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Improved soil health, weed control are among benefits of planting into living cover crops

THE TRACTOR AND PLANTER MAKE THEIR WAY through a waist-high jungle of cereal rye, depositing soybean seeds into the soil underneath the thick, green growth. It’s early June, and Adam Jones has yet to spray a single ounce of herbicide in this field on his Lewis County, Mo., farm.

“I did nothing from a weed-control standpoint during February, March, April, May and even the first part of June,” Jones said. “So, I ran almost four months with no soil residual herbicides there. Normally, I would have had to either work that field or spray it two or three times to get to June 3. That’s a big deal.”

Not that long ago, this would have seemed like a foolhardy move to many grow­ers, but “planting green” into cover crops is becoming more common on Midwest farms. Surveys by USDA indicate that more than half of cover crop producers have now adopted this practice in which the cash crop—typically soybeans or corn—is seeded directly into an actively growing cover crop instead of terminating it earlier in the season.

“As growers gain experience with cover crops, they’re becoming more comfort­able planting green, especially with soybeans into cereal rye,” said Jones, MFA’s natural resources conservation specialist. “By letting that cover crop mature and get as tall as possible before you terminate, you’re adding more plant material to that field. And the more plant material you add, the faster you will see results of using cover crops.”

While it may seem counter-intuitive to plant while there’s still another crop in the ground, this management technique can offer both soil health and logistical advantages. Of the cover crop producers surveyed in 2020 by USDA, 68% report­ed better soil moisture management when planting green, and more than half said it helped them plant earlier than they could in fields that didn’t have cover crops.

“When the cover crop is allowed to grow longer, it provides greater above- and below-ground biomass, which helps to increase water infiltration and reduce surface runoff and soil erosion,” Jones said. “Farmers can often plant sooner in the spring because the living cover crop helps keep the soil warmer and drier.”

In addition, 70% of the cover crop survey respondents said planting green improved their weed control. When actively growing, cover crops compete with weeds for light, nutrients and water, Jones explained, and then the terminated residue continues to physically suppress weeds by creating a barrier and blocking light from reaching the soil surface. Following up with recom­mended passes of residual herbicides will be needed later in the season, he added.

On his farm, Jones said he prefers to plant green and then terminate the cover crop within a few days, if conditions allow. Pulling the planter at an angle across the rows of rye helps knock back the cover crop until he can get it sprayed.

“I want that cover crop to go down and stay down once I plant, so it needs to be terminated fairly quickly,” he said. “If you give the rye a chance to stand back up, your soybeans will take a hit from losing sunlight. Also, you want that residue down on the ground as much as possible for weed control. I typically want to spray less than three or four days after planting. The only way I would plant into the cover crop and let it grow with the soybeans for a while is if I had an ability to roll it down—and there are a lot of farmers who successfully do that.”

In his experience, Jones said there have been no yield losses associated with the practice on his farm. In fact, he’s often seen slight yield increases compared to other fields where cover crops were terminated earlier in their growth stages. Industry data and grower surveys corroborate that observation.

“All the research will tell you there is not a yield penalty, which I believe to 100% be correct,” Jones said. “If anything, a lot of them will show a bushel or two yield bump. There’s a couple of reasons why. The cover crops are utilizing extra nitrate out of the soil profile, which forces the soybeans to work a little bit harder to fix their nitrogen. That’s a good thing. Also, the residue on the soil surface helps prevent those dry periods. Soybeans are not nearly as deeply rooted as cereal rye, so pre­serving that moisture in the upper part of the profile is pretty critical.”

Planting into living cover crops isn’t that much different from planting into other no-till or even conventionally tilled condi­tions, Jones added. Success largely depends on good seed-to-soil contact.

“Even with that much residue and biomass on top of the ground, the mechanics of planting are going to be the same,” he said. “We still need to open the slot. We still need to place the seed accurately, maintain it in the trench, and then close it back up correctly to get good germination and emergence.”

Planter setup is key to making sure those steps happen, ac­cording to Lucas Brass, soil conservationist with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in northeast Missouri. Both the planter and attachments need to be in good condition and properly adjusted, he said, accounting for the thickness of the standing cover and field conditions.

