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Faces of Farming

tannerAt age 36, Tanner Michael is the youngest — and one of the newest—members of MFA Incorporated’s board of directors, elected in 2022 to serve District 2 in the north-central area of MFA’s territory.

Raised on his family’s cattle and row-crop operation in Unionville, Mo., Michael earned an agribusiness degree from the University of Missouri and returned to the farm full time in 2011. Today, he farms with his father, Nick, and brother-in-law, Bennett, raising 1,200 acres of row crops and 100 head of feeder calves.

Michael and his wife, Kate, have two children, 4-year-old Grady and 7-month-old Nola (short for Magnolia). When he’s not farming, Michael enjoys pursuing his other passion—tractor pulling.

He spoke to Today’s Farmer in March after co-hosting MFA Incorporated’s delegate meeting for districts 1, 2 and 4 in Albany, Mo.
What made you want to return to the farm full time?

After college, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, so I worked a couple of jobs, one in trucking and one in the ag industry. In 2011, I had an opportunity to come back to the farm and pick up my own ground without competing for acreage with my dad. So that’s what I did. I always liked the sight of a freshly planted or harvested field, and I enjoy watching the crops and calves grow throughout the season. Plus, there’s a lot to be said for being your own boss and setting your own schedule.

What prompted you to serve on MFA Incorporated’s board?
In college, I wrote a senior essay on cooperatives, and that was one of the driving factors behind why I wanted to do business with MFA in the first place. As a co-op member, you actually have a stake in the company, unlike a lot of our competitors. When I was asked to run for the board, I felt like it would not only be a chance to see behind the curtain of MFA, so to speak, but also a good way to give back and represent the interests of farmers in my district, especially being a young farmer.

What are some of MFA’s most significant accomplishments during your first years on the board?
I’m just starting my third year as a director, but I’ve seen several changes and steps in the right direction. Gaining efficiencies has been a focus ever since I joined the board. Sites like Ravenwood and Higginsville are two examples—not spending money on outdated facilities but building something that’s going to be able to serve members well into the future. MFA Connect is another example. People today are used to things like online banking, so giving people access to their MFA account information at their fingertips and at their convenience is a smart move. There’s a new crop of people my age and younger who do business differently than the last generation. It’s important to connect with these members and show them the value of our co-op versus the competitor down the road.

What have you learned as a member of the MFA board that you might not have known without the closer involvement?
Every board meeting involves a good, productive roundtable discussion. If you have a concern or questions, everybody gets a chance to be heard, and everybody’s opinion is valued. Even though the directors all have very different perspectives, the board as a whole is focused on the future of MFA and able to see the big picture. And I really do believe that staff feels the same way.

What would be your advice to fellow farmers about getting involved with leadership at MFA or other ag organizations?
I’m president of our Putnam County Fair board, and it’s a young board. And what I tell them is that the more you get involved, the more it’s going to help you in life. Start in your local community, learn how boards work, and then step up from there, whether it be the county, region, state or even national level. Be a good listener, and when you speak, make sure it’s something important and on topic. The ones who step up and get involved are the ones who will have an advantage over those who don’t.

CLICK TO READ MORE FROM THE 2024 MAY ISSUE OF TODAY'S FARMER MAGAZINE.

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Beauty in bronze

Starting at age 4, Clay Gant has spent most of his life working with horses, as a farrier, exhibitor, owner and trainer. In 2000, at the age of 46, he decided to try his hand at sculpting them instead.

He’d taken no art classes. Never studied sculpture techniques. Had no experience in carving clay and casting bronze. But he had an entrepreneurial mindset, the courage to try something new and the faith that he could succeed.

“I’m 100% self-taught,” Clay said. “But I don’t consider myself to be an artist. I’m an artist in training. Actually, I’m a businessman who happens to be able to sculpt, and I’m still learning every day.”

He and his wife, Betty, operate Cowboy Bronze from their Rusty Spur Ranch in Cross Timbers, Mo., where they have built a reputation for creating exquisite bronze-plated statues that are coveted prizes and cherished pieces of art. By design, they focus on awards for equine shows and breed associations, inspired by the industry that gave them both careers.

“We showed hard and were on the road for many years, but we got to the point where we realized that the 401K for horse trainers is not very good, I don’t care how talented you are,” Clay said. “We needed a new avenue. Being around all these shows, we knew that the equine clientele was looking for something different when it came to their awards—something that was more detailed and better quality but still affordable. I had an idea of what that could be, but at the time, it didn’t exist. We made it exist.”

Clay’s vision didn’t materialize overnight. The first sculptures he completed never saw the light of day. “They were terrible,” he admitted. But he studiously worked to hone his craft and develop proprietary processes to achieve the result he imagined.

Turns out, he had natural talent for sculpting with an incredible eye for detail and an uncanny aptitude for capturing his subject’s movement and personality. Clay credits this ability to lessons learned from his parents.

