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Interview with Author Chuck Lay

Chuck Lay, MFA's Director of Communications wrote the book MFA 100 years: Proud Past Bright Future after many years of research and interviews with many of the historical figures who shaped MFA Incorporated. Here is an interview with Chuck Lay in early 2015, where he speaks about the book, writing it and some unpublished facts he learned while researching the book. The interview is by Columbia News station KFRU, AM Radio 1400's Gary Lyle for heritage series of interviews.

If these audio link to KFRU doesn't work, you may also download the mp3 files here:

More about the book:

Proud Past Bright Future, by Chuck Lay is a historical look at MFA Incorporated's first 100 years. The book includes dozens of never-before-seen historic images and is a celebration of the contributions made by thousands of individuals. It reflects the history of agriculture and the nation as well.

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It’s a proud history of accomplishment. Specifically because of MFA action, the state of Missouri has:
• a pure seed law, which stopped the dumping of inferior seed;
• standardized weights and measures to correct haphazard scales;
• farm-to-market roads to pull farmers out of the mud;
• high-school educations for rural children;
• pesticide labeling laws to keep pesticides out of soda bottles;
• egg-grading laws to protect consumers from inferior eggs;
• high-analysis fertilizer to power agriculture;
• a four-year medical school at the University of Missouri in Columbia, not Kansas City.

But more importantly, the history of MFA is the history of those who built an organization to provide themselves with economic power and a voice in their destiny.
Click HERE to purchase a copy of Proud Past, Bright Future.







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MFA at 100, Part 4

In the May 2014 issue of Today’s Farmer, we printed an excerpt from Proud Past, Bright Future, MFA Incorporated’s First 100 years. That installment focused on the unique strength and refined focus the cooperative gained from its member leadership. This month we print a fourth installment. In this issue, we visit a tumultuous time for farmers and MFA—the farm crisis of the 1980s. It was during this time that the unflinching character of MFA Incorporated President and CEO Bud Frew would reveal itself. These excerpts are from Chapter 9 of Proud Past, Bright Future. You can purchase a copy of the book by visiting

From Chapter 9: Modern management: We’ll do it our way Chairman of the board Bill Stouffer and president and CEO Bud Frew made a formidable team. Both men met with bankers during the turbulent 1980s, listed actions and followed through. After leaving MFA’s corporate board, Stouffer would continue to excel, both in his farming operation and the political arena. First elected in 2004, Stouffer served several terms in the Missouri State Senate.

No shrinking violet, Frew would tell MFA members to forget the rumors in the countryside. But keep this in mind, he said: MFA still has the largest fertilizer market share in the state. MFA still produces and sells more animal feeds than any other feed company in Missouri. MFA still originates more farmer grain than any other single agribusiness in Missouri. MFA exchanges still comprise the best ag-products distribution system in the state and offer the most comprehensive, one-stop service centers. So why all the hand wringing? It’s time to move forward.

MFA had sold its river terminals to Farmland Industries in June of 1984 and its soybean plant the prior year. Neither sale stopped year-end losses. “Be assured,” said Frew, “the sale of assets is intended to remove non-productive investments—not merely to ‘shore up’ the bottom line.” MFA had lost $10 million on those grain terminals in the past two years. Talk about non-productive. Farmland, within a year, was regretting that purchase and trying to resell those same structures to yet another cooperative. The grain market of the early to mid-80s was no place for those without tremendously deep pockets.

Cooperative mergers took place at record levels across the nation. Farm foreclosures led the national news nightly. Congress issued proclamations to save the family farm. “The reason for this seemingly feverish activity is no secret to anyone involved in the board leadership or management of a cooperative agribusiness,” Frew would write in Today’s Farmer in April of 1985. “The simple truth is that farmer-owned agribusinesses are overbuilt for today’s highly competitive marketplace.”

Bud Frew considered Ray Young to be his mentor. The men formed a close friendship over the years. When asked in a 1979 corporate board meeting about the wisdom of bringing Frew back to MFA, Young would say, “I can work with Bud Frew.”Bud Frew and chairman of the MFA board Bill Stouffer dug deeper still into the balance sheet, trimmed all fat and some meat. Spring would show favorable weather and MFA’s best spring volume since the 1970s. It wasn’t enough. Loss on operations was $2.9 million and another $7.3 million of non-cash loss on discontinued operations. But Frew had staunched the bleeding. Balance sheet metrics inched up. Owner’s equity remained at the previous year’s 20 percent. Frew announced hopes for moderate profitability by 1986. MFA’s market share was still the largest of any agribusiness and was now expanding. That required more cash: $5 million more to be exact. So Frew and Stouffer once again asked the St. Louis Bank for Cooperatives for additional operating money.

