Feature

Hog wild about Shield Plus APF

Ever since he could stand, Chris Butler has been raising pigs at Butler Farms outside Belle, Mo. His first chore was helping with farrowing, some­times bottle-feeding piglets to support them through the weaning process. He works together with his dad, Dale, and his 100-sow farrow-to-finish operation also includes 450 mama cows. However, he still considers baby pigs his favorite part of the job.

And keeping those piglets healthy is important to his farm’s success. That’s why Butler relies on MFA products and expertise, a partnership that was forged on the farm when he was very young.

“Trust comes from seeing the end results and seeing your livestock per­form at their maximum capacity,” Butler said. “I use all the swine feed and products that MFA has to offer, and I can’t say enough about it. I’ve never fed anything else after we partnered with MFA, and I don’t plan to feed anything else.”

Butler runs a natural hog facility, a niche market that sets tight standards for living conditions and dietary standards with which he can grow the pigs and still be able to sell pork to natural markets. For example, his pigs cannot consume ingredients containing animal byproducts used as thickeners, stabilizers or other protein substitutes, many of which come from chicken eggs.

For a hog farm to be classified as “natural,” federal guide­lines require the pigs to be raised in covered pens with deep-bed flooring to promote indigenous micro-organisms, as well as many other rules, including medical treatment of the pigs. Natural swine production emphasizes disease prevention, Butler said.

MFA’s Shield Plus APF is one product that helps promote healthy pigs, while still fitting under those USDA guidelines. The animal protein-free dietary supplement helps prevent diseases naturally with a research-tuned blend of essential oils and other nutritive additives, such as trace minerals, that enhance animal health.

“Weather stress is a little bit more prevalent in natural hog production than in total confine­ment,” said Noble Carpenter, MFA swine specialist. “Shield products reduce oxidative stress at the cellular level that is caused by ex­treme weather events. The idea is to keep pigs healthy, keep that gut working properly and keep those disease pressures down.”

Shield Technology fits neatly in any natural livestock production, including swine, because it also focuses on health promotion, disease prevention and supporting micro-organisms in a healthy di­gestive system, said Mike Spidle, MFA branded feed specialist and Shield Technology expert.

“Eighty percent of the pig’s im­mune system is in its gut,” Spidle said. “We add value back into any livestock production, swine in­cluded, by being proactive and by keeping the gut in order through probiotic health. And, in turn, that leads to healthier pigs.”

Butler strictly follows USDA guidance in his operations. In order to sell his hogs at premium on the natural swine market, he has to keep them healthy. If a pig gets sick, he will admin­ister antibiotics or other medications per USDA regulations, which takes away his animals’ “naturally raised” status. Once that status is gone, it can’t come back—and the pig is worth dramatically less money to Butler in the end.

“Scours is our No. 1 common problem,” Butler said. “I think the Shield product does a wonderful job in preventing that. When you transition a baby pig from the mom to the weaning building, that is a rough time for pigs. It seems once you get that right Shield product in them, they just do 100% from then on.”

Shield Plus APF provides the same anti-fungal, antibacterial, antiviral and antioxidant benefits as other Shield prod­ucts, minus the animal proteins that can get in the way of natural livestock production. Meaning, Butler can still operate his farm at peak efficiency, and his pigs can still reap the health benefits of Shield products.

“The idea behind Shield is being proac­tive,” Carpenter said. “If it’s in the gut, it’s working. And when it’s in there, it’s specifically targeting the bad bacteria and promoting the good bacteria. We just keep those pigs growing and healthy, and it avoids a lot of train wrecks down the road.”

In addition to Shield Plus APF, the technology is also available in MFA feeds, minerals and tubs, along with the original version of Shield Plus that contains egg antibodies. There’s also a liquid version of Shield designed to be mixed in stock tanks, water medications, milk replacer and liquid feed. Butler takes full advantage of these proprietary MFA products, because they may be scaled to any size operation, even a niche area like natural swine production. But mostly, he uses Shield because it works, he said, and he ends up making more money.