“When you go into rye or any type of thick cover, you have to get it out of the way,” Brass said. “You want to have good sharp openers that will cut through the cover and avoid pushing residue down into your seed trench. You also need a good seed firmer to make sure you’re getting that seed down in the bottom of the trench. The closing wheels are also important. There are lot of options out there. Make sure you have something that works in your fields.”

If growers have not tried planting green in the past, Jones recommends they start by seeding soybeans into cereal rye. Planting corn into a living cover crop is pos­sible, he said, but takes more advanced management.

“Typically, when planting green with corn, you want a much more balanced cover crop mix, something that is not as cereal grain dominated,” Jones explained. “It should have wheat or oats or something like that but also species with a lower carbon-to-nitrogen ratio such as winter peas, canola or crimson clover. You’re trying to balance the biomass on the ground so you don’t cannibalize all your nitrogen for the year. Planting soybeans into cereal rye works in most fields the first time you try it. With corn, it means a little more give and take.”

Planting green is an allowed practice under Risk Management Agency guidelines, Brass pointed out. Growers should check with their crop insurance agent or USDA office to make sure they are following the planting and termination parameters set for their areas.

Back on his family farm, Jones is gearing up for another season of planting green. Last year, he said about 80% of his soybeans were planted into standing rye. This year, he intends for that number to be 100%.

“Erosion control, weed sup­pression, moisture management, increased organic matter—the benefits of planting green definite­ly outweigh the concerns, as long as you’re doing everything right,” Jones said. “I have yet to see a downside. Don’t be afraid to try it.”

For more information on inte­grating cover crops into your crop production strategies, contact your local NRCS office or MFA affiliate or email Adam Jones at ajones@ mfa-inc.com.

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Inaugural MFA conference gives young producers an opportunity to learn new business skills, gain co-op education

Some 75 young farmers participated in the first-ever Emerging Leaders in Agriculture conference, hosted by MFA Incorporated and MFA Oil Jan. 11-13 in Osage Beach, Mo.

The program was designed to help professional pro­ducers between the ages of 21 and 45 to better manage and grow their agricultural businesses while offering peer networking opportunities. Attendees from Missouri, Arkansas and Kansas heard from a stellar slate of agri­business experts and discussed issues and challenges facing agriculture, cooperatives and rural America.

“The biggest reason we wanted to come to this conference was to meet other farmers and see what they’re doing in their operations,” said Mylie Schupback, who attended the event with her fiancé, Luke Farrell of Clarence, Mo. “I think we can get pretty close-minded in our own farms, so it’s good to take home ideas on how we can grow and expand our operation. We’re both 22 years old, so we’ve got a lot to learn.”

“We came out of college knowing that our intentions were to come back to the farm and take over some years down the road,” Farrell added. “We want to get all the knowledge that we can before that day comes.”

The conference kicked off with a session led by Donnell Brown, a fifth-generation rancher who owns and manages the R.A. Brown Ranch in Throckmorton, Texas. Brown encouraged the young producers in the audience to run their farms like businesses, strategically planning to man­age risk and future challenges.

Natasha Cox, regional vice president of ag lending for Farm Credit Mid-America, spoke about what lenders expect from farmers and what farmers should expect of their lenders, while Dr. Keri Jacobs, who holds the MFA Chair in Agribusiness at the University of Missouri, explained the cooperative business model and outlined benefits of co-op membership.

Sara Wyant, founder and president of Agri-Pulse Com­munications, Inc., examined “hot topics in our nation’s capital.” She provided an outlook on important legislative actions, including talks on the Farm Bill, which expires in 2023. She encouraged attendees to educate themselves on the issues affecting their operations and engage with their local, state and federal government officials to keep them aware of how their decisions impact agriculture.

Attorney Connie Haden, a partner at the law firm of Haden & Colbert in Columbia, Mo., discussed the importance of farm succession planning and the pitfalls for families who aren’t proactive in having this often-uncomfortable conversation. She also discussed how farm businesses could be structured for simplicity, lia­bility protection and tax advantages.

David Parker, an agribusiness consultant who moderated the entire conference, led strategic planning exercises for attendees on the second day. He urged participants to develop a business plan for their farm’s future and include what they would need to do to make their dream a reality.