The lenders were hesitant. They wanted Stouffer and Frew to meet them at their offices for discussion. They still viewed merger as the most appropriate response to MFA’s fiscal woes. Stouffer and Frew waited anxiously and silently in the St. Louis bank offices. Once in the conference room, the two listened patiently while the bank officers explained their concerns. A push to restart stalled merger talks with Farmland could offset balance-sheet weaknesses and guarantee operating loans, said Doug Sims.

While the numbers made the bankers uneasy, the mere thought of them made Frew reach for antacid. He knew to the depths of his being they were numbers

MFA had begun to turn around, he would say in the late 1990s. No way he’d allow them to deteriorate after what MFA had already weathered.

“The bankers recommended we write down our bondholders’ equity,” said Stouffer. “Bud and I were just as determined not to.” Bond debt had been a topic of discussion at the bank in previous years. MFA had relied too heavily on that source of cash flow in the past. Both Frew and Stouffer knew those bonds represented farmer faith in MFA. “I can remember when MFA was teetering on the edge and one farmer came into Salisbury and put $30,000 down on bonds,” said Stouffer. That’s faith. “There was no way we were going to clip the bondholders.”

The bankers insisted. Frew’s face colored, said Stouffer. MFA’s chairman of the board and MFA’s chief executiveAlways dismissive of media incompetence in covering agriculture, Frew nevertheless became a good MFA spokesperson. But he refused to suffer fools. When a reporter complained that MFA hadn’t offered a correction for an article another reporter had written, Frew asked why newspapers expected him to do their jobs and further, why they kept incompetent reporters on staff? “I wouldn’t,” he said. officer exchanged glances. Stouffer nodded. Both men stood. Frew reached in his pocket, grabbed a ball of keys and threw them on the conference table. The keys resounded on the polished wood a little more loudly than either man expected. “We’ll do it our way or you take these keys and run the s.o.b. yourself,” demanded Frew, before turning and joining Stouffer on the way to the door.

Probably seeing the determination he was looking for, Sims accepted MFA’s financial strategy. But more importantly, from Stouffer’s standpoint, the keys were returned. As they left the bank, both men still wore their masks of stern determination. Once in the parking lot, both let down their guard. “I’ll tell you it was a relief that they bought our deal,” Stouffer said. “The keys Bud had thrown on the table were our car keys and only way home.”

When Bud Frew retired Jan. 31, 1998, he had presided over 12 straight years of profitability at MFA Incorporated, an unprecedented feat. Small profits of $2.3 million were seen in 1986, but profits nonetheless, followed by $4.4 million in 1987. The upward march would continue. Frew would make the word “profit” acceptable in cooperative circles. “Savings” was a term from the 1920s, he would say.

So too, would Frew focus on changing descriptions of MFA locations. “Exchange” was out. “Agri Services Center” was in. “When was the last time you exchanged eggs for feed or cream for farm supplies?” he would ask any who questioned him. It was the language of a bygone era. Frew focused intensely onupgrading MFA’s facilities and service. He also changed the culture of the organization.

“It’s our mission, our strategy, our honesty, our integrity. We will do what we say,” he proclaimed. “Farmers as a group understand honor. They understand your word. They understand your handshake. We had squandered our reputation in the 1970s. But we’ve taken it back,” he said just before his retirement.

In talks with MFA employees prior to his retirement, Frew said, “Remember who owns you. Honesty and integrity are what it’s all about. I don’t want this organization to ever lose that. Think about what’s good for the company, not what’s good for my division, for my area.”In 1985 total assets had shrunk to $175 million. When Frew retired, 1997 total assets were $295 million. Working capital, which had fallen to $5 million in 1985, had risen to $56 million by 1997. Net worth in 1985 was $32 million and $114 million in 1997. And member ownership, which stood at 18 percent in 1985, had risen to 39 percent.

In retail, Frew focused on providing members with quality products and timely service rather than relying on blind loyalty. “We made a conscious, strategic decision to exploit our strengths and minimize our weakness,” he said. “That led us to our focus on service and distribution.” That decision would, in turn, lead to those years of profitability.

