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Supplemental solution

When MFA’s Feed Division developed two new Performance First supplement tubs earlier this year, the timing couldn’t have been better for livestock producers who were experiencing dry pastures and short hay supplies.

Generally, supplement tubs provide protein, mineral and vitamins in a highly palatable formulation that can fit into most grazing situations. When forages are lacking in quality or quantity, however, tubs can serve as a solution to assure cattle receive essential nutrients that may be missing from their diet.

Supplement tubs have been an important part of MFA’s feed selection for many years, but the new Performance First products are unique, said Mike Spidle, MFA director of sales, livestock products and feed marketing. The products are made exclusively for MFA by MFA at the feed mill in Mexico, Mo., rather than a third-party manufacturer. And they are the first tubs to contain Shield Technology, MFA’s proprietary blend of essential oils and other additives that help prevent sickness and promote performance without antibiotics.

“This is our formula, our products, made exclusively for MFA customers,” Spidle said. “They are the first of their kind.”

Performance First Tubs with Shield Technology are available in both a 20-percent protein pressed formula and 16-percent poured version. The tubs are specifically formulated to achieve a targeted intake level of 2 pounds or less per head, per day, Spidle added, unlike other brands of tubs in which consumption can be more than double that amount.

“Because the cattle are consuming less of these tubs, the product could cost less per cow on a daily basis, even with the added value of Shield Technology,” Spidle said. “Plus, you get Shield’s health benefits on top of the mineral supplementation.”

On-farm demonstrations support those claims. David Callis, who raises cattle and row crops in Sedalia, Mo., was among a test group of producers trying out the new Performance First tubs in real-world conditions this summer. Over the summer, two groups of heifers on the Callis farm were supplemented with MFA Performance First 20% Tub with Shield Technology.

“One group was first-calf heifers, and we were feeding them every day to improve the chances of breeding back. They only ate about one-third a pound, per head, per day of the tub,” explained Callis, who serves on the MFA Incorporated board. “The other group was heifers we are breeding that have never had a calf. We’re not supplementing them like the other group of heifers; they’re just on grass. They went through about 2 pounds a day.”

During the trial, Callis said he fed four of the 200-pound tubs—one to the group of first-calf heifers, which consisted of 25 pairs, and three to the other group of 35 cattle.

Contained in a distinctive purple tub, the Performance First products contain all the trace vitamins and minerals cattle need for a balanced, healthy diet. They’re also fortified with macro-minerals such as phosphorus, which is often depleted in stressed fields. In addition, Performance First tubs contain appreciable amounts of essential trace minerals such as copper, magnesium, zinc, iodine, cobalt manganese and selenium.

“Both the 20% Tub and the 16% Tub have enough minerals that producers wouldn’t need additional mineral supplementation,” Spidle said. “Plus, they’re a convenient way to deliver that nutrition.”

MFA feed specialists recommend providing one tub per 10 to 20 head, feeding free-choice continuously along with a plentiful source of average to good-quality forage and clean, fresh water. Consumption may vary depending upon animal body condition, quality and quantity of forages, seasonal weather conditions, and most importantly, feeding locations of tubs with respect to loafing, grazing, feeding and watering areas.

In addition to the complete vitamin and mineral package, having Shield Technology available in an MFA-branded tub makes sense, said Callis. He’s witnessed the benefits of Shield firsthand in MFA Cadence and Cattle Charge feeds and Ricochet mineral he provides his primarily Angus-based herd.

“Other than their standard vaccinations, we haven’t had to treat any of our spring calves since weaning,” he said. “That’s remarkable.”

Recently, quality feed and minerals have become even more important to Callis, who this past June embarked on a new venture—introducing Akaushi bulls to his herd. The Akaushi breed, a type of red Wagyu Japanese cattle, was imported to the U.S. in the mid-1990s and is known for its carcass quality. Callis expects his first half-blood Akaushi calves to be born next spring.

“Our goal is to produce the best-quality beef we can,” he said. “That’s why good nutrition is so important.”

