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In this June/July Today's Farmer magazine

FEATURES

Dairy endures on Dill farm - Cover Story -
Thrifty thinking helps family survive market downturns
by Allison Jenkins

Farm to Food Bank
Missouri’s agriculture partners work together to combat food insecurity
by Kerri Lotven

Rations for the range
MFA works with cattle producers to find feeding solutions in any season
by Kerri Lotven

Moving bales, growing sales
Tri-L Manufacturing expands well beyond hay equipment to offer wide range of products that help farmers get the job done
by Allison Jenkins

Cover crops: Are they a real fix for water quality?
Recent Missouri study shows this popular practice reduces runoff, nutrient losses
by Adam Jones

Q&A with MFA (Flipbook link)
Learn more about your cooperative leaders
An interview with Jimmie Reading, MFA Incorporated Board Member

Protect health of bred cows this summer
Heat stress can cause pregnancy losses, disrupt reproductive cycles
by Dr. Jim White

DEPARTMENTS & OPINION

Country Corner
Food supply chain reveals its weakest links
by Allison Jenkins

UpFront
Relief on the way for farmers impacted by COVID-19
Interns experience agriculture on the job
Pollution precedent

Markets
Corn: Large corn crop anticipated, demand increasing
Soybeans: Look for more
Chinese purchases this summer
Cattle: Packing plants become a bottleneck
Wheat: Soft winter wheat production up over last year

Recipes
Cream weaver - As printed via Flip Book

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

Viewpoint
Focus on strengths in uncertain times
by Ernie Verslues, MFA President and CEO

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

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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

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Moving bales, growing sales

Necessity is the mother of invention.

This age-old adage has been the mantra of Tri-L Manufacturing since its humble beginnings more than 40 years ago. In the late 1970s, Bob Lynch and his family needed a way to move round hay bales on their farm in Ozark, Mo. The big round balers were just catching on in popularity, and handling equipment was hard to find.

Bob, a mechanical engineer by trade, took matters into his own hands. Turning an old milk barn into a makeshift machine shop, he fashioned a hay fork that attached to the three-point hitch on his trac­tor. It worked like a charm. Soon, neighbors were asking if he’d build them one, too. Demand grew, and a business was born. Bob, his wife, Marie, and their sons opened Tri-L Manufacturing in 1979.

“Dad was a problem-solver,” said son Robert Lynch, who runs Tri-L today with his wife, Robin, and their daughter and son-in-law, Cortney and Brett Ruether. “Anytime there was a problem, he was always able to figure out an efficient way to address it. We started with the bale fork, and then later moved to the spear. That’s what Dad always did; he simplified things as he went along.”

Today, Tri-L’s product line has grown from one to more than 370 different attachments and parts for tractors, skid steers and ATVs. Hay-handling equipment is still a mainstay of the company’s catalog, including an improved variation of the hay spike that started it all, but the company now offers cultivation and clean-up equipment, pallet forks, several types of buckets and adapter plates for just about any machine.

This expanded product line developed the same way the company started—out of necessity, said Brett, who joined the company in 2015 and serves as chief financial officer.

“Product lines have grown as farming culture has changed and diversified,” Brett said. “One example is the subcompact tractor and skid steers. As those have become more popular on the farm, we’ve developed more attachments for them. Every farmer, whether it’s on a large scale or small scale, has different needs. And they’re looking to us to help service their needs.”

Tri-L products are still designed and fabricated on the Lynch family farm, but the company has grown well beyond the barn where Bob’s inventive idea took root. Manufacturing takes place in a 19,000 square-foot production facility, and the farmhouse has been converted into office space. The surrounding property serves as proving grounds for new equipment.

“My favorite part of this business is seeing the product from the drawing board to the finished unit and doing testing to see what needs to be tweaked and changed,” Robert said. “We’ve never had a product that’s been a 100% perfect from concept to finish. There always have to be changes made.”

The company annually turns out thousands of products with around 25 employees, including office personnel, designers, machinists, welders, assemblers and painters.

“We have a phenomenal staff, who are talented and hard­working,” Brett said. “We really promote customer service, not only externally but also internally, trying to help each other and problem solve. That really carries through everything we do.”

