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Adding warm-season options to pastures and hayfields can improve production and performance

Diversification reduces risk. It’s a concept that drives the financial world. Investors build diversified portfolios so that if one stock dips, another can rise to restore the balance.

The same concept works when producing forage, said Landry Jones, MFA Incorporated conservation grazing specialist. In fact, diversification was the theme of the 2021 MFA Forage Tour, held July 20 on Drexel Atkisson’s farm in Everton, Mo. The tour, attended by MFA staff and customers, highlighted perennial and annual options to expand the forage selection on Midwest farms.

“The vast majority of our cattle farms are nearly 100% cool-season grass-based,” Jones said. “That’s great in the spring and fall, but it leaves a pretty big gap in the sum­mer when those grasses are not productive or nutritious. By incorporating a warm-season forage, producers will gain more grazing days and provide more nutrition for their herds.”

The predominant forage in Missouri pastures is fescue, a cool-season grass that dwin­dles in quantity and quality in warm weather, becoming even more toxic. Removing the herd from fescue during this time can benefit both animal health and performance, Jones said.

“Anytime we can get those animals off fescue in the summer, the more productive your farm is going to be, especially in calf weight gains,” he said. “And that’s what you’re sell­ing—pounds of beef.”

During the forage tour, Atkisson, who also serves as area soil health specialist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, shared some of the advantages he’d seen in grazing warm-season grasses versus fescue. He weighed 100 calves every 30 days throughout the spring and summer months. Calves on fescue averaged 0.8 pound in daily gain, while those on warm-season grass gained twice as much weight.

“It’s often hard to see the negative effects of fescue,” Jones said. “Just from the animal performance side, it’s pretty critical when you can add that kind of weight to your calves or improve pregnancy rates, which can also decrease when cows are on toxic fescue.”

Maintaining warm-season pastures also allows producers to stockpile cool-season grass for the fall and winter months while the cattle graze elsewhere, he added.

“Feeding hay is the No. 1 expense for cattle producers,” Jones said. “When they can reduce the number of days they’re feeding hay, the more profitable they’re going to be.” 

PERENNIAL PREFERENCES

Much of the MFA Forage Tour focused on native warm-season grasses (NWSG) because of their suitability to Missouri’s summer growing conditions and soil types, Jones said. Atkisson has worked for several years to renovate some of his pastures with native grasses, so attendees had a chance to see real-world examples of different stages and success rates of establishment.

Jones said one of the biggest hurdles when establishing native warm-season grasses is weed control. A thorough burndown is essential be­fore planting.

“It will take the warm-season grasses a while to establish,” he said. “The plants essentially grow down and build a good root system before they grow up. The time it takes for those grasses to put on above-ground growth opens the win­dow to weed competition, so you must have a plan in place to manage those weeds.”

Proper seed placement is another consider­ation for good stand establishment, Jones said.

“These aren’t like any other forage or small grain,” he said. “Planting depth is critical. You can’t plant them too deep, and you need good seed-to-soil contact. You can’t have too much thatch there.”

Patience is also necessary, Jones added. Typically, he recommends planting native grass species in the spring of one year and waiting two years to graze or hay them. There are ways to speed up that process, however.

“Some newer herbicides on the market, such as Panoramic and Plateau, have greatly decreased the amount of time it takes to utilize these forages,” he said. “The less weed com­petition they get, the more growth they’re going to incur that first year. Being able to use these herbicides makes weed management much simpler and more effective.”

The NWSG varieties Atkisson demonstrated on his farm were big bluestem, Indiangrass and little bluestem, all of which have tolerance to Panoramic and Plateau, Jones explained.

“With those species, you can spray before or after emergence without any ill effect,” he said. “There are some other species such as switchgrass and gamma grass that are great, but they’re not tolerant of those herbicides in the first year. Those species take a little more management.”

Though weed-control needs may be intensive, fertility needs are not, Jones said. A soil test should be taken prior to estab­lishment, with phosphorus and potassium applied to reach optimum levels. He said nitrogen is not recommended during an establishment year because it would mainly feed the weeds. Lime is not required unless pH levels are below 5.5.

