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Feeding the future

Show Me Youth Ag Academy provides immersive education in livestock production

With seven consecutive state championships from 2011 to 2017, Lamar, Mo., is known as a football powerhouse. The high school has topped the Class 2 tournament bracket a total of 13 times and was second in the state in 2021. At press time in late November, Lamar’s football team was competing for the state title once again.
But if proponents of the Show Me Youth Ag Academy have their way, Lamar will soon be known as a powerhouse in agricultural education as well. The one-of-a-kind program is in its second year of providing interactive, in-depth learning opportunities for high school juniors and seniors who are interested in animal science and ag business.

“My family has a small beef farm, about 40 head, so it’s really neat to get to learn how to do some things that we don’t do at home,” said Kinder Standley, a junior at Sheldon High School and a first-year academy student. “There’s nothing else like this type of program, and I knew I’d be missing out if I didn’t do it. I’m really glad I did.”

Founded by local businessman Danny Little along with other individuals in the community, the academy is a fully functioning ranching and feedlot enterprise operating on a 160-acre farm with breeding stock that includes commercial cows, Akaushi (red Wagyu) bulls and the latest in livestock equipment and technology. Little also donated the use of his nearby 400-head-capacity feedlot for training.

Some 15 students from area schools served by the Lamar Career and Technical Center are taking part in the program, which combines classroom instruction with on-farm lessons in beef production, economics, sales, marketing and more. The idea is to cover all aspects of the beef industry, from “conception to chef,” according to Tammy Bartholomew, the academy’s executive director.

“Students today want to see how they can use their education in the future,” Bartholomew said. “They’ve got to see value in what they’re learning. That’s why career training is so important. The academy gives them a taste of what the beef industry is really like before they go to college or enter the workforce.”
From its official launch in the spring of 2021, the Show Me Youth Ag Academy went rapidly from idea to reality. Bartholomew was hired “on the spot” in late May 2021, farm development started that July, and the first classes were held that August with Lamar High School students.

The academy’s feedlots are filled with F1 Akaushi/commercial calves that are primarily black and red Angus crosses obtained through a grower partner program. The academy uses high-quality fullblood Akaushi bulls that have been obtained with funds donated by Little and provided free of charge to the academy’s grower partners. Bartholomew and the students are involved in the bull selection process this year as part of their program training.
Akaushi are a specialty breed of cattle also known as Japanese red, one of the four Wagyu breeds. Akaushi are known for producing beef with superior marbling, a rich buttery taste and extreme tenderness.

“There is no better tasting beef than what the academy and their partners are raising,” Little said. “It’s absolutely incredible.”
When the grower partners wean their calves, they are then sold at a healthy premium to the academy and placed in the feedlot, where they are grown to a finished stage. The academy’s goal is to partner with young farmers in the area to help them get started. The youngest partner is only 8 years old and hopes to be a student of the academy one day.

The Show Me Youth Ag Academy blends Little’s entrepreneurial background with a passion for farming and desire to see his community thrive. The retired community bank president said he knows firsthand that agriculture is the driving force behind the local economy.

“I wanted to help introduce area students to a hands-on education program that would expose them to a complete agricultural enterprise and show the many opportunities for great jobs in the sector without owning a farm themselves,” said Little, who also owns Redneck Blinds, an outdoor equipment manufacturer in Lamar. “Having experience in the latest technology, business management and entrepreneurial problem-solving can only give our students a leg up when entering the workforce. With the combination of Ms. Bartholomew’s experience and the vision and diversity of the academy’s board of directors, I believe this program will develop into an ever-evolving model that other communities will look to replicate.”

Even though the program is still in its infancy, the academy seems to be well on its way to fulfilling that purpose. Participating student Wyatt Cawyer, a senior at Jasper High School, said he wants to become a ranch manager or take over his family farm. Nick Moore, a senior at Lamar High, plans to attend nearby Crowder College and major in agriculture. Annabell Crabtree, a senior at Liberal High School, intends to make a career in animal science, focusing on reproductive technology.