Tri-L’s field representatives often come back with ideas for new products based on observations and feedback from cus­tomers and dealers. For example, the “Big Bale Grabber” was introduced in 2018 in response to the popularity of wrapped silage hay. This attachment allows the bales to be lifted, moved and stacked without puncturing the plastic.

“Our sales staff is really interactive with our customers, whether it be through phone calls or personal visits,” Robert said. “They find out what’s important to our customers and what suggestions they may have.”

Those conversations from the field helped launch two new products this spring—the Square Bale Accumulator and Bale Raptor—in response to growing interest in square bales of hay and straw and the lack of labor to help haul them.

“We had a guy who came to us asking, ‘Can you do this?’ So we did,” Robert said. “With the bale accumulator, you’re gath­ering 10 square bales at one time, and the Bale Raptor is lifting them at one time. One person can essentially do all that would normally take three or four people to do.”

That kind of practical problem is what Tri-L employees love to solve. Equipment to clean up fencerows and fields are other solu­tions that have been developed and introduced over the last 10 years. Among those products is a skid steer-mounted tree puller that can grasp trunks up to 9 inches wide. Row-crop and cattle producer Glen Bailey found this attachment to be handy for not only uprooting trees but also moving fences on his farm in Cur­ryville, Mo. He’d seen the puller in action a couple of years ago at a “demo day” hosted by MFA Agri Services in Vandalia, Mo.

“I bought it to help clear trees from some land I bought, but what impressed me the most was that I was able to pull out some old hedge posts with concrete around them,” Bailey said. “I needed to move a fence line that was too close to the creek. If I didn’t have this tree puller, I probably wouldn’t have been able to get those hedge posts out. I would’ve had to saw them off.”

Similarly, when Dennis Isgrig of Mexico, Mo., needed to clear some overgrown ground, he turned to Tri-L’s Bigfoot Cutter, which he purchased in December through his local MFA. The 6-foot-wide rotary mower, which attaches to the front of his skid steer, is powerful yet highly maneuverable, he said.

“I bought it to clean up about 60 acres of CRP so they could get re-enrolled,” said Dennis, who raises 3,700 acres of row crops and runs a 100-head cow/calf operation. “I had borrowed one of these cutters from a friend a few times and knew it worked well and was reasonably priced. It’ll even mow down small trees and brush, and it’s great for pond dams in my cattle pastures, too. Before, all we had was our big mower, so we were always borrowing one for smaller jobs. I decided it was time we had our own.”

Any Tri-L product is available through retail loca­tions of MFA Incorporated, which has been a dealer for more than 20 years. The partnership is “mutually beneficial,” said Robin Lynch, who joined her hus­band full time in the business about 15 years ago.

“MFA has been an important part of Tri-L for half of our company’s life,” she said. “We work with a phenomenal buyers’ team there who collaborate with our sales force, giving us input and coming up with new ideas to help MFA stores and their customers.”

MFA chooses to offer Tri-L equipment because it’s both high quality and affordable, said Ryan Mauzey, MFA Farm Supply Divison product manager. Tri-L purposefully strives to provide that balance with every product it makes, Robert said.

“We try to make a product that’s heavy enough not to tear up under normal use, and then we’ve got to be economically priced as well,” he said. “So, you have to make it just heavy enough.”

With the company transitioning into the hands of the next generation, Robert said he believes what has made Tri-L so successful in the past will be the key to its future, too.

“As equipment changes, as needs change, we will just keep adding products,” he said. “The customers are our boss. We have to cater to them. And being a family-owned company, we can quickly address those needs.”

For more information about Tri-L Manufacturing and its growing line of products, visit www.tri-l.com or call 800-759-4159.

 

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Rations for the range

A low fog hangs over the pasture where Lyman Pittman and his son-in-law, Tylor McNiel, feed several hundred head of cattle on their Texas County, Mo., ranch.

“This is the old MFA Bucket Rattler,” Pittman said, referring to the 14% protein range cubes he’s dispensing from the portable feeder on his pickup truck. MFA has offered this popular ration for sever­al years, and both Pittman and McNiel have seen the benefits of feeding the cubes.

