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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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Dairy endures on Dill farm

Jack Dill isn’t ashamed to show his emotions. The dairyman gets choked up when talking about his late father, Alva, whose name still graces the family’s farm in Conway, Mo. He gets teary-eyed when talking about a favorite cow, “old No. 300,” that had to be put down when her health declined. He pours out his passions through poetry, expressing love and heartbreak, nostalgia and sentimentality through dozens of hand-penned verses.

So, it stands to reason that Jack was deeply troubled when his Dairy Farmers of America fieldman called in mid-April with the unwelcome news that the farm’s bi-weekly milk pickup would have to be discarded rather than go to the Hiland Dairy Foods plant as usual. Pandemic shutdowns of schools, restaurants and other food-service businesses had curtailed normal demand, and the industry was strug­gling to adjust.

“I hung up the phone and sat there with the most overwhelming feeling of de­spair,” Jack said. “I felt defeated. You put all of your work and energy into producing milk—which truly is a miracle food—and when something like this happens, it’s all for naught. The idea of our milk literally going down the drain really hurt.”

Turns out, his milk was still needed, but Jack said several of his fellow Ozarks area dairy farmers did have to dispose of their daily production for about five days. The same was true for dairy producers across the United States. The COVID-19 restrictions hit their industry harder and earlier than other agricultural commodities because dairy products—especially fluid milk—are highly perishable. Cows don’t shut down their milk supply, and it has to go somewhere.

The supply chain disruptions and ensuing price declines are particularly disheartening, Dill said, because 2020 had started out hope­ful for dairy farmers. After about four straight years of flat and low milk prices, they were trending upward at the end of 2019. USDA projections indicated this might be the year that the industry finally turned the corner.

“I was optimistic this was going to be a ‘catch-up’ year,” Jack said. “Then the bot­tom fell out. I try to look at the good, and at first, I thought this situation isn’t going to be near as bad as it seems. But it is so much worse than anyone ever dreamed. We’re going to see milk prices down as low as we saw in 2009 during the recession.”

Government “safety net” programs provide financial support to help offset these losses, but not all producers chose to enroll in them this year, based on the positive, pre-pandemic outlook for dairy. In fact, less than half the U.S. milk supply is cov­ered by the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) insurance-style program, offered by US­DA’s Farm Service Agency, or the Dairy Revenue Protection (DRP), available through approved crop insurance providers and administered through USDA’s Risk Manage­ment Agency. The new Coronavirus Food Assistance Program also earmarked funds for dairy producers, even if they were using these other risk-management tools.

“If you have insurance from the government, you’re going to be OK,” Jack said. “Dairies that don’t have it probably made the right move for the time, but it’s a dire situation for them now. If we didn’t have that insurance, we’d figure out a way to make it, but I’m telling you, we’d lose money.”

However bleak the economic outlook, Jack said the family’s commitment to cost-conscious practices will help the dairy survive the downturn. After all, the farm has endured the market’s cyclical challenges for more than a century. Jack’s grandfa­ther, Ores Dill, purchased his first 40 acres in 1915 and farmed with son Alva, who eventually took over the operation. Jack and his older brother, Jerry, joined their father in the business and formed Alva Dill and Sons partnership in 1979.

Today, the dairy supports five households with a milking herd of about 120 Holsteins and has grown to more than 1,000 acres. Alva died in 2016, but his wife, Betty, still lives on the farm and has a stake in the business. Jack and his wife, Patty, continue to farm with Jerry, and his wife, Sarah. The next gen­eration has joined the operation—Jack’s son, Jordan, and Jerry’s son, Jarrod.

“As a Depression-era child, Dad was really frugal, so we’ve always managed the business looking at costs first,” Jack said. “Our theory is, if you can make a profit in the worst times, you’ll stay in business through the good times, too. Following that philosophy, we’ve always been able to squeeze a living for our families from this farm.”

With this thrifty thinking, the Dills run an efficient, low-input operation. They continue to milk cows twice daily in an eight-stall, double-herringbone parlor built in 1955, and labor is di­vided among the four partnering dairymen. They maintain their older tractors and implements instead of buying new ones.

“The last time I bought a tractor to keep was my John Deere 4055 in 1998. It’s not the prettiest tractor in the world, but it’s dependable,” Jack said. “Last year, I asked Jerry if he thought we should trade in our old baler and get a new one. He said no, because he had just gone through and redid the whole thing. We stretch the use of everything as far as we can. We are a no-frills farm, for sure.”