“I’m looking forward to working with the vets to breed our heifers and seeing the results,” Crabtree said. “I love the hands-on aspect of this program. You could sit all day in a classroom and have teachers tell you how something is done, but it doesn’t really make as much sense until you’re right there doing it. And we’re definitely right there.”

Enrolling in the Show Me Youth Ag Academy doesn’t preclude these students from being part of their high school’s agriculture programs. In fact, the academy works in unison with the schools, integrating lessons and activities with each agriculture program’s curriculum and schedules.

“We aren’t taking these students away from their ag classes. They still get to be a part of their own ag program with their own ag teachers,” said Bartholomew, who has experience both in the classroom and on the farm. “I’ve taught agriculture for 36 years, and I wouldn’t want kids stolen from me. We’ve worked out a way where they can do both. The academy is like a class within a class, and I’m just a facilitator in their education.”

For Sheldon agriculture instructor Morgan Compton, the academy provides advanced opportunities for her upper-level animal science class that the school itself does not offer. She has three students participating in the program this year.

“We have a shop and a greenhouse, but we don’t have any animal-based facilities,” Compton said. “This definitely gives us a hands-on side to everything I’m teaching in the classroom.”

A typical day at the Show Me Youth Ag Academy could begin with a college-level lesson on the reproductive cycle of cattle and end with an experiential activity in breeding synchronization. This fall, the students have been focused on heifer development, choosing a select number of the Akaushi-cross females to keep for their breeding herd. They’re also learning to score cattle in the feedlot and ultrasound the finished animals for marbling before they head to market.

Along with an immersive education in animal science, the students are responsible for the business side of the operation, too, such as developing grower partnerships, managing the accounting and financing, and even advertising and marketing the finished product. Bartholomew said she also intends to incorporate a research element into the curriculum to help students stay on the cutting edge of beef production technology.

“I want these kids to find their passion and then get the skill sets that they need to be really good at it,” she said. “It’s about getting them ready for the industry. That’s why I’m insistent on them making as many decisions as possible and taking pride in this operation as if it were their very own. Yes, these are high school kids, but they’re young adults, and they can make those decisions with the right training and guidance.”

Agronomy is also an important part of the process, Bartholomew added. The students raised corn silage and native prairie hay this year and are responsible for maintaining pastures on the academy farm.

“MFA was really good to donate mapping services,” she said. “They did soil testing and grid sampling for us on the silage acreage and all the pastures. Then (precision agronomist) Grant Strothkamp and (crop consultant) Sam Hiserodt came in and worked with my kids for two days on how to read those reports and made recommendations on what we should be thinking about doing as soon as possible as well as long term.”

The academy operates as a non-profit 501C3 corporation and is governed by its own independent board of directors, which includes local farmers, ranchers, educators, Extension staff and businesspeople. All proceeds from the sale of livestock and beef by the academy will be used for future business operating expenses as well as scholarships and charitable activities on a local, regional and national level. This philanthropic aspect is near and dear to Little’s heart.

“Besides ag education, I also wanted it to be something that would help the community and teach kids the importance of giving of themselves to others,” Little said.

“For example, last week we delivered 400 pounds of Wagyu roasts to the Area Agency on Aging down in Joplin, and they’re going to serve it to senior citizens during the holiday season. So, this program is a combination of both education and charitable giving, not only creating opportunities for youth but also helping a lot of needy people in southwest Missouri.”

As the academy continues to evolve, Bartholomew says growing pains are inevitable, but, like Little, she’s a firm believer in its mission. She has big plans for the future, such as putting together a producer advisory board, bringing other schools into the program, seeking internships for academy students and hosting a regional symposium this summer.

“As long as we keep the focus on what’s most important, which is the kids, that’s what matters,” Bartholomew said. “Building something like this from scratch has been stressful, and it’s a huge responsibility. But I believe we’re at a pivotal point with the academy, and we’re going to see great things ahead for our students and this community.”