“The cows come running for it,” said McNiel, who is married to Pittman’s oldest daughter, Lacey. “At the beginning of this winter, I had one cow I wasn’t sure would make it through to spring. She’s the first one to the truck every day now.”

On this dreary day in mid-February, the farm was in the thick of calving. Though the herd calves year-round, many of the babies are born in the spring.

“For some of these calves, it’s their first day in the world, and it’s cold and damp,” Pittman said. “This is the toughest day of the year for them.”

It’s in conditions like these where cattle benefit from a feeding supplement such as range cubes, according to MFA Director of Livestock Nutrition Dr. Jim White.

“In general, supplementing the forage base in the winter is needed to meet the animals’ nutrient needs, maintain productivity, body condition, calf vigor, all those things,” White said. “Feeding a supplement prevents a decline in animal performance due to in­adequate forage quantity and/or quality. It is usually easier to maintain body condition on cows than it is to replace body condition if it has slipped.”

Land in this part of the state is better suited for cattle than crops, and Pittman’s farm has been in the family for generations. The veteran cattleman pulled up a picture on his phone, showing an old news­paper clipping from 50 years ago that was recently reprinted.

“A large real estate transaction involving 1,016 acres of Texas county farm land is expected to be consummated March 23. Dwight Pittman of Suc­cess, Mo. is buying property along with 300 head of cattle, machinery and a two-bedroom home.”

“That was my dad,” Pittman said. “He was a tim­ber guy. A lot of this was all woods at one time.”

According to the article, that purchase in 1970 doubled the size of the farm, and it has since grown further. Pittman and McNiel still maintain the timber business in addition to raising cattle. They usually begin feeding MFA range cubes in January and stop in mid-April.

“There are a lot of advantages to feeding the cubes,” Pittman said. “We’ve got a lot of territory on this old rocky farm, and I can take these cattle anywhere I want to. They will travel wherever I want them to go. And when we want to wean these calves, they already know how to eat feed.”

Through the winter, Pittman and McNiel feed roughly 4-5 pounds of range cubes per head, per day. The cubes are delivered to their farm from the MFA feed mill in Lebanon, Mo., though their local MFA Agri Services is in nearby Houston, Mo., where they work with manager Darrell Scheets and warehouseman Wayne Harper.

“Our range cubes cost about 10 cents a pound, so we spend about 40-50 cents a day,” Pittman said. “Hay probably costs 4 or 5 cents a pound, but we would have to feed a cow 30 pounds. It’s $1.50 versus 50 cents.”

The math makes sense for their operation, he said. It also helps ensure their cattle are getting adequate nutrition when it’s most needed.

“I just think everything is better about it,” Pittman said. “We like the way our cattle act when we feed the cubes. They prefer it over fescue hay. I know they’re going to eat the feed, and it’s going to do them some good.”

White points out additional advantages to the range cubes, such as their versatility, con­sistency and beneficial nutrition.

“It’s flexible where the cubes can be fed,” White said. “Meaning, a person can feed it on the ground with minimal waste. Like­wise, it’s also available in a variety of different formulations that provide the animal with a comprehensive supplementation of vitamins, minerals, trace minerals and protein. It can also be used as a vehicle for adding medica­tions or feed additives when hand feeding and intake can be controlled.”

Pittman looks across the herd, pointing out certain cows and commenting on their body condition to McNiel and Harper, who are along for the ride.

“I’m not sure why more people don’t grasp onto the cube idea,” Pittman said. “A friend of mine, a good cattleman, told me about it originally as an alternative way to feed cattle. I can feed these cows range cubes and get rid of half the hay. I just think everything about it is better.”

Pasture plans

As blue skies and green grass of spring replace the dull gray and brown of winter on the ranch, McNiel recalls how this pasture was covered in trees not long ago.

“You couldn’t get through here with a truck. The oaks and hickories were so thick,” he said. “About six years ago, we decid­ed we needed more space to expand our herd. That’s when we began working on this.”