Along with an MFA dairy ration, forages are the foundation of the feeding program, with about three-fourths of the farm’s acreage devoted to pasture and hay. In normal year, Jack said, the family puts up 1,100 to 1,300 big bales for their own cattle and typically has extra hay to sell.

“I always tell people we’re not really dairy farmers,” he said. “We’re forage farmers, and we market that forage through the cows.”

Putting more money into grain, genetics or facilities could mean improvements such as higher milk production and better butterfat, Jack admits. He knows Holsteins aren’t the best grazers, forage quality can fluctuate and uncomfort­able environmental conditions decrease the cows’ performance. But the Dills have found a formula that works, and they’re sticking to it.

“Our cows may not be as comfortable as a big dairy that puts fans on them in the summer and gives them shelter year-round, but we provide as much comfort as we can in a natural way,” Jack said. “It’s just how we’ve always operated. We probably should change. We are probably too slow to evolve. But we manage to support five families with only about 120 cows, so we must be doing something right.”

With Jarrod and Jordan now invested in the busi­ness, Jack said he’s confident the farm will continue to operate for at least one more generation. Other dairies may not have that assurance, he fears, espe­cially during the current pandemic-induced crisis.

“How many farms want to go on another gener­ation, but the financial opportunity won’t allow it?” Jack said. “That’s really sad because these people invest money and do the work, but yet the economic reward is not there. People outside of agriculture do not understand how much farmers sacrifice to bring food to their table.”

Jack is doing his part to raise awareness of such challenges and advance the industry beyond his family farm. He was elected to DFA’s Southeast Area council in 2018 and the Ozarks Division board for Midwest Dairy in 2019. He said serving in these leadership roles is giving him an opportunity to learn more about dairy’s legislative side and how regula­tions and marketing systems could be improved to better protect his fellow farmers and the food supply.

“The current situation we find ourselves in is not Hiland’s fault, and it’s not DFA’s fault. But we have to find solutions for the future,” Jack said. “That’s my new passion since I was elected to these boards. I work so hard to rep­resent my district, and I try to learn as much as I can about both sides of an argument. The right thing is not always easy. But it is always the right thing. I try to live my life that way.”

He’s also trying to learn how to enjoy life more, including spending quality time with Patty, whom he married in 2006, and their eight grandchildren. Jack will be 60 in August, and he’s getting nostalgic about the journey.

“I’m truly blessed with my family and this farm. It’s a gift to be able to work with nature and the land and what God has made—even if it comes with a lot of uncertainty and sac­rifice,” Jack said. “I have a lot of sayings, but one of my favorites is, ‘Life is a one-way trip down an interstate highway.’ I am at the end of the 59 mile-marker, and I can’t go back. All I can do is make the most of it from this point to the next.”

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In this May 2020 TF


Better way to hay - Cover Story -
Management tips for high-quality, high-quantity forage
by David Moore, Landry Jones

Having ‘brave conversations’
Panelists stress the importance of mental health care in the farming community
by Allison Jenkins

Upward trends
Growers take yields to the next level with foliar nitrogen-fungicide combination
by Allison Jenkins

Shear determination
Generations of Schmidt family raise prize-winning show sheep
by Kerri Lotven

Reining supreme
Renowned horse trainer exhibits success with MFA feed
by Kerri Lotven

Heat can harm hay quality
Monitor moisture carefully to avoid loss of energy, nutrients
by Dr. Jim White

Keep calm and hang on: Still time to plant
Right conditions, proper seed placement more important than date
by Jason Worthington


Country Corner

Finding silver linings in the virus crisis
by Allison Jenkins, TF editor

Farm State of Mind campaign transitions to American Farm Bureau
Missouri Food Finder
Commendable conservation
From fiber to food

Markets - As printed - CLICK HERE
Corn: Lower fuel prices, pandemic closures reduce ethanol production
Soybeans: Prospective plantings show fewer bean acres
Cattle: COVID-19 and the cattle market
Wheat: Winter wheat conditions variable across U.S.

Smoke signals - As printed
Visit our food page recipe finder

BUY, sell, trade - as printed

Taking care and farming through it all
by Ernie Verslues, MFA President and Chief Executive Officer


Click to view the magazine as printed via a flip book

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About Today's Farmer magazine

Today's Farmer is published 9 times annually. Printed issues arrive monthly except combined issues for June/July, August/September and December/January. Subscriptions are available only in the United States.

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