Shield Technology can help cattlemen such as Callis do just that, Spidle said. Benefits include improved feed efficiency, daily gain, immunity, rumen function and breedback. Producers have found feeding Shield leads to fewer open cows, more full-term pregnancies and newborns that get up faster, he added.

Now, with Performance First Tubs, producers have more options to deliver Shield to their herd while ensuring the cattle are receiving proper nutrition.

“By adding these tubs to our lineup,” Spidle said, “producers have a complete selection of products with Shield Technology to fit just about any feeding situation.”

For more information on Performance First Tubs, visit with the feed specialists at your MFA or AGChoice location. 

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Season of extremes

Drought is nothing new to Larry Belshe.

The 69-year-old has endured many dry spells on his family farm in Gallatin, Mo., where he raises corn, soybeans and hay. Still, it never gets easy to watch crops wither at the mercy of the weather.

“We’ve been through all the ups and downs of the ’70s and ’80s, so we know how to watch our dollars and get through tough times,” said Belshe, who farms in partnership with his younger brother, Steve. “That’s just the way we were brought up. You work hard trying to grow a family and a farm, and you just keep going—even in years when you realize you’re not getting anything in return.”

This is one of those years. In the worst growing-season drought for Missouri since 2012, the Belshes only harvested about half the hay they normally would cut and bale. Corn fields that typically yield more than 200 bushels per acre averaged around only 50 bushels. Soybeans benefited from some late-season rains, but the brothers estimated the crop would only produce a dismal 15 to 25 bushels per acre.

They’re not alone. Most of their northwest Missouri neighbors are in the same shape. At the end of August, Daviess County was in the D4 “exceptional drought” classification—the most extreme level on the U.S. Drought Monitor map—and nearly 70 percent behind on rainfall.

John Davis, manager of MFA Agri Services in Gallatin, said many area farmers gave up on their corn crops and cut them for silage to feed livestock. Cattle producers culled herds, and some put their animals on dry lots and began feeding hay two to three months earlier than normal.

“By the time July rolled around, we knew plants were hurting and yields were going to be down,” Davis said. “Whether it was grass or crops, nobody’s efforts were coming to fruition. Guys were baling corn stalks and chopping silage, anything to make a feed source. There was nothing we could do to impact the weather. All we could do was adapt.”

Though more extreme in the northwest, the drought was widespread across Missouri. At the drought’s peak in August, more than 88 percent of the state was experiencing some degree of abnormal dryness. Eastern Kansas and southeastern Iowa were also affected. Much-welcomed rains in late August and early September helped improve conditions, but it was too little, too late for most crops.

As of Sept. 9, the USDA rated 44 percent of Missouri’s corn and 27 percent of soybeans as poor to very poor. Compounding the predicament are low commodity prices and prospects for high yields in other parts of the country, which may lead to over-supply.

Hay and other forages were also rated poorly, with 79 percent in short or very short supply, and stock water supplies were 46 percent short or very short. Pasture conditions were rated as 44 percent poor or very poor.

As drought monitor levels triggered government relief programs, MFA Natural Resources Conservation Specialist Matt Hill worked to make sure MFA’s member-owners were aware of grazing and haying programs to provide assistance. For example, the USDA Farm Service Agency offered cost-share to establish emergency water resources for livestock and released CRP ground for emergency haying and grazing. The Soil and Water Conservation District Commission allowed grazing on easement acres that are enrolled in conservation practices.

“Everybody pulled together, I feel like more so than in past years, and got ahead of things,” Hill said. “I have to give these agencies a lot of credit for that. It’s really something that hadn’t been done in Missouri before.”

One of the most popular forms of assistance was an emergency EQIP program from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which allocated $2 million for forage development, specifically planting cover crops. Hill said NRCS was overrun with requests for the cost-share funds and quickly obtained another $2 million, which still wasn’t enough to approve all the applications.