Around the same time, Pittman and McNiel began talking with MFA Range and Pasture Specialist David Moore.

“Darrell mentioned what they were doing and asked if I’d visit with them,” Moore said. “When I got there, Lyman and his daughter were riding around on a side-by-side with a sprayer, and each of them had a wand to spot spray brush. That kicked off a conversation about what he was trying to accomplish and how we could make it more efficient.”

Moore proposed they bring out MFA application equipment to speed up the process of controlling the tree sprouts.

“I asked them how many tankfuls they had gone through already and suggested it might be easier to bring out one of our spray rigs,” Moore said. “Lyman asked what product I’d recommend, and if memory serves me correctly, my answer was Remedy and Tordon 22K. He thought that would be fairly expensive, but he was willing to give it a try.”

Pittman committed to trying Moore’s recommendations on a smaller field before scaling up.

“After that, I didn’t hear from him for a while,” Moore said.

But during that time, Pittman was still working toward his goal. He put together his own spray rig to get into some of the rougher hills on the farm, and McNiel went to work operating it.

“David helped us tremendously,” McNiel said. “We’ve learned a lot from him. He’s probably taught us the most, but we’ll talk to anybody and everybody. We can make grass as efficiently as anyone can now.”

The contrast between the treated and untreated portions of the property were clearly evident, McNiel said.

“I remember one field where I ran out of chemical about half­way through,” he said. “The difference between the two halves was unbelievable. When you get rid of the weeds and all the other competition, so much more grass grows.”

When Moore was invited back to the farm, he noticed the difference, too.

“They’ve significantly opened up many acres of the farm that were formerly inaccessible,” Moore said.

In 2017, MFA hosted a forage tour and grower meeting on the property to highlight the work Pittman and McNiel had done and allow other growers the opportunity to ask questions.

“We’ve won the war on sprouts, but it’s a process,” McNiel said. “Once you get your sprouts wiped out, then you have the buckbrush and sage grass to deal with.” 

To stay on top of weed control and continue expanding both their land and herd, McNiel and Pittman have been spraying herbicides on roughly 4,000 acres annually—2,000 in the spring and 2,000 in the fall—for the past few years.

“When you talk about spraying that much acreage, that’s a lot of dollars,” McNiel said. “But, we’re to the point now where we only have to do a little bit of spraying for weeds, and then we’ll spread phosphorus to help with the sage grass.”

They are still renovating parts of the farm, McNiel said, but they have a handle on it. They know what they need to do to reach their target. They’re also trying out MFA’s Nutri-Track precision fertility program on about 40 acres.

“Our goal is to run a thousand cows,” McNiel said. “When you have ground with sprouts and weeds growing on it like we had, you’re not producing very much grass. To us, noth­ing grows more grass than good weed control.”

For more information on feed supplements or pasture renovation, contact your MFA or AGChoice location to con­sult with an MFA livestock specialist or range and pasture specialist.

 

 

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Farm to Food Bank

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity was already a problem in Mis­souri, especially in rural communities, and especially among children. In March, when businesses shuttered, schools closed and many employees suddenly found themselves furloughed, food pantries across the country saw marked demand for their services. Over 950,000 Missourians seek help from one of the state’s food pantries each year, but due to the current crisis, those numbers are changing rapidly.

In response, farmers, agriculture organizations and food banks went to work doing what they’ve always done—feeding people.

“We have seen a tremendous spike in demand across the state,” said Scott Baker, director of Feeding Missouri, an association of the state’s six regional food banks. “Many people are seeking help for the first time and don’t really know where to turn or what options are available. At the same time, we’ve seen a decrease in food donations and vol­unteer hours. People are understandably concerned about their health and well-being, and that impacts what they’re able to share with the food banks.”

In 2014, Lindsay Young Lopez took on the role of president and CEO for The Food Bank of Central and Northeast Missouri, which serves 32 counties from as far south as the Lake of the Ozarks and north to the Iowa border. Lopez grew up on a farm in Fay­ette, Mo., where her dad raised crops and cattle. In her area, local pantries have seen increases of anywhere from a few extra families to more than 100 extra people seeking their services.