“Bottom line is providing the best-quality pork and any meat product you can to the consumers,” Butler said. “But it’s also important to make a living for your family while you’re doing it.”

As an MFA livestock specialist, Carpenter said he derives tremendous satisfaction giving back to the farmers and ranchers he serves.

“The economy has been tight. Feed prices have been high this year, and we’re looking to make farmers as profitable as possible,” Carpenter said. “That is our end goal here. We look at products that can add value to that producer. We’ve got a lot of testimoni­als from our customers. Everybody knows Shield is the premier product on the market, and it’s worked very well for them.”

While Shield Technology has helped Butler keep his livestock healthy, he says he has seen other farmers experience tragic situations.

“Once a bug gets in and makes one animal sick, it has a ten­dency to spread like wildfire,” Butler said. “But not here. Not as long as I have anything to do with it.”

Being proactive, rather than reactive, is often the best opera­tional posture to avoid calamity, Carpenter added.

“They always say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and that certainly is the case when we’re talking about health on a pig operation,” he said. “The program’s working. I mean, it’s just flat working.”

For more information about how Shield Technology can help your livestock health, visit mfa-inc.com/Products/Feed/shield or talk with the livestock experts at your local MFA affiliate.

 

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AgSync precision logistics help streamline MFA custom application services

Settled in his command center at MFA Marion County Agri Services in Hannibal, Mo., Assistant Manager Jake Jones surveys the 60-inch monitor on the wall in front of him. It’s the height of fall fertilization season, and the full-screen satellite map is smattered with patches of bright-green outlines representing fields where applica­tions are planned today.

As Jones scrutinizes the scene, a highlighted area near Maywood turns from green to purple. Simultaneously, MFA customer Donald Bock, who farms that particular field, gets an email to confirm that his fertilizer application is completed.

This is AgSync in action.

“I wouldn’t ever want to go without it again,” Jones said. “It just makes us so much more efficient.”

This will be the third year that Marion County MFA and other loca­tions across the MFA system have been using AgSync, a comprehensive and interactive suite of scheduling, ordering and dispatch software for custom application services. The real-time system helps streamline and organize daily operations and flow of information, from the moment a customer places an order to its completion in the field.

About one-third of MFA locations are now using AgSync to coordinate crop pro­tection, anhydrous ammonia and dry fer­tilizer applications, said Thad Becker, MFA Incorporated precision data manager. The electronic logistics system replaces MFA’s traditional order management process, which is largely based on paper forms and printed field maps.

“The way we’ve always done it in the past, a customer would call or come in and place an order for their fields to be sprayed or fertilized, and someone at the store would write that down in a notebook or on an order form,” Becker said. “Whoever is man­aging those orders would have to organize them, figure out where those fields are, print out maps and in­structions for the applicators and try to keep everyone on task.”

“That system works fine, but AgSync does all the work for you,” he continued. “The software connects everyone in the pro­cess and gives them visualization of the application orders and field locations. They can sort those orders—not only by field but also by what is being sprayed or spread, so they can group similar products. And the plant manager, operators and tender drivers can keep track of where everyone is throughout the day. It’s all about being more efficient, solving logistical problems and getting across more acres in a shorter window of time.”

MFA’s precision team evaluated the platform for several years before bringing it on board in the fall of 2019, not long after AgSync’s acquisition by Raven Industries, a leader in precision agriculture technology. Early on, Becker said he recognized AgSync’s potential but was wary of infrastructure limitations. In the field, the system runs on cellular service, which isn’t always reliable in rural areas.

“AgSync was originally built with aerial application in mind,” Becker explained. “A lot of those pilots are journeymen traveling across the country and don’t know the area, so something like this is a good tool for them. As it developed a little more, retail­ers saw that it was a natural fit for ground fleets. I first started looking at AgSync five or six years ago, but there was a lot less connectivity then, and technology wasn’t there yet. But now, cell coverage is much better, and the software has had time to mature, so we felt like it was ready to move into MFA’s precision portfolio.”