“NRCS leadership saw the need, and as much as a government agency can, they cut a lot of red tape and made this program happen rather quickly and painlessly,” Hill said. “A lot of cover crops were planted with cost-share money as a result. The overwhelming response to the program really shows how great the need was for help.”

To spread the word about these programs as well as forage management strategies and alternative feeding options, Hill facilitated a series of drought information meetings for MFA patrons at Agri Services locations in Kirksville, Gallatin and Ozark.

“We wanted everyone to understand their options,” Hill said. “We invited staff from the county FSA office and NRCS along with Missouri Department of Natural Resources and Soil and Water Conservation Districts. [MFA Director of Nutrition] Dr. Jim White discussed forage and livestock nutrition strategies for drought. And I talked about cover crops and how to manage forage during the drought and plan for recovery when it rains.”

Davis said the information gathered from the meeting held at Gallatin Agri Services was appreciated by his staff and their producers.

“It’s good to know we had people watching out for us and relaying information,” he said. “The atmosphere has been pretty negative this summer, and we’re doing our best to keep these guys positive and show them that MFA is sincere about helping them solve their problems, not just passively offering suggestions.”

MFA personnel, at the corporate and local levels, also collaborated to keep plenty of supplies such as tanks, waterers, temporary fencing and cover crop seed on hand, Hill said.

“We wanted to make sure folks had what they needed to get through these tough conditions on their farms, whether it was through cost-share or not,” he said. “We need our customers to have successful operations, because without them, we don’t have a future either. I’m really proud of how everybody’s worked together, especially when things are happening fast and furiously.”

Further assistance came later in the summer from Gov. Mike Parson, a cattleman himself, who issued an executive order declaring a drought alert for 47 of Missouri’s 114 counties. The order also reactivated the Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ Drought Assessment Committee, a coalition of state and federal partners who worked together to provide struggling farmers unprecedented access to public lands for accessing water and harvesting hay. The committee also put together a website to serve as a comprehensive drought information resource at dnr.mo.gov/drought.htm.

“It was our job to identify what resources were currently available and figure out what additional help we could offer,” said DNR’s Kurt Boeckmann, who leads the committee’s Agricultural Impact Team. “Haying in state parks and pumping water from conservation areas, for example, were somewhat new ideas. In times like these, farmers needed us to come together and provide other options.”

Despite these relief efforts and rainfall brought to Missouri by Tropical Depression Gordon in mid-September, producers will be facing the effects of this summer’s devastating drought for some time to come, Hill said, especially those with livestock.

“Normally, farmers hope they don’t have to feed hay any earlier than October, but even in the wetter spots, we’re still two to three months ahead of time feeding it,” Hill said. “Just about everyone is in a forage shortage, with very tight supplies to make it through a normal winter before grass starts growing next spring.”

Going forward, he advised, farmers must switch from short-term survival mode to long-term plans to fortify their operations against dry weather.

“Working together to get through this year is the main thing for now, but we want to be forward-thinking, so we don’t have to be reactionary during the next drought,” Hill said. “In the future, I think you’ll see better water resources in many pastures, more efficient grazing systems and the establishment of some warm-season grasses, which shine during dry weather. Let’s learn from this and be in better shape next time.”

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Aug Sept 2018 Today's Farmer

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Friends in the field

A hand-written thank you note sits below Beau Britt’s computer monitor in his office at MFA Agri Services near Hannibal, Mo. It’s only four sentences, a simple gesture of appreciation for the service he and a fellow employee provided nearly two years ago, but for Britt the note is symbolic of something greater.

“This is a daily reminder of how I want all our customers to feel,” he said. “I don’t expect thank-you notes, but I want to create that kind of experience each time someone does business with us.”

A native of Philadelphia, Mo., Britt started his career at the Marion County location 12 years ago as a custom applicator and was tapped to be manager in the fall of 2015. During his decade in the field, Britt cultivated a hands-on, customer-centric approach that he brought to his role as manager.