Frew would remain proud of the path he and Thompson had taken. “Business decisions, first and foremost,” said Frew. “We’re a farm supply and grain marketing organization. We won’t enter into something, we won’t expand to please someone else’s agenda. We’ll pick battles we can win.” That accomplishment, he would note, was solely because, “We stopped electing the cooperative’s president at large and required the board of directors to hire and fire the chief executive officer.” Until that time, he said, the president could look at the board and say, “You were elected by a district. I was elected by the membership. We’ll do it my way.”

“From that point on,” explained Frew, “I could stand up in front of the board and say, ‘Fellows, this is right. We’re making this decision because it’s a good business decision.’ We changed the company overnight with that structure.”

It remains Frew’s legacy.

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100 years later at the Newcomer Schoolhouse

MFA board members and descendants of the first MFA members gather to remember MFA’s origins.

In the months leading up to March 10, 1914, MFA organizer William Hirth had stirred the hearts of many farmers with the new idea of farmers banding together to garner collective power in buying inputs and selling the fruits of the farm. It was in Chariton County in a one-room schoolhouse that the idea was formally realized.

On that March evening in 1914, members of the Newcomer Schoolhouse Farm Club gathered to make a bulk order of baling twine. Attending that historic meeting were: Aaron Bachtel, T.E. Penick, brothers W.J. and George Heisel, Earl Smutz, John Kohl and W.L. Armstrong. This meeting and the cooperative purchase launched MFA.

On July 22, 2014, MFA Incorporated’s board of directors along with MFA management and staff joined descendants of the Newcomer Schoolhouse Farm Club and local community members to pay tribute.

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A historic friendship: The strength of membership helped shape MFA

In the April 2014 issue of Today’s Farmer, we printed an excerpt from Proud Past, Bright Future, MFA Incorporated’s First 100 Years. That installment focused on long-time MFA president Fred Heinkel. This month, we print a third installment. In this issue, we visit MFA supporter Bill Stouffer and the evolution of management at the behest of MFA members. These excerpts are from Chapter 7 of Proud Past, Bright Future. You can purchase a copy of the book by visiting

From Chapter 7:

To this day, former Missouri State Senator Bill Stouffer bleeds MFA red, white and blue. His father was an MFA delegate; his grandfather a member. Stouffer grew up knowing MFA was built by farmers for farmers. In the early 1960s, he received an MFA scholarship to attend the Missouri Institute of Cooperatives. He received the first college scholarship offered by the Marshall MFA Exchange. His first off-farm job was at the MFA Exchange in Columbia, part-time while he attended the University of Missouri. MFA was in his blood.

Back home in the 1970s, after finishing his degree in ag economics, Stouffer chaffed each time he visited the exchange for his farm inputs or to deliver his grain. That irritation blossomed into full-blown anger at a seed meeting at Marshall put on by a salesman of the MFA seed division. The salesman compared two of MFA’s best hybrids to “a good Pioneer and a real Pioneer dog,” said Stouffer. The salesman said the comparison proved MFA’s average was better. “I knew all four seeds. I went straight to the manager and asked why my cooperative was lying to me.”

Bob Ferguson was the man Stouffer confronted. Ferguson managed the Marshall exchange at the time. Years later he would rise to regional manager. Without saying much of anything, Ferguson simply directed Stouffer to another individual who had similar complaints. After talking to that individual, who pointed Stouffer to yet another dissatisfied MFA member, Stouffer found a group at St. Joseph, a group in the southwest, a group around Boonville; Stouffer would find brush fires pretty well all over the state, he said. Fred Heinkel’s strategy, said Stouffer, was to keep all these brush fires contained locally.

Not one to let matters drop, Stouffer went straight to the top. “I’ve always been one to work within the system,” he said. “I don’t throw bombs from outside.” He made an appointment in the spring of 1979 with Fred Heinkel in MFA’s headquarters to talk about his
 concerns. Heinkel welcomed the young man into his office and listened to his complaints.

“He brought in the head of the division,” said Stouffer, “and basically I was told I didn’t know what I was talking about. Meeting Heinkel was like meeting a prize-fighter. He kept dodging and weaving.”