“Native warm-season grasses typically don’t require as much nutritional input as cool-season grasses,” Jones said. “They’ve got a lot deeper root system, so they’re more efficient in nutrient uptake and in converting sunlight to plant growth. Warm-season grasses will produce in three months what cool-season grasses will produce in six months.”

Beyond grazing, NWSG can provide high-quality, high-ton­nage hay that can be harvested during the summer when other grasses are past their prime.

“The haying opportunity doesn’t get talked about a lot,” Jones said. “Most perennial forages hayed in Missouri are cool-season grasses. To optimize their production, you should be harvesting in May. However, that’s when it’s usually rainy and cool, and we just don’t have the days to physically dry hay. Warm-season grasses, on the other hand, peak in nutritional quality in late June and July, when it’s good hay-making weather.”

ANNUAL ALTERNATIVES

While establishing native warm-season grasses is a long-term solution, planting summer annu­als can also effectively fill the forage gap in the short term. Species such as sudangrass,  sorghum-sudan, forage sorghum and pearl millet can be used to supplement permanent pastures and enable better management of perennial forages.

“Summer annuals provide high-quantity, high-quality forage at a time when others may be lacking in yield and nutrition,” said David Moore, MFA range and pasture specialist. “Some are better for grazing, while others are best for hay or silage. It all depends on your goals.”

During the Forage Tour, Moore shared results of a strip-graz­ing trial featuring seven varieties of summer annual grasses—teff, Trudan 8 sudangrass, pearl millet, Sweet N Green sor­ghum-sudangrass, Forage Plus BMR sorghum-sudangrass, NK 300 forage sorghum and Silo Pro BMR forage sorghum.

“We planted them side by side to compare their growth char­acteristics and forage analysis when grown in a like environ­ment,” Moore said. “Each one has its pluses and minuses, but they’re all good alternatives to add to your forage mix.”

Overall, each of the summer annuals in the trial proved to be high in yield and nutrition, with protein ranging from 16% to 23% and TDN levels ranging from 60 to 64. They were also highly popular with the cattle on Atkisson’s farm, Moore said.

“We turned cattle in on all of these strips, and it gave us an opportunity to look at what they liked and what they didn’t like,” he said. “They didn’t hit the teff very hard, but the others were grazed pretty tight.”

FORAGE FLEXIBILITY

No matter the type or combination of forages in production, rotationally grazing pastures is highly recommended, Jones said. On his farm, Atkisson subdivided pastures into paddocks of about 15 acres each. Livestock is moved from one paddock to the next as forages are grazed to recommended heights—3 to 4 inches for cool-season pastures and 12 to 15 inches in warm-season grasses, Jones said.

“Rotational grazing puts management decisions back in the producer’s court,” he said. “In a continuously grazed system, the animals dictate when they graze, where they graze and how much they graze. By rotationally grazing, the producer makes those decisions.”

Duration is key, Jones said, recommending a rest period of at least 30 days before a paddock is grazed again. That allows the plants to recuperate and regrow.

“As much as we want to embrace diversity with our forages, we have to embrace diversity with our grazing management, too,” Atkisson said. “Sometimes, we might need to move the cattle every three to four days; sometimes, it might be a week or two. You need to watch the forage in the paddock where the cattle are grazing and watch the forage in the paddocks ahead to make sure you’re grazing them at the optimum time.”

For those new to rotational grazing, Jones recommends tak­ing small steps, perhaps sectioning off a few paddocks at first and learning how to manage the system. Infrastructure, such as fencing and water sources, will be a limiting factor in where and how many paddocks can be created.

“The beauty of rotational grazing is its flexibility,” Jones said. “It can be as simple as dividing a pasture into two pastures, and you’ll see positive effects on plant and soil health. The more you subdivide those pastures, the greater the benefits are going to be.” 

“Winter is a good time to start thinking about what you want to do and how you’re going to do it,” Jones said. “Whatever steps you take—whether you’re going to establish this spring or a year from now—make sure you’re following a solid plan and doing the right things. It’s not something you can decide to do on a whim.”

Both state and federal cost-share assistance is available to establish NWSG and rotational grazing systems, Jones said. Producers should contact their local USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service office, Soil and Water Conservation District or Mis­souri Department of Conservation to learn more about available options.

For more information on how MFA can assist producers in improving their forage production, contact Landry Jones at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or David Moore at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or talk with the livestock and agronomy experts at your local MFA affiliate.