The meeting wrapped up with a panel discussion by the conference hosts, featuring MFA Incorporated President Ernie Verslues and Board Chairman Wayne Nichols along with MFA Oil President and CEO Jon Ihler and Board Chairman Glen Cope. The presidents each gave an overview of their respective cooperatives, while the chairmen shared their experiences of serving on the board of directors.

Each panelist thanked the young farmers and ranchers for attending the event and encouraged them to get involved with their co-ops.

“You are the emerging leaders of our industry, and we need individuals such as you to be active in our organiza­tions,” Verslues said. “Whether it’s running for the board of directors and helping to make important decisions or simply having conversations about where we’re going in the future, I’d ask that you get involved and help do your part to promote your cooperative.”

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Feb2022 Today's Farmer

The family that shows together

Houseful of youngsters and barnful of pigs create a winning combination at V12 Farms
By Andrew B. Church

2021 Turnaround
Profitable, productive year reported at MFA annual meeting

By Allison Jenkins

The year in review - as printed via flip book
Opportunities and challenges of 2021

Notice of district meetings of MFA Incorporated
(link to the printed official notice)

Diversify your forage portfolio
Adding warm-season options to pastures and hayfields can improve performance and production

By Allison Jenkins

Crop insurance: a vital input to consider in 2022
Managing risk is a smart strategy

By Mike Smith

Q&A with MFA - as printed via Flipbook
Learn more about your cooperative leaders

By Tim Brand

Supplement with sulfur for plant growth, health
Need for this key crop nutrient has increased, due in part to reduced air pollution

By Scott Wilburn

Healthy as a horse? Only with proper nutrition
Balanced diets should include essential nutrients in proper amounts

By Dr. Jim White

Country Corner

Co-ops continue to thrive under 100-year-old law

By Allison Jenkins


Expect economic growth to continue in 2022
Wessler recognized as ‘Hunger Hero’
Western Farm Show returns for 60th season

Corn: Volatility likely as traders eye South America
Soybeans: Exports lower than last year
Cattle: Higher prices ahead
Wheat: Keeping watch on winter conditions

Recipes - As Printed on Flipbook of magazine

BUY, sell, trade

Supply chain remains fragile

By Ernie Verslues

Closing Thought (Link to as printed art)
Additional Content - Poet Walter Bargen discusses the 2021 closing thoughts on YouTube.

CLICK HERE or the image below to read the flipbook version of the Feb. 2022 Today's Farmer.

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Houseful of youngsters and barnful of pigs create a winning combination at V12 Farms

DOZENS OF BARN CATS ARE AMONG the welcom­ing committee for visitors to V12 Family Farms near Elkland, Mo. A black billy goat will also likely be milling about, munching on hay or whatever else he can find. Turkeys will be gobbling around the property, haughtily strutting past mere chickens. Indeed, animals of all kinds find refuge at this farm.

It’s also home to nine enthusiastic, energetic, multi-talented kids, who can usually be found tending to those animals or dutifully performing other chores—each with his or her own area of responsibility.

To anyone else, it may seem like a petting zoo. To the Vinyard family, it’s just any other day on the farm, where they raise purebred Yorkshire, Duroc, Landrace, spotted and crossbred hogs for show rings across the country.

In all, Jim and Tammy Vinyard have a total of 12 children. After Tammy gave birth to their third child, the Vinyards decided they were done with pregnancy, but they were most certainly not done having children. They adopted nine more sons and daughters in the years that followed.

“Everybody’s got a little bitty niche or a calling in the world,” Jim said. “We feel that these children are our niche. Now, it’s not like we’ve gone out and done some great, spectacular thing, but we give back to the world in our own little way.”

It is a tremendous commitment to raise multiple chil­dren—let alone 12—but Tammy said she’s always tried to help anchor the kids in a home of solidarity.

“The kids never got off a bus without Mom being there,” she said, adding that Jim’s patience, work ethic and other virtues also help ground the children in consis­tent expectations.

“Giving my children responsibilities around the farm really plays a huge part in bringing the family together,” Jim said. “I try to teach every one of these kids that noth­ing is free. If you want to show pigs next June, you need to breed that sow in September. She’s got to have pigs in December and January. And you’ve got to take care of them, or you won’t have anything to show.”