The individual in charge of the seed division told Stouffer the seed comparison was “just the way you do business.” Stouffer turned away from the division head and said, “Mr. Heinkel, if this is going to be Heinkel Feed and Grain, I’ll go home and I won’t say another word. But if it’s truly Missouri Farmers Association, that’s not the way my cooperative is supposed to do business. I want you to be straight with me.” He left without a commitment.

Upset but undeterred, Stouffer told his wife he wanted to talk to the individual whose firing as vice president of the exchange division had caused such uproar. “I’m going to call this devil up,” Stouffer told his wife, “and see what he looks like.”

Bill Stouffer called Bud Frew. A life-long and historic friendship began.
Stouffer arranged to meet Frew at a local restaurant, where he explained his frustrations and asked for Frew’s insight. “Frew sat right there and drew out on a napkin what MFA ought to look like,” said Stouffer. “I don’t know how long we talked.   It was probably an hour and a half. But from that time on, it was very evident that the company’s direction had to change.”

Bill Stouffer found a mission.
He went home and organized a meeting to be held on his farm outside Napton. He invited all the farmers he’d visited with who shared his concerns. Two dozen from all over the state showed up.

After hours of conversations, both at that meeting and at meetings that followed, the group decided on a course of action. They would run themselves or support those running for seats on the MFA corporate board of directors as long as those running reflected their desire for change. On the ballot in 1979 were Carlton Spencer, Faucett, Mo.; David Hortenstine, Brookfield, Mo.; L.E. Manson, Brunswick, Mo.; Everett Billings, Green Ridge, Mo.; Adrian Murray, Ash Grove, Mo.; Bill Stouffer, Napton, Mo.; and William Umbarger, Fairfax, Mo. Seven men determined to fix their cooperative, eerily reminiscent of another meeting of seven farmers 65 years earlier.

It wasn’t MFA employees rebelling, Stouffer insisted; it wasn’t a disgruntled Frew pushing for change in leadership at MFA as payback. “It was member-driven,” he said. Period. The millions of dollars MFA spent on lobbying and governmental issues, he said, were showing up along with costs from an outdated organizational structure. Farmers were paying the bill. It was the farmers’ money MFA was mismanaging, Stouffer said. That had to stop. “We had a 1950s distribution system” supporting a 1979 agriculture, he said.

Stouffer’s next step was to approach Ray Young and ask if he’d run against Fred Heinkel. Everyone at the time knew Young’s strength as a businessman and knew he was the glue holding the business together. It wasn’t the first time Young had been asked. Several influential MFA leaders had posed the same question before (some quite a few years before), Young recalled. In fact, over the course of the 1970s, Young had been approached three separate times. As Young reported in his book, he refused each time, saying, “I did not want to run against Heinkel, with whom I had worked almost 40 years.” Nevertheless, Young would not oppose efforts to unseat Heinkel. Young knew firsthand the 81-year-old Fred Heinkel should retire—should, in fact, have retired years ago.

In the midst of all this, Eric Thompson was fuming on the sidelines. Thompson was director of employee relations at MFA. He’d heard farmer rumblings and manager grumblings. Thompson had done some of both, himself. “You have to understand,” Thompson said, “the countryside was riled up.” And so were exchange managers. Frew had been very popular. Thompson, as well, considered Heinkel’s undercutting Frew’s authority as a kick in the face to anyone paying attention. Thompson paid attention. He found out Bill Stouffer had contacted Young. So Thompson sought out Stouffer.

“We were looking for a candidate,” said Stouffer. “By the first of July, I was meeting with Eric.”
Thompson then approached Young at his home to find out the depths of his loyalties. Specifically, Thompson wanted to know whether Young would stay on if Thompson were to unseat Fred Heinkel. Young said he knew enough about political moves to keep things vague. Young would only say this: “I’m an organization man. I’m in this for the good of MFA. I’m not here to serve individuals, either you or Heinkel. That’s all I’ll say.”

CLICK HERE for more historical articles on MFA Incorporated.

CLICK HERE for the original in this series of excerpts from Proud Past, Bright Future by Chuck Lay.

CLICK HERE to view the original layout of this story in flipbook form.

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MFA at 100, part 2

A century-old company sprang from the idea of helping farmers succeed.