“My dad taught me how to work with horses. My mom taught me how to love horses,” Clay said. “He was a cowboy’s cowboy from Colorado, an entrepreneur-type person who had me helping him break horses when I was 6 or 7 years old. She was the creative one who worked on my imagination. That’s where all this comes from. They showed me that anything was possible. You start with an idea. You fulfill what somebody needs. And you make it happen. That’s the American dream.”

Once Clay started turning out pieces he was pleased with, he and Betty took their venture on the road, setting up booths at the same horse shows where they previously competed. Their intricately detailed yet cost-effective awards were a hit, and business began to boom.

“Our name, Cowboy Bronze, is based on the idea that any cowboy can afford them,” Clay said. “That’s possible because of our manufacturing process, which is pure bronze plating over a resin core, but I do it differently from others in this industry. My technique keeps all the tiniest details intact so that it looks like high quality without the high cost.”

Even though the Gants have retired from showing and no longer have horses, they said Cowboy Bronze allows them to remain active in the equine community.
“We’re still winning. We’re still in that arena,” Clay said. “Every time someone wins one of our sculptures, it means something.”

Recently, Clay veered away from his equine focus to work with the new Missouri Agricultural Hall of Fame, which commissioned him to create the award for inductees. He collaborated with Hall of Fame committee members to design and produce the piece, which needed to represent Missouri’s diverse agricultural landscape.
Karri Wilson, Missouri State Fair Foundation executive director who spearheaded the project, owns and shows reining horses and was familiar with the Cowboy Bronze name. However, she didn’t realize the business was located here in Missouri.

“We wanted the award to be special, classy and top-of-the-line,” Karri said. “I knew Cowboy Bronze did really nice awards for horse show events, but I figured they were located out West somewhere. When I Googled the name, I couldn’t believe they were in Cross Timbers. I gave Clay a call, and he agreed to take on the commission. It just all came together, and the result is a truly unique award that is made right here in Missouri.”

From start to finish, the project took Clay about 60 hours to complete. The final design features a beef bull as the focal point of the statue surrounded by a base of wheat and corn. The bull, Karri said, embodies the strength and power of the state’s agricultural community. The wheat represents life, prosperity and regeneration, while the corn symbolizes connection to the land and the honesty, faith and stewardship of Missouri farmers. The award will only be given to Hall of Fame inductees and will not be available for sale, she added.

Clay didn’t have to look far to find the perfect model for the sculpture. He scouted the pastures of his neighboring farm, Lucas Oil Ranch, where a big, bold Simmental bull was waiting for his time to shine. The artist named him “Curley.”

“I knew this piece needed to have personality,” Clay said. “I couldn’t find what I was looking for doing Google searches for bulls. So, I went next door and found Curley. Actually, Curley found me. He had just the look and attitude I wanted.”

No matter what type of sculpture he’s creating, Clay begins with a wooden block, around which he bends and twists wires into the desired design. From there, he covers the form with clay and begins manipulating it into shape. Once the rough structure is in place, he starts carving details into the clay.

He won’t share all his secrets, but Clay said the process from that point involves creating a silicone mold of the statue, pouring resin to form the core, and then plating it with pure bronze.

“This method makes it much less expensive and lighter than a solid bronze piece, but there’s no difference to the eye,” Clay explained. “It’s all about the weight and cost. Plus, everything from the lump of clay to the finished product is done right here. All the materials are 100% American-made, and that also appeals to my customers.”

Custom pieces like the Hall of Fame award only make up a fraction of Cowboy Bronze’s business. Most of what Clay and Betty manufacture are standard catalog pieces representing different equine breeds and events. They also offer an airbrushed paint finish to match certain breeds or even an individual horse. Their catalog includes more than 120 products—and counting.

“Curley was the first bull I’ve ever sculpted, and it was a challenge,” Clay said. “But I’m trying to branch out and do different things. If you don’t push yourself, you won’t get better.”

In that spirit, Clay said his next dream is to create sculptures for the fine art world. He said he relishes the idea of having freedom to choose his own subjects and time to craft them at his own pace instead of just fulfilling requests from customers.

“I believe life is like surfing,” Clay said. “You take your surfboard out, look at the ocean, and decide where you’re going to land. Then you paddle out, and the wind changes. Suddenly, you’re going in a different direction. You’ve got two choices. Crash and burn or surf where it takes you. And that’s where I am right now. I’m surfing.”  

For more information on Cowboy Bronze, visit online at cowboybronze.com or call (417) 998-6581.

CLICK TO READ MORE FROM THE 2024 MAY ISSUE OF TODAY'S FARMER MAGAZINE.

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Relief for ranchers

MFA delivers feed to Texas to help livestock producers affected by wildfires

The devastating Smokehouse Creek Fire that swept through the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandle in late February and early March destroyed hundreds of homes and structures, killed two people and at least 7,500 cattle, and scorched more than 1 million acres.

The full extent of the damage is still unknown, said Monty Dozier, Texas A&M AgriLife’s director for disaster assessment and recovery, as farmers and ranchers work to evaluate their losses in animals, pasture, hay and farm infrastructure.

