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In this Aug/Sept 2020 TF magazine

FEATURES

Taking flight
Skilled aerial applicators provide invaluable agricultural service
by Kerri Lotven

More than a degree
MFA partners with Missouri Colleges to help build the future, one student at a time
by Lillie Vincent

Amazing grazing
Intensive management allows Ron Locke to maximize forage production.
by Allison Jenkins

Brand Plans
MFA’s mix-and-match approach to seed gives growers complementary combinations
by Allison Jenkins

Widen the window with Fall Fertilization
After-harvest applications help producers avoid spring bottlenecks
by Scott Wilburn

Prep pastures for stockpiling forages
Proper planning can provide grazing into fall, winter
by Jim White

2020 MFA Foundation Scholarships
Click to view as published flipbook.

DEPARTMENTS & OPINION

Country Corner
Back-to-school is anything but routine
by Allison Jenkins

UpFront/Blog
Still time to be counted
Make room for data
Only youth livestock events are planned for 2020 Missouri State Fair

Markets
Corn: Large production may limit late-season prices
Soybeans: Lower acreage could mean tighter supplies
Cattle: COVID-19 disruptions drive beef prices
Wheat: Reduced global crops may boost U.S. exports

Recipes
Slice of Summer - As printed via Flip Book

Marketplace
BUY, sell, trade - As printed via Flip Book

Viewpoint
Support for students supports the future
by Ernie Verslues, MFA President and CEO

Closing Thought for Aug/Sept TF 2020
Each month our photographer and poet team up for a unique last page for the magazine.

 FLIPBOOK
Click below to view the magazine as printed in a digital Flip book format.

Click to view the magazine as printed via a flip book

  • Learning the Trade

    Ricky Hubble, right, operations manager at La Belle MFA Agri Services, advises intern Bryant Gibbons about a field where he will spread fertilizer. Gibbons said he has valued Hubble’s guidance throughout his internship, which is part of his custom application program at State Tech in Linn.

Read more: In this Aug/Sept 2020 TF magazine

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Taking flight for farmers

Before dawn, Brian Jack hitches several tons of airplane fuel to his truck and heads out of town. His destination is the Omar N. Bradley Regional Airport, a rural airfield on the outskirts of Moberly, Mo., about three and a half hours away.

This is a typical day for Jack and the agricultural pilots who work for Lowry’s Flying Service based out of Grin­nell, Iowa. Now that corn is tall and soybeans are cano­pied, making ground rigs unsuitable for applying fertilizer or crop protectants, it’s the busy season for crop dusters, more formally known as aerial applicators. Ron Lowry started his agricultural flying service in 1980, two years after getting his pilot’s license at age 28.

“Someone gave me a flight lesson, and four months later, I got my pilot’s license,” Lowry said. “I flew for a couple of years after that, and I also farmed. I started watching others spray seed corn crops, and I wanted to do the same, so I got into a spray plane and started spraying. Farming was in my family. Flying wasn’t.”

Jack, on the other hand, has been around the aerial application business most of his life. His father, Randy, was a pilot for Lowry in the company’s early years and later operated heavy equipment and farmed in addition to flying. One of Jack’s earliest memories places him in the passenger seat of his dad’s plane.

“I was probably 4 or 5 when I went for my first plane ride,” he said. “Some kids would probably be scared or get sick, but as the story goes, I curled up in the back seat and went to sleep.”

Though Jack doesn’t fly himself, he has other responsi­bilities—from loading the planes with fuel, fertilizer and crop protectants to clearing snow from runways of the Grinnell airport. Lowry’s Flying Service took over manage­ment of the airport eight years ago, and Jack handles many of the airport management duties during the winter, when Lowry spends time in Arizona.

“I guess you could call me a jack of all trades,” Jack said.

On this morning in mid-June, Jack arrives early at the airport in Moberly to begin the process of transferring into his truck the cerulean granules of SUPERU nitrogen fertilizer from the already waiting MFA tender. Jack will then load the product into a waiting crop duster.