The show pig circuit is fiercely competitive, from small-scale events, like local fairs, to large-scale national competitions. Judging is equally as arduous and nuanced, with consideration given to the exhibitor’s eye contact and animal control along with physical characteristics of the pig and many other areas. Showing pigs is a primary focus for each of the Vinyard kids. And they take it very seriously.

“You can’t imagine how many hours upon hours they spend with these animals before they ever go to the show,” Jim said. “They have to teach them to walk. They have to teach them how to handle, to load and unload. I’ve seen some other kids at fairs fight for 30 minutes to get their pigs in their trailers. My kids just hold the door open, and the pigs walk in, curl up in the trailer, turn around and look at you like, ‘We’re ready to go.’”

The Vinyard children have collectively won dozens of awards, from Junior Show Supreme Champion Pure­bred Boar and Top Junior Exhibitor Herdsman at the Laclede County Fair in Lebanon, Mo., to the prestigious and highly coveted Ozark Empire Fair Champion Boar award, which comes with a custom belt buckle.

“We’re proud of every one of our kids,” Tammy said. “We’re proud of their accomplishments and to see how far they’ve come. Every one of them has their own strengths, and I’m glad God sent them to us.”

While some of the secrets to their success have to do with performance in the arena, hog genetics, the exhib­itor’s presence of mind and other subtleties, there are still other things that can’t be purchased for or taught to a pig.

“One of the most important things is that bond of trust you build with your pig,” said 15-year-old Jazmen, one of the Vinyard siblings. “You scratch them and love on them. I like to feed them marshmallows and Oreos. You get what you put in, and they love me.”

That personal attention is how they get the pigs into the trail­ers or pens so easily, Jim said, and it’s also one of the reasons why the family wins so often. But there are also myriad other tips and tricks that go into preparation and training, such as walking the show pigs through tall grass to get them to pick up their heads.

“In the end, though, you’ve got to have three things right to win: genetics, care and feed,” Jim said. “You take any one of the three away, and you’ve got nothing. You can send me a T-bone steak, and I can make hamburger out of it. But if you send me a hamburger, I cannot make a T-bone steak. And that’s the way it is with pigs; you have to have all three to make it work.”

With respect to genetics, one of the older Vinyard sons, Mark, works closely with his younger brothers and sisters to source specific genetics to help breed the highest potential into V12 Family Farms’ show pigs.

“He does a lot to help find the right purebred semen for our gilts,” Tammy said. “He looks all over Missouri, all over the country. He was bound and determined to find a boar that could improve the depth on our gilts.”

But, as Jim said, you can have the best genetics in the world and still not do well in the arena. You still need care and nutri­tion to get the pigs in the best possible shape for show.

“The kids do 90% of the work caring for the pigs and doing their best at show. Mark does 9% by sourcing the right genetics. And I just kind of show up with buckets,” Jim said.

As for the nutritional side of their program, the family relies on MFA’s Ring Leader line of show feeds.

“If you get a baby pig from us right now, you would need to go get a (Ring Leader) pellet starter kit for them,” said Junior Vinyard, 15. “You would want to get the pig up to 50 to 100 pounds before moving to the next step of show feed. You can also get all kinds of additives that help bring out certain quali­ties in the pigs, to bloom them out.”

The Vinyards haven’t always used MFA Ring Leader, Jim said, but they knew better nutrition could help them do better at shows. Based on advice from Greg Davis, MFA livestock spe­cialist and show hog expert, the family switched to the specialty show feeds.

“I met Jim back when he was buying a bag of MFA swine pre­mix at the local MFA Agri Services,” Greg said. “He was follow­ing the label directions on the feed tag, mixing feed and doing a really good job. But he also knew that their feeding program was pretty basic. So, we took a bigger step onto the Ring Leader line of feed, while also staying economical. We’re trying to reach that full potential of the genetics with the nutrition from Ring Leader.”

MFA Ring Leader Show Swine feed comes in several different formulations, which target specific traits, maturation stages and special needs of each breed. It also comes with MFA Shield Technology, all-natural proprietary additives that help get the gut healthy and keep it healthy.