For more information, visit the Show Me Youth Ag Academy on Facebook or look for its website soon to be launched at showmeag.org.

Read more in this Dec/Jan2023 issue of Today’s Farmer


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Call to Duty

What does it mean to be a volunteer firefighter and first responder?

For some, it is a calling. For others, it’s a passion. For many, it is heritage, passed down through the generations. Their call to duty is greatly needed yet often yields little recognition for the countless hours spent saving lives and protecting the property of rural Missourians.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, three out of four Missouri firefighters are volunteer, often serving their communities while working full-time jobs or managing their own businesses. These volunteers receive no money for their service, and their districts are largely dependent on donations and grants—not tax dollars—to run and maintain their equipment and operations.

“Volunteer firefighters make tremendous sacrifices of their personal time on behalf of their fellow citizens,” said Don Fontana, vice president of the Prairie Home Rural Fire Protection District Board. “These people volunteer during their off hours to serve others. There are many volunteer organizations around, but the difference is that rural and volunteer firefighters are called upon at any time of day or night, in any kind of weather, all year long.”

The MFA Charitable Foundation has a long history of fulfilling donation requests made by fire departments across Missouri. Because of the ongoing needs of rural fire districts, MFA launched its Volunteer Fire Grant in 2019. This first-of-its-kind program has awarded nearly $100,000 over the past three years to fire and rescue entities across the state. The University of Missouri Fire and Rescue Training Institute (MU FRTI), helps MFA by providing administrative oversight of the grant program. 

“It seems there’s never enough funding for a fire department, but in rural areas, that’s really, truly the case,” said Gail Hagans-Reynolds, FRTI educational program coordinator. “When there isn’t a municipality to pay the bills, even the smallest amount of funding can make a big difference.” 

MU FRTI is the sixth-oldest state-level fire training program in the United States. The Institute’s mission is to provide effective, standards-based, quality training and education for emergency responders. Training includes structural, wildland and aircraft firefighting; emergency medical care; technical rescue; environmental emergency mitigation; fire service instructor and company officer development; counterterrorism; emergency management; and emergency planning and exercise evaluation. Each hour of training translates directly into safer firefighters and safer communities. 

For 2022, the MFA Charitable Foundation board of trustees has approved $50,000 for the grant program. The application period runs from Oct. 1 through Nov. 30, with winning districts notified in February 2023 of their award.
The MFA Fire Grant focuses on addressing the needs of the fire service who will benefit the most. Depending on the availability of funds, the goal is to award grants to at least one recipient in each of the nine Fire Mutual Aid Regions in Missouri.
To highlight the service of these unsung heroes, Today’s Farmer is featuring four districts that were awarded a grant last year and how they are using the funds to protect others as well as themselves. 

Glasgow Fire District 
A third-generation firefighter, Glasgow Fire District (GFD) Chief Jayce Olendorff is proud to say that being a firefighter is in his blood. His grandfather served almost 40 years, his father served 44 years, his uncle joined in the 1970s and his cousin serves alongside him today.

“It is something I have always wanted to do, and I’m passionate about it,” Olendorff said.
Passion only goes so far when it comes to being a volunteer firefighter in a rural community. Lack of funding, equipment and manpower are realities but cannot be “an excuse to not get the job done,” Olendorff explained.

“It certainly does create more work and stressful situations, but you have to find a way,” the fire chief said. “We really take pride in doing more with less.” 

Emergency service requires expensive and custom-built equipment to handle dangerous situations safely and successfully. Training to the highest standards is another huge component. The hours of training are vital to keep firefighters safe but can be overwhelming when they are volunteers who also work a full-time job or run a business.

“When rescuing someone from a burning building or a car wreck or helping someone experiencing a medical emergency, they don’t care if you are a volunteer or career firefighter,” Olendorff said. “They need us to take the worst experience of their life and make it better. It takes so much work and time, but we strive to be the best and to come home safely to our families.”