Shortly after 8 a.m., two distinctive yellow-and-blue planes materialize on the horizon—flying in tight forma­tion, conjuring the image of fighter pilots. The airstrip is surrounded by farmland. Nearby, red wing blackbirds squawk loudly, attempting to protect their ground nests as the aircraft descended.

Pilot Nathan Shaffer lands the first plane. Doug Cash’s wheels touch down mere seconds later.

Shaffer, now 30, began flying when he was just 18 years old.

“At that time, my dad told me I had to go to college,” Shaffer said. “The aviation college was the first to accept me, so that’s what I did.”

Shaffer recently arrived for the season from just outside Las Vegas, Nev., where he works in a welding shop during the off seasons. As spring approaches, he heads back to what are often called the flyover states—a term that takes on new meaning when you’re an agricultural pilot.

“Only experience can prepare you for the type of flying these guys do,” Lowry said. “Four out of our five pilots, we’ve started from scratch. They had their pilot’s license, but they didn’t spray. Not everyone makes it. They might fly one year. They might not make a season.”

It’s strenuous work that can also be dangerous. Pilots must swoop under power lines and dodge trees and towers as they fly low enough to make their applications, often at a height just 15 feet from the ground. Because aerial applicators fly by sightline, their only timeclock is the sun.

“During the busy season, our pilots often fly from dawn until dark,” said Lowry, who no longer flies crop dusters but does pilot other planes and helicopters recreationally. “Sometimes they eat lunch in the plane while they’re refueling. Other times they get a break and can go offsite, but it just depends on how many acres we have to spray or spread that day and how far behind we are.”

Cash began flying at age 30 after spending a few years as an aircraft mechanic. In the off season, he maintains his mechanic status and is a licensed flight instructor.

“I’ve always had an interest in aviation,” he said. “I had a friend who flew helicopters in the military but couldn’t drive a car with a manual transmission. I thought if he could fly heli­copters, I could fly planes.”

During application, the pilots fly between 140 and 160 mph across the crop canopy, but as they gain experience, speed becomes relative, Shaffer said.

“When you first start flying one of these planes, it seems like everything is happening so fast you can hardly keep up,” Shaffer said. “As time goes on, you become more acclimated to it, and the speed becomes normal.”

When demand for their services is at its peak, an aerial appli­cator may take off and land 30 or more times a day. Both Shaffer and Cash fly AirTractor 502s, which hold somewhere between 2,300 and 2,800 pounds of dry fertilizer or cover crop seed or 500 gallons of fungicide. Depending on the application rate, the plane may need to be reloaded four times to cover an 85-acre field. That’s four takeoffs, four landings for one field.

For a new pilot, those maneuvers alone can be intimidating, not to mention the challenges of navigating around obstacles and accurately applying agricultural inputs. The risks evoke an old flying idiom: “Every takeoff is optional. Every landing is mandatory.”

“We thought we were going to lose Nathan the first day he started,” Lowry said wryly.

Shaffer nodded and explained, much to his chagrin.

“I lost control and almost ran off the runway in the morning and then clipped a powerline with the tail wing later that day,” Shaffer said. “I was a little nervous getting back in the plane the next day.”

When flying by sight, gauging distance is a lesson learned with time. Learning to fly 3 to 5 feet over the crop canopy takes practice, Cash said.

“You’re going to get too close sometime,” he added. “When you’re flying that low, you don’t have a lot of op­tions if you get in trouble.”

According to Lowry, there are a few qualities that make a good agricultural pilot. Love of aviation and dedication to fly a lot of hours are two such qualities. Fearlessness is not.

“There are no old bold pilots,” Shaffer added.

On this cloudless summer day, everything goes smoothly—albeit quickly. Jack moves perpetually between trucks and planes, loading, refueling and answering calls. While most of Lowry’s business is spraying fungicides this time of year, the season starts with dry fertilizer application in the spring and continues all the way into November with pilots flying on cover crop seed.

“When people start to see the planes flying over and know we’re here, we always get more acreage,” Jack said. “We have 700 acres to do today, but I’m willing to bet we’ll have more tomorrow.”