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Profitable, productive year reported at MFA annual meeting

Last year, thanks to COVID restrictions on in-person gath­erings, MFA Incorporated Board Chairman Wayne Nichols delivered his annual meeting message into a camera.

This year, the cattleman from Pomona, Mo., stood proudly in front of a live audience of nearly 450 delegates, employees and special guests on Nov. 30 to report earnings of $23.5 million for the cooperative’s 2021 fiscal year, which ended Aug. 31.

It was a remarkable turnaround in so many ways, especially consider­ing the company recorded a loss of $15.4 million in 2020.

“From extreme weather conditions and trade troubles to volatile prices and the upside-down world of COVID-19, MFA and our farming operations at home faced significant challenges over the past few years,” said Nichols, who represents District 13 on the board. “MFA met those challenges with an all-hands-on-deck approach. Your cooper­ative tightened its belt, managed expenses and focused on our strategic plan. The hard work is paying off. This year was very profitable, and we’re in a much better financial position.”

Near-record plant food tonnage, a rebound in grain bushels and solid sales in other areas of the business contributed to those positive results, reported Chief Financial Officer Karen White. Overall, MFA Incorporated’s net sales reached $1.5 bil­lion, with $174 million in net worth and just over $96 million in working capital.

“The earnings in fiscal 2021 rebuilt working capital from the losses we experienced in 2019 and 2020,” she said. “A strong level of working capital allows us to manage the seasonality of our business and to finance capital expenditures.”

While total assets ended the fiscal year at $528 million, White said the overall average for the year was a record high of $716 million. That number was mainly impacted by commodity values and grain ownership, she explained.

“We are projecting lower average assets for fiscal 2022, but they will most likely still be at higher-than-historical levels,” White continued. “The positive side is that higher grain prices are good for a lot of you in the crowd, but input pricing is an area of concern for all of us right now. Market signals are indi­cating higher prices through the spring season. This will drive up costs for both MFA and our members.”

IMPROVEMENTS ALL AROUND

Sales on the Agronomy side of the business, made up of plant foods, crop protection and seed, were $671 million in 2021, a significant increase from prior years. Both volume and per-unit value were on the rise in all categories, particularly fertilizer.

“In Plant Foods, 2021 was an excellent year for us in retail volume to the ground,” White said. “We moved 520,000 tons, second only to 2018, when retail sold 532,000 tons.”

Livestock supply sales—Feed, Animal Health and Farm Supply categories—were $162 million last year, also an increase over 2020.

“Percentage-wise, the increase from last year is divided pretty evenly among the categories,” White said. “The increase in feed and animal health sales was driven by higher demand for animal health products and higher feed ingredient prices, driving average selling prices up.”

For 2021, operating margins totaled $239 million, the CFO reported, pointing out that this, too, is better than the previous two years. White at­tributed the improvement to a fertilizer market that rewarded ownership, increased fertilizer tonnage sold and higher sales volumes in all MFA product categories.

Fiscal 2021 expenses totaled $219 million, which were higher than recent years due to several factors, White said.

“With the improved profit­ability, we were able to catch up on some repair and maintenance projects that had been cut back and provide some well-deserved incentive payments to em­ployees,” she explained. “Insurance expense also incurred a 15% increase as insurers battled record claims in their portfolios.”

SO FAR, SO GOOD

Several months into the new fiscal year, White said profitability was already better than MFA’s operating plan for 2022, which is $7.7 million and accounts for margins and expenses returning to more normal levels. The total plan for 2022 is $15.7 million, which includes insurance proceeds from the explosion at MFA’s grain facility in Adrian, Mo.

“This is a plan we feel good about given the positive start we have to the new fiscal year,” White said. “We also know there will be challenges that we will need to overcome—supply shortages, high input prices and inflationary pressures being the most prominent. But with the team we have in place, I am confident we can achieve continued growth in 2022.”

Loss carryforwards were used to offset the majority of the 2021 earnings, White explained. MFA’s board of directors voted to retain the remainder of the earnings and invest them in upgraded equipment and new facilities. The 2022 plan includes capital expenditures for new operations in addition to the ongoing rebuilding and expansion project at Adrian, where the facility’s grain storage, drying and handling capacity will be significantly increased.

