on irrigation, there’s no catching up. You’re just behind all year.”

One of the biggest mistakes growers make, he added, is trying to make irrigation decisions by the “window farming” method.

“You can’t evaluate soil moisture from the highway,” Surface said. “You have to get out there and dig with a shovel. It may look dry, but is it really? You need to know how deep the mois­ture is in the soil profile.”

Knowing the soil type can also help. The water-holding capacity varies with the soil’s texture, structure and infiltration. For example, coarse-textured and sandy soils hold less water and need to be irrigated more frequently than loam and clay soils.

The weather forecast should also be considered when sched­uling irrigation. If precipitation is expected in the near future, the first watering could be delayed without detriment to the crop, Lange said.

“You don’t want to be watering the crop right in front of rain,” he said. “You’ll just waste water and oversaturate the field, and that’s never a good thing.”

Along with when to start irrigating, the second-most common question is when to stop, Surface said. While this decision, too, can be subjective, he said the rule of thumb is, “You don’t want to keep watering after your crop is already made.”

In corn, the timing is relatively cut-and-dried. When the ker­nels reach black layer, irrigation can be stopped. Soybeans take a little more work. Surface suggests walking fields, pulling a few pods from the top three nodes and opening them.

“Inside, there will be a membrane that should peel off the beans,” he explained. “When it does, you know a majority of moisture is already in that bean. At the most, you’ll only need one more watering at that point. Corn is easier. You just break open a kernel, and when it’s at black layer, it’s done. Corn is very distinct on when to quit irrigating.”

Despite its benefits, Lange warns that growers can’t count on irrigation to be a crop’s savior when conditions are extreme. He said last year was the driest since 2011 on his farm. Irrigation started early, and there were no breaks. Yields reflected the challenges.

“The biggest thing we learned from last year is that Mother Nature still holds the cards,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to farm without irrigation, yet it doesn’t alleviate all the risk.”

MFA agronomists and crop consultants can help growers in making irrigation decisions. Check with your local MFA for more information.

READ MORE from the June/July 2023 Today’s Farmer’s Magazine, the MFA Incorporated member magazine.

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