By the end of the day, he’s added 1,000 more acres to the total. The crew plans to stay overnight to finish those orders the next day. The following morning starts the same, with a pre-flight check and new GPS coordinates, which Jack hands to the pilots before each takeoff.

“We usually don’t know where we’re going until we come back and get the next set of maps,” Cash said. “There’s really not much to it—just look at what you’re doing, go do the job and come back and get another load.”

Onlookers seem to find the process entrancing. As Jack continues to load the plane, a man leans on the chain-link fence separating public and restricted areas of the Moberly airport. The sun sets slowly behind him.

Earlier in the day, a farmer commented that he’d stepped out on his porch to watch the vivid planes fly.

“Sometimes we have kids come out and watch, too,” Jack said.

Likewise, back at the airport in Grinnell, Lowry describes how he hosts a fly-in, drive-in breakfast once a year, usually in Septem­ber, and gives plane rides circling the town to anyone who wants to participate.

In this community, interest in flying isn’t surprising. Grinnell has a history in aviation. Memorabilia honoring Billy Robinson, an early American pilot, is displayed around the airport. Robinson founded the Grinnell Aeroplane Company and later set a record for non-stop flight in 1914 when he carried mail from Des Moines, Iowa, to Kentland, Ind. He died while attempting to set an altitude record in 1916 in his biplane. Robinson likely succumbed to hypoxia, an insufficient concentration of oxygen in the blood.

“At that time, I don’t think he realized there wasn’t oxygen above 12,500 feet,” Lowry said.

While he’s sharing this story, another call comes in. This time, it’s from MFA Agri Services in Lancaster, Mo. There’s talk of a grass runway. All the pilots in the room know what this means. Grass runways are generally half the length of a normal small-town runway and can be slick, depending on conditions. Lowry suggests Queen City, a nearby airport with short but adequate runways.

While Lowry finishes that conversation, Jack answers another call regarding a job later that day. The highway en route is flooded. Lowry references an alternate detour. That’s flooded, too. He suggests another. It’s almost as if he has maps printed on the inside of his eye­lids, but it’s just 40 years of experience and dedication to aviation.

“I’ve retired from spraying,” Lowry said. “But I probably won’t stop flying until they take my license.”

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Brand plans

For years, Brent Soendker was a DeKalb man. He tended to stick with relatively similar corn hybrids, season after season, on his farm in Odessa, Mo. His seed decisions were based somewhat on brand loyalty but largely on habit.

His philosophy changed about five years ago when he began working with MFA Agronomy Key Account Manager Matthew Beumer to devise a more strategic plan for seed. Rather than making selections according to brand, Beumer focuses on help­ing Soendker choose the right hybrids and varieties for the right acre, maximizing their potential.

And Soendker and other MFA customers have plenty of choices when it comes to corn and soybean seed. MFA’s of­ferings not only include its proprietary brands, MorCorn and MorSoy, but also a broad selection of products from national brands: Bayer’s DeKalb and Asgrow, Syngenta’s NK and Corteva’s Brevant, formerly Mycogen.

“Because we’re not stuck on one brand, we have the abili­ty to pull things together and customize a seed portfolio that fits every acre,” Beumer said. “It’s not about the brand. Every company has good hybrids and varieties. It’s all about tailoring a package that will lead the farmer to greater success.”

MFA’s ability to mix and match brands of seed opens up a world of possibilities for growers, said Steve Fleming, MFA Seed Division director, comparing the experience to a shopping mall. Just like a mall encompasses a wide range of stores and brands under one roof, customers have access to dozens of different seed products and trait platforms under the MFA shield.

“When you combine these four brands and all their products with our own MorCorn and MorSoy brands, MFA is uniquely positioned to offer a whole-farm solution—better than anyone else in the market,” Fleming said. “We know that the average grower is buying two to three brands of seed. If you only have one, that grower is going to go somewhere else. With the offering MFA has, we can approach a grower with a total package and satisfy that brand experience.”