“This was the largest wildfire in Texas history,” Dozier said. “The Panhandle is a big cow/calf area, and the fire hit during spring calving season. That means many of the ranchers lost not only cows but also their newborn or unborn calves. In some counties, more than 85% of the grazing acres were burned. Thousands of miles of fencing were destroyed, and that’s not easy to replace. We’ve got a long road ahead of us.”

To help start that recovery process, support has been arriving in the Lone Star State by the truckloads in the form of hay, feed and fencing materials in addition to supplies for families who lost their homes. MFA Incorporated joined those efforts by sending two trailerloads of range cubes from its Aurora Feed Mill.

“Farmers and ranchers everywhere care deeply about their livestock, and watching these animals suffer, even the ones that weren’t injured or killed in the fire, had to be gut-wrenching for those ranchers,” said John Akridge, MFA Incorporated senior director of livestock operations. “In many cases, the cattle quite literally didn’t have a bite to eat available to them, and the ranchers could do nothing about it. Sending range cubes down there to provide relief to both the cattle and the ranch families was the most immediate help MFA could offer.”

The Utke family, trucking contractors who work regularly with MFA, transported the 48-ton feed donation to the dropoff destination in Canadian, Texas, about 450 miles from Aurora. Husband-and-wife team Ronny and Tammy Utke and their son and daughter-in-law, Cordell and Josie Utke, delivered the feed on Saturday, March 16, the day officials announced the wildfire was finally contained after a three-week battle.

“In agriculture, we need to support each other when something like this happens, no matter whether you’re in Texas or Missouri,” Tammy said. “So many people in that area had lost everything, and we were glad to be able to do something to help.”

The MFA range cubes were taken to the Hemphill County Exhibition Center and a local feed store in Canadian, Texas, two of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Disaster Assessment and Recovery (DAR) animal supply points set up to organize and distribute donations. The DAR network was established in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in 2017 to help Texas communities prepare for disasters and provide expert support in recovery efforts, Dozier explained.

As of early April, he said the DAR unit has already received more than $4 million in support from 32 states. Donations include some 16,000 round hay bales and 56,000 bags of cubes, with nearly three-fourths of those supplies already provided to farmers and ranchers in need.

“We’re humbled by the outpouring of support and giving we’ve seen from individuals and companies like MFA and appreciate their willingness to come this far to help our ranchers and communities,” Dozier said. “We’re getting a lot of supplies in, and we’re getting a lot out. Every bag of cubes and every bale of hay is like a ray of hope.”

The Extension Service’s supply points will be open until early June, Dozier said, and the DAR team continues to assess needs as residents and ranchers begin to recover and rebuild. What producers are requesting most right now, he added, are protein tubs, mineral blocks and fencing supplies. Monetary donations are also welcome through the STAR (State of Texas Agriculture Relief) Fund and Texas Farm Bureau’s Texas Panhandle Wildfire Relief Fund, both of which help farmers and ranchers recover from the disaster.

For more information on current relief efforts, agriculture needs and links to donation sites, visit online at agrilifeextension.tamu.edu/2024-panhandle-wildfires/.

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FFA members put ‘Living to Serve’ motto in action for wildfire victims

MFA wasn’t the only source of support for Texas ranchers that came from Missouri in the aftermath of the Smokehouse Creek wildfires. A group of young men from the northwestern area of the state took the initiative to raise funds, gather needed supplies and drive the donations to the Panhandle.
The idea originated with Tucker Narr, a senior member of the Chillicothe FFA Chapter, who told his parents, Travis and Crystal Narr of Wheeling, that he wanted to do something to assist with the wildfire relief efforts. They discussed his idea and helped him spearhead a plan.

Tucker teamed up with his younger brother, Cooper, along with fellow FFA members and alumni Kolby and Kase Singer from Hale, Ross Kee from Carrollton and Trent Grossman from Tina. They reached out to local businesses and received an outpouring of support from at least five counties, with donations ranging from money and hay to livestock feed and bottled water.

“Coming from an agricultural area and farm families with cattle of our own, it was devastating to see the loss of livestock and to hear about the lack of resources available,” Tucker said. “It was hard to fathom finding yourself in that situation. Being raised in families that try to help others when they can, it prompted the idea to try to do something.”

The group set out for Canadian, Texas, on March 8 with two truckloads of hay and supplies and were welcomed graciously by local residents. The Missourians were invited to eat dinner with firefighters that evening, provided hotel rooms for the night and had breakfast with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension agent before heading home. They were also invited to return to Canadian for an upcoming cattleman’s conference.

“We wanted to help as many people as we possibly could, and we still feel like there’s so more that we can do,” Tucker said. “We’re already planning another trip to take stuff down there because they’re going to need help for years to come.”

FFAhayThis group of young men from northwest Missouri gathered feed, hay, farm supply and monetary donations and drove them to Canadian, Texas, to help in wildfire relief. Pictured just before they left on March 8 are, from right, Tucker Narr, Cooper Narr, Kolby Singer, Kase Singer, Ross Kee and Trent Grossman.

 

 CLICK TO READ MORE FROM THE 2024 MAY ISSUE OF TODAY'S FARMER MAGAZINE.

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In this April 2024 Today's Farmer

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