The symptoms of hunger can be hard to recognize, Lopez said.

“I think it’s important rural communities know we are serving people who may be their neighbor,” she said. “It may be someone that they work with. It may be a friend who has had a divorce or the death of a spouse or a job loss. There’s any number of reasons why someone may need that support from a pantry or a soup kitchen or one of our partner agencies.”

Feeding Missouri falls under the umbrella of Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organi­zation. Founded in the 1960s, it is a nationwide net­work of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries, soup kitchens and meal programs. Yearly, these organizations collectively serve 4 billion meals and 40 million people. In Missouri, that equates to 123 million pounds of food annually.

Facilitating farm donations

“Missouri’s farming community has been very active in recent years when it comes to addressing Missouri’s hun­ger problem,” Baker said. “We have received tremendous support from producers across the board. While most of this has come in the form of monetary donations, we have seen cases where there have been some direct donations of products like pork, eggs and other commodities.”

Recently, the American Farm Bureau Federation and Feeding America asked the USDA to make it easier for farmers to donate food previously destined for large buy­ers such as restaurants, hotels and schools but disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to AFBF President Zippy Duvall, the USDA responded enthusiastically to this proposal.

“They see this as a way to help both families in need of food and farmers who are anxious to provide it,” Duvall said. “Farmers hope this effort helps provide more food to the increasing number of struggling families. The program would also help farmers, who are struggling themselves, at least recover some of what they put into planting and harvesting.”

In their letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, the organizations proposed a USDA-run voucher system that would allow farmers and ranchers to provide food to peo­ple in need while also preventing food waste and recoup­ing losses due to decreased sales.

“This is an opportunity for USDA to act quickly to produce a win for food banks and a win for farmers,” the groups wrote to Perdue. “It’s a chance for government to serve as a facilitator while clearing bureaucracy and red tape, which fits well within the philosophy you have followed in your leadership of the department.”

If permitted, the process would expand the partnership farmers and food banks have already built, The Food Bank’s Lopez said.

“We’re fortunate to live in a state where agriculture is one of our greatest assets,” she said. “Outside of our broader partnerships, locally we rely on farmers who want to be philanthropic and serve community members in need or producers who want to take advan­tage of potential tax benefits. We are thrilled about any agricultural partners who want to collaborate with us.”

The Food Bank of Central and Northeast Missouri acts as a hub for various pantries, shelters and meal programs throughout the region. Food comes into its warehouses, usually in bulk quantities, and is repackaged by volunteers for delivery, pick-up or distribution to pro­grams administered by The Food Bank. Participants include mobile pantries, senior boxes, the Buddy Pack program for school children and the VIP Veteran Pack Program.

But, like everyone, food banks have had to adapt to recent circumstances.

“Our organization largely relies on volunteers,” said Seth Wolfmeyer, communication and marketing coordinator for The Food Bank of Central and Northeast Missouri. “We had 14,000 volunteers join us in 2019 and put in over 100,000 hours of their time. Because of the crisis, we’ve suspended all of our volunteer operations.”

To fill that labor gap, the Missouri Foundation for Health offered a grant to help pay for 20 temporary employees to assist in jobs that would have normally been done by volunteers. The National Guard also helped, taking temperatures at the Food Bank entrance and assisting with mobile pantries.

In addition to volunteers, Wolfmeyer said, protein is always a large need.

“Protein is always one of the hardest things to provide,” he said. “It’s expensive, and donations of it are more rare than oth­er foods. But it’s so important for people’s health.”

Pigs for protein

Making the best of a bad situation, live­stock producers who lost markets for their animals due to coronavirus disruptions are helping to meet the need for protein. On a Tuesday in early April, swine producer Joe Kendrick of Palmyra, Mo., received notifica­tion from his contract company that he would need to compost his pigs.

“It just felt like such a waste,” Kendrick said. “I told my field manager I was against it, and they told me if I could find a processor, I could donate the meat.”

Pork producers across the state face the same issues.