Adopting this philosophy, Soendker now plants several MorCorn hybrids in addition to DeKalb, spreading his risk and stagger­ing his harvest schedule. He has also diver­sified his soybean brands in the past but opted for all MorSoy Enlist varieties this year to take advantage of this new technol­ogy trait. Enlist soybeans exhibit tolerance to both 2,4-D choline and glyphosate.

“My farm goes from gumbo creek-bottom ground to good, black dirt, so I’ve got to have different [hybrid or variety] num­bers,” said Soendker, who farms with his son, Austin, growing 1,100 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat in addition to raising cattle, alfalfa hay and hogs. “There have been years where I’ve planted the wrong ones in the wrong place, and it’s really costly."

Matthew helps me figure out which crops are better in certain situations, rather than trying to guess. He knows what works around here. Since we’ve been selecting seed this way, my yields keep increasing. It’s a good way to farm.”

Exclusive to MFA, MorCorn hybrids and MorSoy varieties must perform to the highest standards before they join the seed portfolio. In 2020, MFA has 17 test plots, each with multiple replicated trials of existing MorCorn and MorSoy products along with a number of experimental hybrids and varieties. Only a chosen few make it into the MFA lineup.

“In a given year, we test dozens of products, but very seldom do we advance more than one or two,” Fleming said. “Growers should take comfort that the products in the MFA portfolio have really been vetted in regard to geographical fit for our trade area.”

This year, MFA also included partner brands in these replicated plots to gather its own data and give employees and customers a chance to see their performance first­hand. MFA also has access to extensive research from these companies to supplement those local trials.

“We get to see a lot of different varieties and hybrids in many different situations, so we learn what fits different soil types and practices,” Beumer said. “We can see yield reports across thousands of acres and multiple years and hundreds of soil types. That allows us to make an educated guess instead of a passionate choice or knee-jerk reaction. We can make smarter farming decisions.”

Offering a full line of seed and comprehensive agronomic expertise helps fulfill MFA’s original purpose as a cooperative— to give farmers choices and advance their overall operation, Fleming said. Having multiple brands may add complexity to MFA’s operation, he added, but it also provides an advantage to the grower.

“As good as MorCorn and MorSoy brands are, they can’t do everything all the time,” Fleming said. “One single brand isn’t going to address all the issues on every farm. That’s why we have partners to help fill that space.”

For more information on MFA’s seed lineup, talk with the agronomists at your Agri Services or AGChoice location or visit online at mfaseed.com.

Dara MCC 5395Crazy about corn
Meet MorCorn manager Dara Bordman

Though she was raised in rural Barnett, Mo., surrounded by farms, MorCorn Product Manager Dara Board­man didn’t have an agricultural background herself. That is, until she discovered FFA in high school.

“Through FFA, I learned to love ag­riculture, and I knew this was what I wanted to do,” Boardman said. “I went to Mizzou and got an undergrad in plant breeding and genetics, did a master’s in crop physiology and then earned a Ph.D. in soil science. If you can’t tell, I’m pretty well a nerd!”

Joining MFA as MorCorn product manager in June 2019, Boardman’s job is to select new hybrids from seed genetics suppliers, put together production plans, work with the MFA agronomy team to design and plant replicated trials, and evaluate the results of that research. This year, more than 20 hybrids are being studied in trials throughout MFA’s trade territory.

“I go out four or five times each summer, from emer­gence to harvest, and take ratings on every single prod­uct,” Boardman said. “Then I combine that data at the end of the season to help me decide what products we should take forward. I try to balance what performed well at harvest with all the other characteristics and present a total package to the farmer.”

Boardman said her work as MorCorn manager nurtures her passion for plants.

“I love learning, and I love working with corn,” she said. “In this role, I get to look at a fresh set of plants each year, comparing what’s going on with that season with our current products but also looking at new products. The science is always there, but a number on a data sheet only provides so much. I’m hoping to provide a little more information, a little bit more insight and expertise, so that when farmers go out and plant, they know they’re getting a product that best fits their fields and is right for their conditions.”