In his address to the membership, MFA Incorporated Chief Executive Officer Ernie Verslues shared details about other investments—a new, state-of-the-art 14,000-ton fertilizer plant at MFA Agri Services in Lafayette County near Higginsville and a modern agronomy facility that includes a high-speed fertilizer plant, ag chem build­ing and seed treatment warehouse in Nodaway County outside Maryville. Both projects, which are expected to be up and running by August 2022, will serve existing MFA locations in the surrounding areas.

“When you look at customer needs, the top three are typically price, quality and availability,” Verslues said. “After that it comes down to dependability—who has the facilities and equipment to deliver on their value promise when you need it, where you need it. We are committed to improvement.”

Admittedly, much of 2021’s profitability can be tied to fertilizer, but Verslues emphasized that other positive efforts from the past year should not be overlooked. In addition to increased sales in all categories, he said there had been improved collaboration on company goals and decisions, benefits from targeted capital expenditures and a strategic focus on efficiency and teamwork across the entire system.

“Those items all contributed to putting $23.5 million on the bottom line,” Verslues said. “Years like this don’t just happen. They happen when opportunities present themselves, when you have a talented team, when you are prepared and when you execute on the plan.”

After praising the talents, dedication and teamwork of MFA employees and directors, Verslues also thanked the member-owners for their commitment to the organization.

“We went through two very tough years, and you stayed with us,” he said. “You trusted us to have supply in place and to deliver on our value proposition. I would say we all came out better and stronger. Going for­ward, the challenges facing both growers and this cooperative are at extremely high levels, and it is imperative that we continue to work together to minimize our collective risk.”

Some of those challenges include uncertainty and volatility in the mar­ketplace, high input costs, tight inven­tories, supply chain disruptions and staff­ing issues throughout the industry. Despite those obstacles, Verslues said he fully believes MFA is positioned for another positive year ahead.

“When we discuss ways to grow, we know that a satisfied customer is the best strategy of all,” he said. “You can expect continued focus on customer relationships by our sales team, managers and staff. We want to be partners in your operations, the go-to person for tools that provide value in products, services, technology, innovation and data management.”

VALUE VENTURES

When it comes to Missouri agri­culture as a whole, the concept of providing added value is the next step in cultivating economic growth, said Lieutenant Gover­nor Mike Kehoe, who followed Verslues on the annual meeting program. As chair of the Show-Me State Food, Beverage and Forest Products Manufacturing Task Force, Kehoe shared some of its initial findings about ways Missouri could increase the value from its agricultural and forestry resources.

“Right now, Missouri agriculture has an $88 billion impact on the state’s economy—clearly our No. 1 industry,” he said. “But we can’t just sit back and hope it continues to get better. We think there’s significant room for growth, up to $25 billion more, and value-added is where we need to step up our game.”

New and expanding businesses such as the recently an­nounced meat-processing plant coming to Warren County and hemp gins now operating in Scott and New Madrid counties are prime examples of adding value for producers, Kehoe said.

Agritourism is another opportunity that provides multiple benefits, he added. “It may be a pumpkin patch or a corn maze or a dairy farm where busloads of kids can watch cows being milked,” Kehoe said. “These operations provide an extra income stream for farmers, but, perhaps even more importantly, they introduce people to what agriculture is really like. We have mil­lions of people in our urban centers who literally have no idea about the sacrifices and risks that farm families go through to put food on their tables.”

Kehoe said he knows about many of those challenges firsthand. Raised in north St. Louis City, Missouri’s 48th lieutenant governor admitted he “didn’t really know a horse from a cow” until he was introduced to agriculture by trusted mentors in the industry. Today, he and his wife, Claudia, own and operate a 700-acre cattle farm in Phelps and Pulaski counties.

“When I get asked to talk at a meeting like this, it’s incredibly humbling,” Kehoe said. “This is the group of people who would take me under your wing to help me understand and learn. Being a first-generation farmer is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I’ll never forget what the agricultural community has done for me and my family and what it does for Missouri.”