Greg said he has seen firsthand how the change in diet re­shaped the Vinyard show hog development and performance.

“We never want to see the pig have a bad day,” Greg said. “MFA Ring Leader has proteins that are highly digestible. Unlike bovines, pigs are monogastric, meaning they don’t ruminate. So you have only one shot to get show hogs to their peak performance. Lysine and other protein-building blocks are blended in the feed to help the hogs build their own proteins. The nutrition Ring Leader feeds provide is what show hogs need to realize their full genetic potential.”

The process of raising show pigs is complex, he added, but a lot of it comes down to that old adage: “chance favors the prepared.”

“It’s all about keeping the pigs at their best,” Greg said. “You can’t start with a bad hog and wind up with a good one. You can start with a good one and wind up with a bad one. You need to get a good pig and keep it good. The Ring Leader feeds help do just that by transitioning a baby pig from an animal protein—milk—to a vegetable protein—soy—which is what show pigs really do well on. So, if we give them a good start with the right feed, then we’ve got a lot better chance at that 290-pound winner.”

Greg doesn’t just sell feed. He invests a lot of his time in getting the Vinyards and other customers ready for competition, from tailoring feeds to leading showmanship clinics to pre-show coaching at fairs.

“It is very satisfying when you know somebody has worked at it and done everything they could be successful,” Greg said. “There’s a lot of pride. At show, the kids are in the bleachers or along the fence cheering this one or that one on, and you can’t beat that. They’re not out on the swing set across the road. They’re not out throwing a football. They’re in there supporting each other, and that is very rewarding to me to see.”

It all starts on the farm. For the Vinyards, showing pigs is their passion, and they’re very aware that they need each other to succeed. Each sibling has his or her own skillset to contrib­ute. For example, Junior excels at showing pigs, while Jazmen has an intuitive sense for animal illnesses and their general well­being. Jameson, 14, takes the lead with the spotted pigs, which are notoriously difficult in the arena.

“It takes more than just one person,” Jazmen said. “Without the farrowing, you wouldn’t have the pigs. But without the feed­ing, you wouldn’t get them to the show.”

“And, if you didn’t have the breeding, you wouldn’t have the farrowing,” Jim added. “It’s a giant circle.”

What makes the family successful is each other, Tammy said, with a pride only a mother of 12 can know. As the Vinyard chil­dren showcased their most prestigious awards and trophies on the rustic farmhouse kitchen table, they all looked at them with a pride only a showman can know.

“When I see these awards, I see a lot of memories—good and bad,” Jazmen recalled. “You see what you put all your hard work into, and you see that it actually went somewhere.”

For Junior, his perspective on the awards—especially the Ozark Empire Fair belt buckle—orbits around his own personal performance in the arena.

“Showmanship is my favorite part,” said Junior, who, ac­cording to his mother, has always been quick to take on more responsibility. “You’re hunched over the whole time, hoping your pig stays focused, and keeping eye contact with the judge. It takes a lot of work, but it’s fun.”

The young man also has developed a more philosophical mindset about showing pigs.

“It’s knowing that whenever you step into the arena, you’re already a champion,” Junior said. “It doesn’t matter if you win, because you’ve already won by getting there. So, it just matters that you do it.”

Success in the show ring ultimately comes down to a com­mitment that, Greg said, can only be learned through being a responsible herdsman.

“If you have a parent that does it all for the kid, that’s wrong,” he said. “Then the kid doesn’t get the full potential out of what the show hog project’s about and doesn’t learn the responsibility. A lot of people don’t get to see the reality of life and death—things you’ve got to learn. That what the barn is: a place to learn about life.”

Jim and Tammy Vinyard built a farm and grew children. But, like show hogs, parents can’t just feed their kids and put them to bed. It’s about total commitment.

“There’s a huge spiritual backbone in this house,” Jim said. “I believe that’s our purpose in life—that God sent us these kids because they needed us.”

He sat back and folded his napkin thoughtfully at the family dinner table.

“It all goes back to something my father said: ‘A family that eats together, prays together and cries together will stay togeth­er.’ That pretty much sums up what we’re trying to do here.”

For more information about MFA’s Ring Leader Feed or get­ting started with show pigs, visit mfa-inc.com/Swine.


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