Tommy MFA9477Bean leader
Meet MorSoy manager Tommy Lee

When Tommy Lee joined MFA Incorporated in 2017 as MorSoy product manager, the transition took him full circle in his agronomy career. He’d spent the previous three years as a salesman for MFA Agri Services in La Belle, Mo., where helping growers select the right Mor­Soy varieties was an integral part of his job. Now, he’s on the ground floor of those choices, responsible for what varieties ultimately go into the MorSoy lineup.

“In my sales role with MFA, I was out working with growers on their farms, and I could see the challenges they were facing from a variety standpoint,” Lee said. “That experience helps me understand the needs of our farmers and tailor new MorSoy varieties to meet those needs.”

A native of central Missouri, Lee attended Missouri State University and earned a bachelor’s degree in agronomy. Along with practical knowledge he gained in the field, Lee said his agronomy background is a defi­nite advantage in managing the MorSoy brand. His job entails selecting genetics, designing trials, making field evaluations, coordinating seed production and analyzing data to determine which varieties are worthy of carrying the MorSoy name.

“What makes MorSoy unique in the seed space is that our varieties are selected specifically for the fields our customers are planting,” Lee said. “We put all of our varieties through rigorous testing in our replicated trialing program. We’re one of the few companies that does such intensive testing in their own geography. Growers can have confidence that we’re only bringing them the absolute best products for their acres.”

This year, Lee said nearly 30 MorSoy varieties are being tested in MFA’s replicated trials, which are strategically placed across the region’s diverse agricultural landscape. He said, on average, only one or two new varieties will move forward. Yield is important in that selection, but it’s not the only consideration, Lee said.

“During the season, I’m evaluating everything from emergence to disease pressure to standability— everything our customers are looking for,” Lee said. “We’re not just looking for the highest-yielding varieties but also strongest agronomic varieties. We want to make sure that we are putting the right variety on the right field, which, in turn, helps make our customers more profitable.”

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More than a degree

It's as close as you can get to row-crop farming without having your own operation. That’s what many say about the job of a custom applicator.

Bryant Gibbons of Shelbyville, Mo., would agree. The student at State Technical College of Missouri in Linn, Mo., is one of the first participants in the school’s Custom Applicator Program sponsored by MFA. The program debuted in fall 2019 and offers students the opportunity to gain hands-on applicating experience, work an internship and possibly earn a full-time position with MFA. Students approved for the program also receive a $15,000 scholarship to help with tuition.

“If you like farming, and you can’t afford it like me, then go be an applicator,” Gib­bons said. “You don’t get to work the ground, but you definitely get to go over it. It’s a good opportunity, and there are lots of good people to work with out there.”

Jessica Connelly, MFA Incorporated recruitment and employee development man­ager, is the liaison between MFA and State Tech. According to Connelly, the two-year program is the first of its kind for MFA. It begins the summer between a student’s high school graduation and first semester at State Tech. The first two semesters of the program are dedicated to fundamentals. Students earn their commercial driver’s li­cense and work through basic operators’ curriculum in the fall semester. During their second semester, students learn more in-depth about equipment maintenance.

Over the summer, participants are assigned to an MFA location, typically near their home, where they work as interns. The internship allows students to apply their knowl­edge in real-world situations, spraying and spreading products on crop fields with the guidance of full-time applicators and other MFA employees.

“During the internship, students will be doing a variety of things: running the water truck and the spray rig, learn­ing about daily logs and maintenance on the equipment, talking to farmers about the products used and learning from the recommendations made by the agronomist,” Con­nelly explained.

After completing his first two semesters of the program, Gibbons is now wrapping up his summer internship. He said he enjoys the variety of tasks the job offers, and each day brings him something new and exciting.

“You’ve always got somewhere different to go and some­thing different to do,” Gibbons said. “I might be spreading today, and tomorrow, I might be spraying. And the day after that, I might be helping fill anhydrous tanks or maybe even riding in an anhydrous tractor.”

Following the internship, the students’ final two semes­ters are spent finishing agronomy and operators’ courses. At the end of the program, each student will graduate with a general technology associate’s degree that is endorsed by MFA and recognized by the Missouri Department of Higher Education. However, the program is meant to do a lot more than provide a degree, Connelly said.