SEAT AT THE TABLE

The afternoon’s guest speaker was Brett Begemann, former executive vice president and chief operating officer for the Crop Science division of Bayer, who also has hands-on agricultural knowledge cultivated on his family farm in Mayview, Mo. With more than 35 years of experience with Monsanto and then Bayer before his retirement last year, Begemann shared his unique perspective on some familiar hot-button issues and relevant top­ics he believes will shape the future of agriculture.

Right away, he addressed con­cerns about supply chain disrup­tions, something he was intimately familiar with from his longstanding role in the crop protection industry.

“The pandemic has no question caused a lot of the challenges MFA faces and all of you face in your own operations,” he said. “But sometimes I think it also gets used as an excuse. When it comes to the supply chain, the challenge is the way it’s all interlinked together. The issue is never just one thing; it’s a combination of multiple, complex factors. I’m highly confident it will work its way out. But how fast that will happen, I have no idea.”

Speaking candidly from his insider’s view of the biotech revo­lution, Begemann said he wished he and others at Monsanto/Bayer had taken a more active “seat at the table” when it came to conver­sations with consumers about the technology’s science and safety. The same opportunity now exists with climate-change conversations, he said, as regulatory decisions are being made by government leaders far removed from agriculture.

“There is no industry in the world that’s done more to improve sustainability than ag­riculture,” Begemann said. “Just think about all the invest­ments we’ve already made to improve our carbon footprint. But we have to tell our story louder, because a lot of people don’t believe it. If agricul­ture isn’t at the table for those sustainabil­ity conversations, then we’ll be on the menu.”

Helping to drive sustainability suc­cesses are data and analytics, which Begemann said he believes will change agriculture more than anything in his career. He applauded MFA for leading the way in those innovations, recog­nizing the tremendous amount of investment and resources it takes to deliver data-driven solutions for producers.

“It’s a highly complex biologi­cal system we’re trying to analyze and predict, and it takes massive amounts of data,” he said. “The answers aren’t there today, but I urge you to get engaged at the level you feel comfortable with. Then, as the technology continues to evolve, you’ll be in a position to take ad­vantage of all its benefits.”

Acknowledging that the agri­cultural industry is facing serious challenges in today’s uncertain economic and political climate, Begemann nevertheless expressed bold optimism about its future.

“Our industry has nothing but opportunity ahead,” he said. “Sure, we’re going to have challenges, but we’ve always had them. There’ll be logistical issues and sustainability discussions and food fights, but agriculture is a great place to be. Nobody is going to put you out of business. The world needs more of what we do, not less.”

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In this Dec/Jan TF

***FEATURES***

Never stop learning
CCA program enters 30th year of providing voluntary certification, continuing education for agronomy professionals
BY ALLISON JENKINS

Facilities for the future
MFA makes capital investments in new agronomy centers to improve service, efficiency
BY ALLISON JENKINS

Bawling to bought
Anstine family helps high-stress calves earn high price at auction
BY ANDREW B CHURCH

Spotlight on stewardship
Oetting family named Missouri’s fifth Leopold award winner
BY ALLISON JENKINS

Missouri chapters top the charts at National FFA Convention
BY ALLISON JENKINS

Elk, bears on the move in Missouri
Restoration efforts have allowed limited hunting season for both species
BY LANDRY JONES

Colostrum intake has lifelong impact on calves
Newborns need adequate, high-quality amounts of mother’s first milk
BY DR. JIM WHITE

Crop protection plans can’t be an afterthought
BY KEVIN MOORE

***DEPARTMENTS ***

Country Corner
Season of giving is never-ending
BY ALLISON JENKINS

UpFront
Livestock exhibitors can earn MFA premiums for show-ring success
Best in grass
Biodiversity pilot project allows farmers to cash in on conservation

Markets
Corn: Strong export sales expected through winter, spring
Soybeans: High fertilizer prices may mean more beans
Cattle: Record retail beef prices push cattle values
Wheat: Supplies continue to be tight

Recipes (view as flip book)
Kitchen keepers

BUY, sell, trade (view as flip book)
Marketplace

Viewpoint
Moving Forward Through Volatility
By ERNIE VERSLUES 
MFA Incorporated President and CEO

Closing Thought
 - (View as flip book)
Our monthly final page photo & poem combination
Photo BY ANDREW B CHURCH
Poem by BY WALTER BARGE

 CLICK HERE or the image below to view the magazine as-printed via flipbook.