The MFA grant Glasgow received this year was used to purchase a pair of turnout pants and a coat that had previously been removed from the budget. The beneficiary of the equipment is Trace Thompson, who is a full-time student at the University of Missouri and a member of the United States Army National Guard. The state-of-the-art gear is tailor-made to fit, which reduces fatigue and provides maximum protection.

“We are replacing all our outdated personal protective equipment (PPE). Rather than wiping out our entire budget by replacing it all at once, we have been outfitting two to three firefighters who were in the most need each year,” Olendorff explained. “We had planned on purchasing three sets of PPE in 2022, but to cover the high cost of fuel, the district moved money from the operating budget, which eliminated the funds for one full set of new gear. This grant kept the Glasgow Fire District on track with our replacement cycle.”

There are two other families, the Beelers and the Nevilles, who now have a third generation contributing service to the GFD.
“It really says something great about our department to keep bringing in the next generation,” Olendorff said. “I have three daughters, and they are growing up with the same station I did. Maybe they’ll be the fourth generation.”

St. James Fire Protection District 
In the beautiful rolling hills of Missouri’s wine country, the St. James Fire Protection District (SJFPD) faces one of the same key issues as many other rural departments—a lack of volunteers. 

“It seems like it’s harder and harder to find volunteers, which means we run some calls with very few people,” St. James Fire Chief John Douglas said. “We, along with several departments around us, rely on mutual aid to assist with some calls due to everyone having lack of volunteers.” 

And like other rural volunteer departments, SJFPD fulfills big needs on a small budget.

“We make what we get each year stretch as far as possible,” Douglas said. “We cover roughly 250 square miles with a mixture of farmland and residential. We rely on grants to be able to upgrade tools and purchase new equipment. Our budget only goes so far and doesn’t leave much room to make big purchases.” 

With the help of the 2022 MFA Volunteer Fire Grant, SJFPD was able to purchase two PRO/paks, a convenient, self-contained system used for foam application. When attached to the fire hose, the PRO/pak produces a dense foam that helps with vapor suppression and longevity.

“We used the PRO/pak a few times at training classes and realized how efficient they were,” Douglas said. “Currently we do not have an engine that has a foam tank on it, so we would have to get out the bucket of foam and the induction tube and nozzle, and it was quite a lengthy setup. With the PRO/pak, we can be flowing foam within a couple of minutes, which is a huge asset when fighting fire. It also doesn’t require more than one person to set it up and use it.” 

According to the United States Fire Administration, a division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 85% of Missouri’s fire departments are volunteer and 15% are career.

“People don’t realize that most fire departments in Missouri are volunteer departments,” Douglas said. “Those volunteers have families, work full-time jobs and still make time to run calls to assist citizens in their communities. The St. James Fire Protection District is made up a great group of volunteers who have dedicated a lot of time—10, 20 and even 30 years.”

Prairie Home Rural Fire Protection District 
Helping those who help others. That’s how Don Fontana views his role of vice president of the Prairie Home Rural Fire Protection District (PHRFPD) Board.

“I injured my back when I was in my early 20s and never considered volunteering as a firefighter or first responder because of the injury,” Fontana said. “When I was asked to serve on the board in 2018, I was happy to give back to my community in that way.”

“I suspect there are a lot of people who, like me, don’t realize there is a need for any kind of help, even on boards. I cannot overemphasize how committed our volunteer firefighters and first responders are,” he added. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for all of them and for everything they do to support our community.” 

Headquartered in this small, rural community southeast of Boonville, PHRFPD serves approximately 80 square miles of primarily agricultural land, farm residences, the city of Prairie Home and its homes and businesses. It is also responsible for the pass-through traffic traveling on Highway 87 and several lettered routes. With an annual operating budget of slightly under $34,000, Fontana said the PHRFPD must be extremely frugal.

The district was awarded an MFA grant this year for $800 and received $2,000 in 2019. With the funding, the district purchased two top-handle chainsaws with 14-inch bars to aid in fighting brush fires. Two generators, a wire kit, four dual-head LED work lights (two for each generator), and eight heavy-duty extension cords were bought to be used primarily for lighting accident scenes. 