“A lot of farmers in our area who have contracts with large processors were contacted and told there wasn’t a market for culled hogs or hogs under 250 pounds,” said Mindy Breid, Farm Bureau Northeast Regional Coordinator. “And knowing there are so many people in need right now, they wanted to see if they could come up with another option.”

Kendrick had previously participated in a project with the Food Bank called Project Protein, so he called his former contact there who worked with United Way. Within 36 hours, they had lined up Central Missouri Meat and Sausage in Fulton, Mo., to take on the processing for 15,000 pounds of donated meat. To secure payment for a second round of processing, Breid contacted 19 county Farm Bureau offices in the northeast region for help, guaranteeing that a portion of the meat would go back to their local food pantries. The first round of process­ing was funded by Continental Cement and Green America Recycling in Hannibal, Mo.

“We are so grateful for that donation, and that pork has already been distributed to families in the area,” Breid said, noting that it amounted to 2 pounds of pork per family. “I know some of these families, and I know 2 pounds of meat means a lot to them. They were very thankful for it. Our second round is currently scheduled to go out the second week in June.”

With more pork processors suspending operations or re­ducing capacity, additional farmers seek ways to prevent their livestock from going to waste. Processing plant closures also put strain on the supply chain, making affordable meat harder to find for families who already may be suffering from food insecurity.

On May 11, Missouri Farmers Care announced a pork partnership with its Drive to Feed Kids campaign to deliver high-quality protein to food-insecure Missourians. More than $100,000 has already been raised for the effort.

“This is a proactive step to give farmers options to cut food waste and support their communities,” said Don Nikodim, ex­ecutive director of the Missouri Pork Association. “Our partners across agriculture are raising funds to cover processing and transportation costs. It’s encouraging to see farmers working together to help in a time of need.”

Missouri’s agricultural organizations and businesses partner­ing with Feeding Missouri to cover processing and transporta­tion costs include: MFA Incorporated, Missouri Farm Bureau Federation, Missouri Farm Bureau Insurance, Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council, Missouri Soybean Association, FCS Financial, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Forrest and Char­lotte Lucas (founders of Protect the Harvest), Missouri Corn Merchandising Council, Paseo Biofuels, LLC and Biofuels, LLC.

“It’s a natural fit that those who produce food have a desire to help those who need food,” said Dan Cassidy, chief adminis­trative officer for Missouri Farm Bureau and chairman of Drive to Feed Kids. “When we think about Missourians being food insecure, I think many farmers in this state take that personally and want to help.”

Caring for kids

In Cassidy’s home school district, North Callaway superin­tendent Nicky Kemp had to rethink how students will access meals provided through the Buddy Pack program. With schools closed since the middle of March, the district wanted to ensure kids were getting enough food during the week.

“Our staff really stepped up,” Kemp said. “Principals and teachers volunteered to deliver food to students’ houses weekly. Prior to COVID-19, we had two different options for students depending on their age group. For our younger students, we would send the Buddy Packs home in their backpacks. For our older students, they could access a school pantry, which we’ve also kept open. Our counselors have been fundraising for items such as toiletries. Our Williamsburg teachers even had a parade while they were delivering food and school supplies.”

The district surveyed students to determine who needed meals and at what capacity.

“Everyone came together to make a plan,” said Erikka Brown, North Callaway High School assistant principal. “We actually have a fairly large geographic area where our students live, so our administrators, teachers, support staff and transportation di­rector were all involved. It took everyone to make this happen.”

Brown helped deliver food, including breakfast and lunch, to students on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She logged some 1,300 meals per week.

“The kids are always excited to see us,” Brown said. “They’ve been in their homes, so it’s good for them to be able to see familiar faces, and the parents have all been very grateful and supportive. It has been neat to see a community come together and help keep things normal for our kids in some aspect of their youth.”

Kendrick said it’s hard to imagine there are kids in his com­munity who might not be getting three square meals a day, but he knows it’s a harsh reality.

“It’s not a problem that goes away,” he said. “But I hope when things level out, we can look at getting all the players together and creating a more long-term, established program with the Food Bank. This situation has devastated a lot of people, but I think there’s some opportunity in it, too. If people are buying more products directly from farmers and taking it to a local pro­cessor who then needs to hire more people, that’s more jobs for our local communities. There are potential win-wins here.”