 

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CCA program enters 30th year of providing voluntary certification, continuing education for agronomy professionals

In 1992, agriculture was on the cusp of major changes. Precision technology was in its infancy. Roundup Ready soybeans were only a few years away from hitting the market. Water-quality concerns were heightening. Regulatory scrutiny was escalating.

It was in this evolutionary environment that the Certified Crop Adviser (CCA) program was born. Industry leaders wanted to assure regulatory agencies that those who sold to growers were qualified to give sound advice and motivate farm consultants to keep up with the rapidly changing agricultural landscape. In fact, the program initially professed to “help agriculture meet its environmental stewardship challenge,” a purpose that remains just as relevant—and perhaps even more urgent—30 years later.

“As a producer, it takes a lot of trust to work with your ag retailer, and the CCA program helps strength­en that trust,” said Andrea Rice, director of research, education and outreach for the Missouri Agribusiness Association (Mo-Ag) and the state’s CCA program administrator. “Those who make the time and effort to become a CCA—and maintain that certification—are showing that they want to offer the best advice they can for producers and do it in a sustainable and environ­mentally friendly way.”

Created and administered by the American Society of Agronomy, the CCA program continues to set high standards of knowledge, skill and conduct for agronomy professionals. To become certified, a candidate must pass rigorous state and international exams, sign a code of ethics and have two years of experience with a bachelor’s degree in an agronomy-related field, three years’ experi­ence with an associate’s degree or four years’ experience with no degree. CCAs must also earn continuing educa­tion credits to keep their certification.

Today, there are nearly 14,000 certified crop advisers across the United States and Canada, which came on board in 1997 and made the program international. In Missouri, there are currently around 280 CCAs, and MFA employs 63 of them—more than any other business in the state. MFA has been a staunch supporter since the program’s beginnings and encour­ages employees to achieve and maintain their CCA status, said Jason Worthington, MFA Incorporated director of account management.

“The biggest reason MFA continues to support the CCA program is that it holds our folks accountable to further their education in all aspects of agronomy,” Worthington said. “It gives them more credibility to advise growers and, personally, provides confidence that they’re up to date on industry knowledge. And the code of ethics is a big part of it. It sets forth standards of professional conduct, honesty, integrity and responsibility to the customer that are right in line with MFA’s own values.”

The program is based at ASA’s headquarters in Madison, Wis., but each participating state has a board that oversees it locally. In Missouri, administration is provided by Mo-Ag with a board made of up of CCAs from different types of agribusi­nesses. Worthington, who received his CCA designation in 2006, has been actively involved in the program throughout his MFA career and recently served as Missouri CCA chairman.

MFA Precision Data Manager Thad Becker currently sits on the state board.

The CCA program is structured to be progressive and changing, allowing for alterations in the content and structure of the exams and curriculum on a regular basis. For example, each year a different competency area is evaluated and up­dated. During Worthington’s tenure on Missouri’s CCA board, he helped revamp state testing requirements to ensure the information was accurate and relevant.

“When we started going through the questions, we realized some were out­dated, some were obsolete, and some had new information that we needed to incorporate,” Worthington said. “We have to make sure the test stays on track with what our CCAs need to know here in Missouri. Agriculture is pretty diverse in our state, so that’s more challenging than you think.”

The program is founded on the idea of creating a well-rounded crop adviser, and the curriculum reflects that intention by covering four core competency ar­eas: crop management, nutrient management, soil and water management, and pest management. In addition, specialty certifications are offered in precision agriculture, resistance management, sustainability and 4R nutrient management.

The CCA exams are challenging, Rice said, and only those who are well prepared will pass. In fact, about 40% of candi­dates fail the first time they take it.

Charlie Ebbesmeyer is not one of them. He took the CCA test in 2019, just a few months after being hired full time as local agronomist for MFA’s Heart of Missouri group, and passed on his first try. The young man is understandably proud of that accomplishment.

“I’d heard about the CCA program throughout all my agron­omy classes at Mizzou, and it was something I wanted to work toward,” Ebbesmeyer said. “MFA sees quite a bit of value in em­ployees having that certification, and I wanted to be part of the group. I got hired officially in October of my senior year, and I took the test in February while I was still fresh from school. I knew it was tough, so I wasn’t really expecting to pass; I just wanted to see what it was like. But I managed to pass both the state and international exams.”