In the March 2014 issue of Today’s Farmer, we printed an excerpt from Proud Past, Bright Future, MFA Incorporated’s First 100 Years (click here to view). That installment focused on MFA’s founder, William Hirth. This month, we print a second installment. Here we focus on MFA’s second president, Fred Heinkel. Heinkel saw the power of Hirth’s vision firsthand, and once Hirth was acquainted with Heinkel, he saw the potential of a future leader. With Hirth’s help, Heinkel would soon be at the helm of MFA during a great transition for agriculture. These excerpts are from Chapters 4 and 5 of Proud Past, Bright Future. You can purchase a copy of the book by visiting

From Chapter 4: 

Out of the corn rows into the board roomMFA led the state in construction of bulk plants. In addition, MFA planned, built and ran fertilizer production facilities at Springfield, Joplin and Maryland Heights, on the outskirts of St. Louis. More than 300 MFA exchanges moved product to farmers. MFA produced a wide variety of plant foods, offered granulated pellets and encouraged use of 12-12-12.

Fred Victor Heinkel kept a sharp eye on the future. At the dawn of the 20th century, the young man farmed with his father in Franklin County. In 1917 rumors were swirling. Heinkel heard tales of a passionate individual proselytizing farm unity at speeches throughout the state. Young Heinkel was all ears. That individual, William Hirth, preached a revolutionary approach to organizing farmers—self-interest. Heinkel enjoyed farm life, but he was a realist, too. Making a living on a turn-of-the-century farm was a touch-and-go affair, so much so that the young farm boy constantly kept an eye out for money-making opportunities to supplement meager income. 

William Hirth’s tireless evangelizing included pamphlets. He printed and distributed them by the thousands. Heinkel latched onto one early, read it, kept it and chewed on the idea. He made a mental note to attend one of Hirth’s frequent speaking tours. In April of 1917, Heinkel cemented his future. Hirth would be speaking in Jeffriesburg, a few miles distant. Heinkel, farming in partnership with his father William, urged his father to attend as well.

At the meeting, Hirth extolled the benefits of cooperative marketing. Impressed and moved by Hirth’s words, both Heinkels joined the farm club movement on the spot. Heinkel would never forget that first meeting. Thrilling, he would recall in interviews. “You young fellows are going to have to fight this battle differently than your fathers fought it,” Hirth intoned to the group. Heinkel took that quote to heart, mentioning it time and again in interviews for almost 40 years. 

Heinkel, just three years prior to meeting Hirth, had completed sixth grade (not much else was available to rural students who couldn’t reach town schools) and passed a teacher’s examination. But at age 16, he was ineligible to teach until 18. No matter. Teaching was a paltry living as well. In the interim, Heinkel redoubled his efforts at farming—and anything else that added to his income. 

Fred Heinkel had three dairy cows, three stock cattle, 80 hens, 10 hogs and no sheep. He sold dairy and poultry products. His portion of the farm comprised 50 acres, 35 of them tillable. Years later, childhood friend Howard Kommer would write Heinkel a letter reminiscing about planting corn beside the creek. “I can still ‘see’ you plowing with the Fordson tractor and the ‘new’ type plow,” Kommer wrote. “That farm was always a very bright spot in the farming community and very productive.” 

After hearing Hirth, Heinkel would immediately join the Pleasant Valley Farm Club. He traded at Catawissa. Over the course of the next few years, now aflame himself, Heinkel would first be elected secretary-treasurer of that farm club. He would then serve in the same role with the newly formed MFA livestock shipping association in nearby Robertsville and proceed to help organize the MFA Exchange at Catawissa in 1926. By 1931, he was elected president of the Franklin County Farmers Association, a position to which he was re-elected again and again. 

The first recorded mention of Fred Heinkel in Hirth’s papers at the Western Historical Manuscript Collection at the University of Missouri is a 1929 letter to William Ogles of Catawissa to whom Heinkel had sold a subscription to The Missouri Farmer. He was also signing farmers to MFA’s producers contract. Later that same year, Heinkel took out an automobile insurance policy from Hirth’s salesman on a “new Tudor Model ‘A’ Ford.” The year’s premium for fire, theft, personal injury, property damage and deductible collision? $36.27. Hirth also sold insurance to supplement his income. 

In that same letter (in a display of his industriousness), Heinkel asked for “the privilege of selling some of your insurance in Franklin and St. Louis counties.” Not the exclusive right, Heinkel maintained, “just for the privilege of doing what business I may, in a spare time way, or as I meet up with people on other business.” He also bought a couple of gilts from Hirth’s purebred livestock farm. 