“I like to deal with people, and I feel like I communicate very well with customers,” he said. “Service is the big thing here. If there’s one reason why our location is succeeding, I’d say it’s because of the customer relationships we have and the service we provide. They’re more than customers; they’re our neighbors and our friends.”

Those relationships matter to Ryan Hulse, a diversified farmer and member of the Marion County MFA board, who said trust is No. 1 when it comes to choosing an agricultural retailer.

“To some farmers, it’s just dollars and cents, but I want somebody I can trust,” Hulse said. “When Beau tells me something, I know it’s right, and if it’s not, he’ll make it right. I don’t have to check up to make sure things got done.”

Over the last few years, business has been steadily growing and, in turn, so has the staff, which now numbers eight employees. Tyler Mason, MFA regional manager, said the Marion County location is a prime example of how enthusiasm and hard work can change a business for the better.

“Beau takes a personal interest in the well-being of his customers and employees, and the staff is earning new business and bringing back old business,” Mason said. “Nutri-Track acres have grown; Crop-Trak acres have grown. Fertilizer and feed sales are up. The crew emphasizes the importance of pre-planning, visiting one-on-one with customers to develop fertility and weed-control programs and seed selections long before spring.”

That planning process is key to demonstrating value to customers, Britt insisted. Knowing what inputs and services are needed on the front end helps both MFA and its growers, he said.

“The biggest challenge for us is staying ahead of the game, trying to adapt to the changes going on in agriculture and continuing to be relevant in the marketplace,” Britt said. “That’s why we focus on getting crop plans put together early. We all want to be on the same page with their inputs and know what they’re thinking as they go into next year. Everybody is one team working toward the same goal.”

As a grower, Hulse said that proactive approach helps provide peace of mind.

“Agriculture has changed a lot in the last few years, and what MFA has to provide in terms of service has changed a lot, too,” he said. “Just think about all the things that we, as farmers, expect. It’s a lot more complicated than ever before. Having what we need, when we need it, is extremely important. The more I can go to MFA for everything, the easier it is for me.”

Part of MFA’s Northeast Missouri group, which also includes Canton, Kahoka, LaBelle and Memphis, the Hannibal Agri Services center serves a mostly agronomic customer base with an on-site fertilizer plant and custom application services. The business also offers bagged feed for livestock customers and a well-stocked showroom with a product selection geared toward walk-in traffic.

“We’re starting to see more people come in and buy crop protection products off the shelf and have a conversation with us,” Britt said. “They feel like they have somebody they can talk to here about what they want to accomplish in their yards or around their farms.”

The Marion County location added a pasture sprayer a few years ago, and its use keeps increasing among forage and hay producers, Britt said. On both forage and row-crop ground, fall applications of crop protection products and fertilizer are also becoming more popular, he added.

“It seems like everyone is planting earlier and earlier each year, so if you can be ahead of the game with some burndown or P and K applications in the fall, it gets you that much further,” Britt said. “Being as flexible as possible is what these guys are after, and it just makes sense to spend a little money in the fall to get a head start in the spring.”

With an increasingly competitive retail environment, Britt said MFA sets itself apart not only through its value to customers but also its values as a business.

“A lot of the competitors offer the same fertilizer and the same chemicals,” Britt said. “We’re differentiating ourselves by our honesty and integrity, our community involvement and our relationships with customers. There’s no way of avoiding issues. Something goes wrong every single year. But our customers know that if something happens, we’re going to take care of it.”

As for the future, Britt said his team is focused on retaining current customers, bringing in new patrons and looking for beneficial opportunities. For example, renting a hopper-bottom trailer allowed the Marion County location to source its own fertilizer materials to fulfill customer requests, and Britt said plant food tonnage has increased as a result. He also hopes to add a bulk chemical warehouse soon to better serve the crop protection needs of area growers.

“We’ve come a long way from when I was hired, but we’ve never had the mentality that we wanted to grow overnight,” Britt said. “We’re just continually looking for new ways to show our value and help make our customers more profitable. What’s good for the customer is good for us.”

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