The program is now powered by Raven’s Slingshot Connect­ed Workflow system, which allows direct integration with any Raven field computer in the cab of a spreader or sprayer. Applicators running machines that aren’t equipped with Raven monitors use iPads to operate the AgSync software. A mobile phone app also provides navigation, tracking and com­munication through the platform.

The benefits abound and are still being realized as AgSync’s features evolve and become more robust, Becker added. Seamless sched­uling, less paperwork, more accuracy, easier mapping, convenient record-keeping and better communication among everyone involved are just a few of the advantages. In general, Raven reports that users save 55 hours per machine per year over the same acreage as compared to the paper method. Applicators are able to apply an extra 5 acres or more per hour per machine, and plant managers deal with 90% less call volume each day.

MFA AgSync adopters would agree.

“It keeps us organized and allows us to plan so much better than the old system,” said Beau Britt, manager of Marion County Agri Services. “Too many times in the past we would catch ourselves criss-crossing from one side of the county to the next when we could have been more efficient. AgSync keeps us working toward one direction, not jumping back and forth, and helps us coordinate with other locations in our group. It’s good for everybody.”

Austin Rickabaugh, an applicator at MFA’s Conception Junction location, said AgSync’s user-friendly interface made the learning curve simple for him and his fellow opera­tors. He said there’s no doubt the navigation and route-planning features help them get more acres done in a day with greater confidence and fewer disruptions.

“With a paper map, there’s no reference point to where you’re going next,” Rickabaugh said. “You’re just looking at one field at a time. With this, I’m able to see what all I’ve got lined up for the day. I get done with one job, see where the next field is, and just take off. It definitely eliminates a lot of headaches.”

At the farm level, AgSync offers the ability to generate an automated text message or email to the customer as soon as a job is finished. Depending on preference, that correspondence can include a detailed report about the application.

For producers such as Donald Bock, those messages mean peace of mind. He raises 1,700 acres of row crops and feeds out 150 to 180 head of dairy steers with his three sons, Jay, Craig and Kevin, who have off-farm jobs as well. With that workload, the family doesn’t have time to worry about whether their fields have been sprayed or fertilized, Bock said, which is why he appreciates being alerted when an application is completed.

“If we’re busy planting or combining, I don’t have to guess whether they’ve gotten to our fields yet,” Bock said. “I just have to look at my phone to know when they got it done and wheth­er they did the fields that I told them to do. It seems to work real well.”

Back at the store, AgSync opens up a world of possibilities for managers who would normally spend much more time organizing orders and answering questions from applicators and truck drivers.

“Before AgSync, it would take me several hours to plan the day for our two floater trucks, anhydrous tractor and sprayer,” Jones said. “Now, if we do our job in the preseason, I can get all that done in 15 minutes. That frees up my day to work with customers, do some planning, help out in the field or go visit a farm.”

Craig Wilmes, manager at MFA’s Conception Junction location, said he finds similar time savings now that AgSync is implemented across his area’s Northwest Group.

“I send applicators out in the morning, and most of the time I don’t hear from them for the rest of the day,” Wilmes said. “Before, if they were calling me, something was wrong. I just don’t get those calls anymore. They all know what they’re doing and where they’re going, and that takes a lot of the stress out of everyone’s day.”

AgSync also streamlines procedures for transferring vari­able-rate recommendations to the application equipment. The information can now be sent directly through the program to the iPad or in-cab monitor, which greatly speeds up the process in the field.

“The way we used to do it, we had to download the recs on a thumb drive, plug it into the monitor and find the correct files,” said Russell Hettinger, applicator for Marion County MFA. “With AgSync, it’s all right there. You click on the field, and it’ll download the script and everything right to the monitor. Lot less chance of messing up. And it probably cuts 10 or 15 min­utes by not having to manually load everything in. I figure I’m gaining an hour a day just on something that simple.”