In 2019, the district used its MFA grant money to buy three lifting air bags and accessories to assist with accident rescues. The low uninflated profile of the bags allows them to be quickly deployed to lift or level vehicles or farm equipment. 

“The grants our department have received from MFA are greatly appreciated,” Fontana said. “The difference made by the equipment purchases funded by the grants has improved safety for our volunteer firefighters and first responders. It also provides us the tools to better serve the residents and visitors to our service area if they require an emergency response.” 
Mayview Fire Protection District 

Kris White, chief of Mayview Fire Protection District (MFPD), was excited to receive the MFA Fire Grant this year to purchase a grain bin rescue kit, but he hopes the department’s first responders never have to use it.

“We are a rural area and have many old grain bins out here,” White said. “Our crew has been through all the training and state certification, but we never had the equipment. Now we do. I’d rather not use it, but if you need it, you need it.” 
The kit is designed to be adaptable to many different rescue scenarios involving grain bins, where a person can be in trouble in a matter of minutes. Moving grain is like quicksand, and its suction can quickly entrap someone and cause asphyxiation. Even with grain bin rescue equipment, White said, it takes manpower to get someone out.

“That’s the biggest thing,” he said. “You have to call everyone because the rescue takes so many people.” 

Most of MFPD’s calls are medical, White explained. With no hospital or police station in the town of 200, the department’s first responders are a vital part of the community.

“We are running probably 12 calls a month,” White said, who has been the fire chief for 12 years. “For fires, we provide mutual aid to other departments. If they have a call, we go and help because everybody’s shorthanded.”
White operates a metal fabrication shop in Mayview, so he is usually the first to respond to emergency situations. Many of the other volunteer firefighters work in the Kansas City area and are not available during the day. Relying on neighboring districts is crucial.

He was only 14 when he answered the call to duty, with his father and stepdad as role models and fellow volunteer firefighters. At age 16, White participated in the National Volunteer Fire Council Junior Firefighter Program. The program helps attract young people into the emergency services, whether as a first responder or as a community supporter. 

White spends at least 20 hours a month on his volunteer firefighter duties. In addition to calls, there are monthly board meetings, training two nights a month, equipment maintenance paperwork, grant writing and fundraising.

“My wife actually helps with writing grants and donations,” White said. “The wives formed the Ladies Auxiliary, which supports our efforts. Don’t raise your hand if you don’t want to do it.”
Like many other volunteer firefighters, the service becomes part of who they are, he added.

“When you look at family photos, someone always has a radio or pager on,” White said. “You may be getting ready to go to Thanksgiving dinner, and the radio goes off. You head off to the emergency as your family goes to Thanksgiving without you. It’s a calling, I guess you’d say.”

If you know of a volunteer fire department in your community that could benefit from these grants, encourage their members to email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit online at https://extension.missouri.edu/programs/mu-fire-and-rescue-training-institute/about-frti/mfa-volunteer-fire-grant for more information.

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In this November 2022 issue

Call to duty - Cover Story
MFA grants help volunteer firefighters better serve their communities

by Jessica Ekern

Q&A with MFA director Jim Novinger
Learn more about your cooperative leaders

All over for OTC
Remaining nonprescription livestock antibiotics will soon only be available through veterinarians

by Allison Jenkins

Ground-truthing the carbon market
MFA completes one pilot, starts new collaborations to explore opportunities in ecosystem credits

by Allison Jenkins

Building a healthy foundation
Braun farm uses MFA Shield Technology to help calves hit the ground running

by Jessica Ekern
Ready to recover
Take steps this fall to position stressed pastures, hay fields for a rally next spring

by Allison Jenkins

Less loss equals more nitrogen for your crop
MFA offers new options to help protect your fertilizer investment

by Cameron Horine

Are your cattle fit to ship?
Evaluate health, condition of animals before transport

by Dr. Jim White


Country Corner
Keep an attitude of gratitude this season

by Allison Jenkins

Know your SCN numbers?
Help is on the line
Farmers make it count this fall

Markets (as printed)
Corn: Yield estimates continue to decline
Soybeans: Exports, domestic demand remain strong
Cattle: Strong cow-calf profits ahead
Wheat: Drought threatens production in wheat regions

Recipes (as printed)
More than syrup

BUY, sell, trade (as printed)

Manage the cycle for success in the ‘new normal’
by Ernie Verslues.