The testing phase is only the beginning of a CCA’s journey. Maintaining the certification requires 40 hours of continuing education units (CEUs) every two years. MFA offers several workshops, field days and events annually to allow its CCAs to achieve the required training. University, Extension and online programs also provide courses that count toward CEUs.

“MFA is great about making sure we have those opportuni­ties, and it’s valuable for me,” Ebbesmeyer said. “There’s just so much new in agronomy happening all the time. For example, this past summer at MFA’s Training Camp, they were talking about using AMS (ammonium sulfate) with soybeans, which has not been tested much in this area. That’s information I can take back and discuss with my growers.”

One of those growers is Curtis Roth, who farms 1,600 acres of row crops in Arrow Rock, Mo. Ebbesmeyer works with him on MFA’s Crop-Trak program and provides recommendations on fertil­ity, weed control, disease prevention and pest management.

“Peace of mind is the biggest thing for me,” Roth said. “If I have a question or an issue in the field, I can call Charlie, and he’ll take care of it. I don’t have to worry. He knows what chemicals to use, when we should use them and what problems to look out for. I like working with someone I can rely on to get it done and get it done right.”

Cassy Landewee, assistant manager of the MFA Agri Services in Chaffee, Mo., has also used her CCA training to better serve customers throughout her nearly 25-year career. She joined MFA in 1997 as one of the first precision specialists, when the technology was still brand-new to many in the industry, and became a CCA in 2000. Landewee said Chaf­fee’s longtime manager, Bruce Jansen, inspired her to obtain and maintain the certification.

“Bruce had gotten his CCA several years before me, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. I could see his level of knowledge and how it helped him inter­act with farmers,” Landewee said. “When I started in this position, being a female in ag, I felt like I needed to prove myself and to help assure the customers that I knew what I was talking about when working with them. It may just be my own perception, but I believe the CCA program gave me more credibility with the growers and confidence in myself.”

As agriculture continues to evolve, Landewee said the CCA program’s educational requirements help her stay on top of changes in the industry, which, in turn, benefits growers served by the Chaffee location.

“Trying to obtain those CEUs, we’re probably diving into a lot more information than other people in the field,” she said. “Sometimes, it feels like we’re an Extension office because customers are always coming in here looking for knowledge that Bruce and I can share, and that’s great. We like being able to provide information as well as the products and services that can help them solve a problem and become better producers.”

In recent years, Rice said Missouri CCA participation has been declining, due in part to retirements of seasoned agrono­mists who were among the first to receive their certification in the 1990s. Building those numbers has become a top priority for the organization, starting with the younger generation of agronomy professionals.

“We’re reaching out to colleges and universities, working with agronomy clubs to help promote the importance of the pro­gram,” Rice said. “If students start working on their CCA cer­tification before graduation, it would certainly show potential employers how serious they were about what they were doing and maybe even boost their chances of getting a job.”

Participation is key to keeping the certification voluntary for crop consultants in Missouri, Worthington said, unlike states such as California, where CCA status is required to make rec­ommendations to growers. That’s another reason why recruiting a younger generation of CCAs is important to the organization’s future, he added.

“For new agronomists, this is not only a pathway to build their resume early on but, even more importantly, build their knowledge base,” Worthington said. “We really do need to encourage college students or recent graduates to take the initiative and get started on their CCA certification. It shows hiring managers that they have a commitment to upholding the program’s high standards.”

As a relative newbie to the world of professional agronomy, Ebbesmeyer said he can attest that the CCA program has not only been a benefit to him and his customers but also to MFA.

“I think it shows our grow­ers that we aren’t just basing everything on what we learned in college. In my case, that’s three years ago, but for some people, it’s many years ago,” he said. “And then it shows you’re dedicated enough to agronomy to be able to pass the exam and continue your education. I’m a firm believer that you should never stop learning, and the CCA program is a great way to ensure that you don’t.”

The next CCA exam dates in Missouri are Feb. 2-9, 2022. Registration closes on Jan. 5. The international CCA exam can be taken online anytime by eligible candidates. For more information, visit certifiedcropadviser.org or mo-ag.com/cca-programor mo-ag.com/cca-program.

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