By 1933, Hirth (through field man C.L. Cuno) was pressing others in MFA to convince the young Heinkel to serve as a county judge because the elected judge had died immediately after being elected. Heinkel, at the time, was a Republican in a county with 2,000 more Republicans than Democrats. When the nomination fell through (even though as local MFA leaders would write “he is beyond question the most able man in the county”), Heinkel did run for state representative. And lost. But his stock rose in MFA. 

Hirth smelled talent and took to sending Heinkel position papers and asking for the young farmer’s opinion. “I enclose for your confidential information copy of a letter which I have written to Secretary Wallace [U.S. Secretary of Agriculture], and concerning which I will be glad to have your frank opinion,” wrote Hirth in one 1934 letter. Heinkel’s opinions must have been sound.

By 1936, Heinkel was on the statewide ballot to serve as vice president with MFA President Hirth. Hirth took the 39-year-old farmer under his wing, introducing him to powerful people, explaining his objectives and outlining his plans for the future of MFA. Four years later, when Hirth died, Heinkel would, in his words, “Walk out of the corn rows and into the board room.”

From Chapter 5:

Market-research driven 

By the mid-40s, MFA and President Heinkel saw the value in interregional cooperatives (owned by two or more regional cooperatives like MFA). MFA invested in Central Farmers Fertilizer Company, putting $100,000 toward capital stock for purchase of phosphate deposits. It was a long-term, strategic alliance that would pay huge dividends over the years. 

Aside from this investment in an interregional cooperative fertilizer supplier, MFA formed a research department to perform business analysis on opportunities for the cooperative to expand. 

The creation of MFA’s new research department would pay dividends throughout the 40s and 50s. Heinkel, familiar with research staffs at the beck and call of congressmen and senators, saw immediate possibilities for MFA. “Before we determine where and when we are to establish a new cooperative,” he wrote in The Missouri Farmer, “Dr. Haag [head of the new research department] will make a survey of the situation with a view to taking as much risk out of the venture as possible. In years gone by we have depended a bit too much on collective judgment and not enough on facts when establishing new cooperatives. …[M]istakes have been made in the past and might be made in the future if we are not exceedingly careful. In any event we shall all be better off if we eliminate all the doubts we can.”Fred Heinkel served as MFA president from 1940 until 1979. He was a business visionary. Under his watchful eye, MFA would build tremendous business volume through exponential growth and expansive political influence that grew national in scope.

Simultaneously, Dr. Herman Haag was researching the potential for large-scale distribution of fertilizer. Haag, a professor of agricultural economics at the University of Missouri, had graduated from the university with the highest grades ever in the School of Agriculture. He earned his doctorate at Cornell. Haag brought a boundless work ethic and astounding practicality to his job. His reports pointed out fiscally sound opportunities over the years he was at MFA. Heinkel would push for action on many. The Mexico soybean processing facility purchase came about because Haag’s market research convinced Heinkel of its practicality. Haag’s research immediately led him to lend his support to Heinkel’s idea of founding an MFA insurance company. And now plant foods were in the crosshairs.

Fred Heinkel and Herman Haag spoke as one on plant foods. Almost from the moment he ascended to the presidency, Heinkel had watched astounding increases in fertilizer use. In Missouri in 1941, farmers applied about 60,000 tons of fertilizer. By 1952, tonnage reached 800,000 tons—and would keep increasing. Because of Heinkel and Haag, MFA drove much of that demand.

At war’s end, munitions plants easily converted from war production to domestic fertilizer production. Low-analysis, bagged fertilizer hit the market with big impact. At Heinkel and Haag’s insistence, MFA focused on high-analysis. The advantage? Low unit cost and lesser weights to handle. Using Haag’s research, Heinkel pushed for MFA-owned facilities. 

Haag predicted Missouri-farmer use of more than 200,000 tons by 1946. According to Young’s book, Haag conservatively estimated MFA could produce 25,000 tons of fertilizer a year by expending $140,000 and tying up $110,000 in working capital. By 1948, Heinkel’s vision became reality. An MFA plant in Springfield churned out 8-24-8, 4-24-12 and 0-20-20, the highest analysis fertilizer ever sold in the state. Exceeding expectations, the plant manufactured and sold 40,000 tons in its first full year of operation.

By April of 1949, MFAs newly created plant foods division shipped from yet another facility, this one at Maryland Heights, a former munitions plant on the outskirts of St. Louis. Maryland Heights added 50,000 tons to MFAs production. The University of Missouri was on board with a complementary soil-test program through Extension. MFA managers asked farmers: “Why should you buy two tons of 4-12-4 when one ton of 8-24-8 will do the job?” 