Closing Thought
Poet Walter Bargen puts words to an interesting and beautiful image each month.
This month's photograph is by Morgan Limbach.

Flip book of the November 2022 Today's Farmer magazine
Click here or below to view the magazine as printed via a flip book.


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Q&A with MFA

Learn more about your cooperative leaders

This is a continuing series of interviews with MFA Incorporated’s board of directors to help members get to better know their cooperative’s leadership. In this edition, we feature District 3 director Jim Novinger of Kirksville, Mo., who runs a diversified farm with row-crop, beef cattle and feedlot operations.

When you look at MFA’s values statement, which one means the most to you and why?
Novinger: It’s hard to find any value that is more important than honesty. If customers don’t have trust in MFA—and we don’t have trust in them—then certainly it’s hard to move forward. Along with that comes the integrity to do what’s right if a problem does exist. As long as we’re looking out for our patrons just as we do our own jobs, I think we will remain successful and they will continue to have faith in us. How many times have we heard that without your word, you have nothing? It only takes a few times of losing that trust, and you’ll never get it back.

MFA ended its fiscal year in August with a strong financial performance. How has MFA been able to achieve positive results despite industry challenges?
Novinger: From the outset of this past year, everybody had the same frame of mind—we were going to roll up our sleeves and do whatever it was necessary to accomplish the goals we had in our strategic plan. I think a positive, can-do attitude had a lot to do with our success. Along with having a good year financially, MFA served farmers’ needs due to employees working on inventories, looking in other places to get certain products that we couldn’t find in our normal channels. We owe much of our success to those efforts. Of course, we got off to an awfully good fall last year and spread a lot of fertilizer. It seems to be a key to how well MFA’s year does if the farmer is able to get a good portion of inputs applied early and in the off-season.

As a diversified producer, you’ve had challenges in both the row-crop and cattle sectors. How has MFA helped farmers like you navigate those adversities?
Novinger: The local MFA employees, whether it’s the store manager or our agronomy and livestock KAMs (key account managers), have become a dependable source of information and have been able to satisfy my needs as a producer. For example, a year ago at this time, we didn’t know what we were going to do about certain herbicides because we didn’t have a source, or at least not our usual sources. It was true on the livestock side, too, with products like penicillin and certain vaccines. At the same time, commodities didn’t necessarily become unavailable, but they did become scarce enough that we had to refigure our rations. Thanks to MFA, none of these issues ended up being near as much of a problem as we thought, either by substitution or finding ways to get the products. As a producer—and member of the board—I felt good about that.

JimNovingerWhy are cooperatives like MFA still relevant in today’s agricultural marketplace? And why is it important for members to get involved?

Novinger: Most co-ops were started because of a need, whether it was ag inputs, like MFA’s business, or electricity and telephone service. Even though some of those needs have changed, co-ops continue to serve their members in that way. In addition, co-ops add competition to the marketplace, and as far as a producer is concerned, that never hurts anything. By getting involved in their co-ops, farmers can help management understand what’s really going on out in the country. I can tell you, as board members, we’re not afraid to give MFA management our unbiased opinions, and it helps everyone learn a lot of things that we may not otherwise know.

What have you learned about MFA during your tenure as director that you might not have learned without the closer involvement?
I’ve been around MFA since the late 1950s and early ’60s, but I was surprised to see how big its footprint was, how many facilities we have in areas that I really wasn’t familiar with, and how MFA serves farmers and customers all over Missouri and border states, too. I’ve been amazed at the complexity of this business and the number of important decisions that have to be made daily. I’ve learned so much from my time on the board, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

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About Today's Farmer magazine

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