In addition to such efficiencies, AgSync helps users realize other benefits such as better inventory management and prod­uct procurement, Britt said.

“We do a lot of cropping plans with customers, and AgSync allows us to go ahead and get their crop protection and fertil­izer orders into the system, so we know what products we’re going to need for the season ahead,” he said. “Then we can forward-contract and get things booked early. For example, last year we had our fertilizer dialed in to within half a load for the entire year. We knew exactly how much to book and didn’t have to buy any in-season. That’s where you want to be.”

AgSync already shares two-way communication of data with MFA’s Agronomy Dashboard, Becker said, and soon the process will go full circle to include automatic invoice creation and billing through MFA’s Merchant point-of-sale system. That integra­tion is in the final stages and will likely prompt many more retail locations to adopt AgSync technology, he added.

“One of the barriers to using the program right now is that we have to make a double entry into AgSync and Merchant,” Becker said. “But we’re in the short rows on getting that integration com­pleted. It’s being tested in the field as we speak. I expect the majority of locations will be on AgSync by next spring, once the Merchant integration finished. It’s going to be nice to have that capability.”

Becker said he’s also seen AgSync foster more cooperation among MFA locations because the precision navigation features easily allow applicators to lend their services outside their usual territory.

“A lot of the success stories we’re hearing about AgSync are re­lated to the ability to call on applicators from other stores and have confidence that they’re going to get in the right spot without having to hold their hand,” Becker said. “With AgSync, those applicators will know exactly where they’re going and what they’re doing—even if they’re completely unfamiliar with the area. You can just assign them an order and quit worrying about it.”

Wilmes said he believes AgSync’s collaborative aspect will also help drive its widespread adoption as MFA continues to seek ways to increase efficiency and more effectively use assets across the entire system.

“Technology is always a good thing, and once we get everybody on board, it will be a lot easier,” Wilmes said. “As a company, we’re working together more as groups these days, and AgSync is an important piece in making that successful. As we keep heading in that direction, it’s the only way to go.”

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In this October issue

Click story headlines below to view stories.

Meadows with a mission (October Cover Story)

Pollinator plots provide critical habitat to benefit insects and wildlife
by ALLISON JENKINS

Topping 2 million
Drive to Feed Kids exceeds expectations in its 2021 hunger-relief campaign
by ALLISON JENKINS

Decade of demos and data
With 10 years of research in the books, MFA’s Training Camp continues to provide valuable agronomic training, product evaluation
by ALLISON JENKINS

The elderberry movement (Extended image gallery coming soon)
Missouri’s leading berry crop is ripe for the picking
by ANDREW B CHURCH

Partners in production
MFA’s whole-farm approach helps Byron Stine build his beef business
by ALLISON JENKINS

UPFRONT/BLOG -
Sound advice-MFA offers "Made for Agriculture" podcast
Bayer removes residential Roundup
MU’s Center for RegenerativeAgriculture offers new web resources
Harvest kicks off with a Sonny perspective

OPINIONS AND EXPERTISE

Use custom approach to start cattle on feed
Evaluate risk, monitor each group to ensure performance all the way to market
by DR. JIM WHITE

Supply, demand affect plant nutrition, too
Shortages of P and K can limit production of your crop
by THAD BECKER

Country Corner
Farmers can steer the climate conversation
by ALLISON JENKINS

MARKETS - (Click for flipbook version)
Corn: La Niña weather may hamper crop potential
Soybeans: Exports likely to remain strong for U.S. beans
Cattle: Cattle herd getting smaller
Wheat: Tight stocks, supplies could mean fall rallies

RECIPES - (Click for flipbook version)
Cobbled Together

BUY, SELL, TRADE - (Click for flipbook version)
Marketplace

Viewpoint
The cooperative future rests on the cooperative past
by ERNIE VERSLUES

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Click below to view our flipbook version of the 2021 October issue of Today's Farmer Magazine here:

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