“We have a lot of need for qualified applicators,” she said. “The program is designed to recruit and grow our own talent and then to help our people set their sights on career opportunities with MFA.”

When they enroll, students sign a contract confirming that they will work with MFA for three years following graduation. They may begin in a spray rig, but if their supervisors see potential for other careers, they could be promoted to a different position.

“MFA has plenty of good jobs,” Gibbons said. “You could go through the program and be an applicator and do some­thing totally different with your life after you’re done.”

Although Gibbons said he enjoys operating machinery and working outdoors, custom application is not easy work. As an MFA intern, he’s been mentored by Ricky Hubble, a former appli­cator who is now operations supervisor at MFA Agri Services in La Belle, Mo. According to Hubble, it is important for applicators to be willing to work long hours and be a little bit picky.

“The hours are the hardest part of it, I think. Nobody wants to work every day of the week, and it’s not the easiest thing to do,” Hubble said. “You have to pay attention to the details, be willing to work long hours and get as much done as you can. That’s the bottom line.”

Because of these challenges, applicators are in high demand and hard to find. And that is the problem this program is aiming to solve. MFA wants to help fill the need for applicators, and State Tech wants to assist students in securing positions in these critical areas of the agriculture industry.

Instructor Tom Giessmann is the on-campus advisor for the MFA program at State Tech, which was ranked by WalletHub as the top community college in the U.S. in 2019 based on cost and overall education and career outcomes.

“State Tech is dedicated to educating students to be prepared for the workforce,” said Giessmann, who teaches heavy equip­ment and medium/heavy truck technology. “By having the MFA program here, students are able to receive a hands-on education from the No. 1-ranked college in the country. Meanwhile, with MFA having sites in both rural and urban locations, we can serve students from any area of Missouri with job opportunities upon the completion of the program.”

This fall, two students will enter their second year of the pro­gram, and eight students will begin the program.

State Tech is not the only Missouri college working with MFA to provide hands-on opportunities to students interested in a career in the agriculture industry. North Central Missouri College in Trenton, Mo., is offering a new Agriculture Operations Tech­nology Certificate program in fall 2020. The program, endorsed by MFA, will allow students to obtain a one-year certificate and potential opportunities for apprenticeship and employment with the company. Through the program, students will learn about soils and fertilizers, plant science, animal science, farm safety, agriculture mechanics and precision agriculture. Five students are currently enrolled, leaving five spots open.

“We want to give students an opportunity to receive post-sec­ondary education and advance their career in agriculture,” said Rustin Jumps, an NCMC instructor and the college farm manager who is the on-campus advisor for the certificate program. “They can go to college for a short time while gaining real-world experi­ences in preparation for a job with MFA or other agribusiness.”

To apply for admission to the State Tech program, stu­dents must fill out an online application, submit a high school transcript or HiSET (high school equivalency test) or GED scores and submit ACT, Accuplacer or Accuplacer Next Gen test scores. Additionally, students must submit a valid driver’s license, have the ability to obtain a Class A commercial driver’s license and complete an interview. To be considered for the program, apply online at www.statetechmo.edu/apply and select the “General Technol­ogy Degree – MFA track” option on the application. There is no application fee. For more information about the program, call 573- 897-5000 or send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

“An MFA-track student should be passionate about agriculture and have a desire to make it a career,” said Tom Giessmann, State Tech instructor and on-campus advisor for the MFA program. “They need to be prepared to work hard in the industry as well as in the classroom and come to class every day ready to learn.”

For more information about the NCMC program, visit online at ncmissouri.edu/3578-2. You can also contact on-campus advisors Rustin Jumps at 660-359-3948, ext. 1336, or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Jack Green at 660-359-3948, ext. 1314, or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Jumps said the ideal student for the certificate program “is someone who has an agriculture background, is wanting to pursue a career in agriculture or agriculture business and is really looking to ride into the industry without pursuing a degree or going to a four-year university.”

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