By summer of 1949, MFA had four full-time representatives pushing nothing but plant foods. They called on exchanges and lobbied managers on potential. Not all farmers were on board immediately. Many saw commercial plant foods as too much additional cost. But many more signed on enthusiastically—and dramatically increased crop production. More than 30 MFA exchanges moved product. Within five years, MFA would lead the state in construction of bulk plants to ease distribution bottlenecks.

CLICK TO HEARBy 1950, MFA installed the first anhydrous ammonia tank, probably the first in the state. Demand soared. By 1955, MFA had positioned 26 tanks and ramped up direct application. Simultaneously, MFA began its famous corn yield contest, with a primary purpose of promoting soil testing and stimulating proper use of fertilizer, new corn varieties and better crop management practices. In 1951 MFA plant foods began to offer soil-testing bags, soil samplers and instructions at all exchanges. 

Maryland Heights, locked onto Heinkel’s vision, began production of 12-12-12 and began granulating pellets that stored well and did not lodge in spreaders. Between 1947 and 1951, MFA was just shy of doubling production and sales. 

By 1953, MFA completed yet another facility, this one in Joplin. Joplin produced even higher analysis: 12-36-19, 14-14-14, 14-28-14 and others. By 1954, the first MFA bulk fertilizer plant opened at Albany. Two weeks later, Slater opened another. Before the next year ended, 10 MFA bulk plants were situated at strategic locations: Slater, Albany, Centralia, Gallatin, El Dorado Springs, Lockwood, Union, Butler, Rolla and California.

Jim Dissler, who for decades would deal with all aspects of fertilizing crops, hired on with MFAs plant foods division in 1955 at the height of the boom.
He supervised much of the bulk-plant construction and oversaw many of the equipment upgrades. MFA even patented its own blender called the Newcomer (after the Newcomer Farm Club). Several still exist. Plant foods, which had initially begun shipping in 112-pound bags, moved to 80 and finally 50. Much of the plant foods was mixed with Aldrin for bug control.

Bulk plants were simple affairs with one-ton mixers. Trucks would back in; fertilizer would fall from overhead bins. MFA pushed hard for soil tests; MFA could mix almost any analysis farmers requested. Bulk plant office fixtures were No. 2 pencils, 10-key adding machines with hand cranks, and sometimes a desk and chair. Period. “There weren’t five bulk plants in the state, when we started building them,” Dissler said. Many of the plants featured plant foods in bins, many in bulk. 

Much of the fertilizer production at large was anhydrous, sulfuric acid and rock phosphate to create ammoniated phosphate fertilizer. Springfield used a nitrogen solution and phosphoric acid to make a slurry. Potash would then be added to coat the granules. Each granule was complete: N, P and K.

Despite wide farmer acceptance of these products, one lagged behind: potash on alfalfa. Dissler came up with a scheme. He mapped out the biggest and best alfalfa producers in an area, loaded up a truck, and, unasked and uninvited, made a pass in each field in the shape of an MFA manager’s initials. Of course, farmers noticed the initial—a foot taller than surrounding alfalfa and a far deeper green. Sales would skyrocket.

At the 1946 convention, Heinkel announced 100,000-plus members. The earned-membership plan was paying off in spades. 

Check out this article's source and read the book, Proud Past Bright Future.

Check out the original print layout of this article HERE

Click here for original music from the original MFA FARM CLUB SONGBOOK.

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The Centennial MFA photo



Tag yourself or friends in the big 99-megapixel panoramic Centennial MFA photo. 

Login to Facebook using the login button at the lower left of the picture if you are not already logged onto Facebook. To tag yourself or friends, click and drag the red pin over the picture. A box will pop up that will let you enter a comment. Click enter and you have tagged the photo in Facebook.

To share a snapshot of part of this big photo, zoom into the area you want to share and then click the small camera button.  You may make the image full screen by clicking the box underneath the zoom, which is in the upper left hand part of the box. Note: A current Adobe Flash player is needed to display the image above.

Click the PRINT button to purchase a large version of the panorama or to purchase an inexpensive poster, Click HERE.

©2013 MFA Incorporated / Photo by James Fashing, Special thanks to Craig Weiland for his Photoshop talents.