For farmers who wish to donate, Baker recommends contacting Feeding Missouri or partner agencies, such as local food banks or pantries, Missouri Farmers Care or Missouri Farm Bureau.

“We truly appreciate the support of Missouri farmers,” Baker said. “We know that this pandemic has had a devastating impact on them as well. We are always looking for mutually beneficial ways to partner with producers in the state.”

For more information on Feeding Missouri and where to access a local food pantry, visit www.feedingmissouri.org.

Drive to Feed Kids continues to raise awareness of food insecurity in Missouri

Before COVID-19, it’s estimated 1 in 7 adults and 1 out of 5 children faced food insecurity in Missouri. But in the state’s rural communities, that number almost doubles. Even during normal times, 1 in 3 rural children lack adequate access to food, according to data gathered from Feeding Missouri, part of the Feeding America network.

Those statistics didn’t sit right with Dr. Alan Wessler, retired MFA Incorporated vice president of Feed Operations and for­mer chairman of Missouri Farmers Care, an organization that represents Missouri’s farmers and ranchers and promotes the continued growth of the state’s agriculture and rural communities.

In 2017, Wessler worked with former MFA Director of Communications Chuck Lay, MFA President and CEO Ernie Verslues and Missouri Farmers Care Executive Di­rector Ashley McCarty to see if they could improve food security in the state by fur­thering the efforts of a fundraising initiative called Drive to Feed Kids.

“When we started working with Drive to Feed Kids, I asked teachers to tell me what they were seeing in their classrooms,” Wessler said. “Often they would say, ‘The kids come in on Monday morning. The bell rings, and there’s excitement, laughter. Everybody’s talking and smiling, but pretty soon you notice some kids lay their heads on the table or complain their tummy hurts.’ Teachers and administrators see it every day.”

In 2015, Wessler went to a conference and came back with an idea that originated with the Joplin tornado relief effort and a company called Nutra Blend based out of Neosho, Mo. Like MFA Incorporated and many other agricultural partners, Nutra Blend is also a member of Missouri Farmers Care and helped launch the Drive to Feed Kids cam­paign in 2014.

“It was an idea that sat in the hopper and simmered for a while,” Wessler said. “We thought a lot about what we wanted to do and how we would do it because there are two stories to tell here—one is hunger and the other is the great job farmers and ranchers are doing to supply wholesome food.”

In 2017, Drive to Feed Kids raised nearly $150,000 for Feeding Missouri to provide hunger relief in the state. The inaugural event cul­minated in a concert and food-packing day at the Missouri State Fair where hundreds of FFA members packed meals for backpack programs to be distributed to kids throughout the state.

“Every dollar that comes in goes to the backpack program,” Wessler said. “We made it clear that nothing would be taken out for the administration of Drive to Feed Kids. Every dollar raised gets diverted between six regional food banks, which support over 1,000 food pantries in communities across the state. I think that was a big selling point for folks.”

And each year since, Missouri Farmers Care has upped its fundraising goal. Since 2017, Missouri’s agriculture partners and citizens have raised nearly $500,000 through Drive to Feed Kids.

According to Scott Baker, state director of Feeding Missouri, every dollar given to Missouri’s food banks translates into 10 meals for local families.

“Food banks receive much of their food through retail and manufacturing donations,” Baker said. “However, as those channels have started to dry up over the years, food banks are required to purchase more and more food. As recently as five or six years ago, most food banks did not have a budget for food purchase. Now most of them have to buy food just to keep up with demand.”

While COVID-19’s social-distancing restrictions may alter plans for annual events such as the food-packing day at the Missouri State Fair, Wessler said the importance of the Drive to Feed Kids campaign can’t be understated.

“These kids are our future,” he said. “If they’re hungry, they’re worrying about that basic need. They can’t focus. They can’t absorb the material and they can’t learn. At the same time, we’ve got farmers and ranchers out here just doing a heck of a job in raising food, and we need to tell that story, too.”

For more information on Drive to Feed Kids, visit mofarmerscare.com/drive/.

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