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In this Dec 2022 / Jan 2023

Cracking open markets for Missouri pecans
The Show-Me State’s sweet, native nuts have much to offer—no matter how you say it

by Jessica Ekern

Victory in Indy
Missouri FFA members earn top awards at the FFA national convention

by Allison Jenkins

Back to work
Returning CRP ground to agricultural production takes careful consideration

by Allison Jenkins

The little things count

Make sure you have the right endorsements on your crop insurance policy

by Blake Thomas

Feeding the future

Show Me Youth Ag Academy provides immersive education in livestock production

by Allison Jenkins

Doing our part with heart

MFA Charitable Foundation helps fund community projects that support agriculture, education and rural life

by Allison Jenkins

Losing crop protection tools challenges growers

We must seek alternative solutions when proven products can no longer be used

by Doug Spaunhorst

Waste not, want not when feeding hay

Storage, management practices can have significant impact on losses

by Dr. Jim White


Country Corner
Eight billion people and counting

by Allison Jenkins


Ramping up research
MFA is new sponsor of Missouri High School Rodeo
Dairy dominance

Markets - as printed in the magazine
Corn: Final crop estimates among price influences
Soybeans: Export sales remain strong
Cattle: Cattle inventory cycles lower
Wheat: Drought, late planting threaten U.S. crop

Recipes - as printed in the magazine
Recipes - website

Coconut season

BUY, sell, trade

Taking hold of an uncertain future

by Ernie Verslues

Closing Thought
Poem by Walter Bargen
Photo by Jessica Ekern

Flip book of the Dec/Jan 2022 Today's Farmer magazine
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Back to work

Returning CRP ground to agricultural production takes careful consideration

Coming out of retirement is never easy. There are financial implications. Concerns about health and well-being. Questions about productivity and capabilities.

Those same considerations apply when Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land is returned to agricultural production. The purpose of the program, which was established by Congress in 1985, is to address erosion, water quality and wildlife habitat loss on environmentally sensitive ground. Landowners take eligible acreage out of production for 10 to 15 years at a time and receive annual rental payments in return.

However, high commodity prices, lower supplies and strong demand in recent years are incentivizing producers to put these retired acres back to work. And that trend is causing concern among conservationists who don’t want to see decades of land improvement go down the drain.

“There are a lot of expiring CRP acres going into row crops because we’ve got $7 corn and $15 soybeans. From a conservation standpoint, it’s kind of tough to swallow,” said Landry Jones, MFA conservation grazing specialist. “We know there’s a reason that land was put in CRP in the ’80s and ’90s, usually because it was highly erodible or not productive. All farmers are in this business to be profitable, but they’re also in it to leave a legacy for the next generation. That’s why producers really need to make informed decisions when it comes to farming those CRP acres.”

Missouri had 233,000 acres of CRP with contracts that expired Sept. 30 at the fiscal year-end for the USDA Farm Service Agency, which administers the program. The state was among the top five with the most expiring acres in 2022, leaving a total of 712,000. Over the next three years, another 170,000 acres are set to roll out of the program.

“That doesn’t mean all those acres will come out of CRP, but their contracts will expire, and they will likely either be re-enrolled or go into some form of production agriculture,” said Nate Goodrich, assistant state conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Missouri. “The bottom dollar is what’s really going to count. If commodity prices continue to stay high, we’ll probably see more of these acres farmed. If CRP pencils out as the best way to go, we’ll see producers going that direction. But if I had a crystal ball to know for sure, I’d be a rich man.”

The program’s long-term contracts mean that many CRP parcels have been on hiatus for a decade or more, and preparing them for production is no simple matter. There is no cookie-cutter approach, Jones points out. Management decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis, considering the land’s past history and current condition. And renovations won’t happen overnight, he warned.

“To go from a CRP field to a highly productive row-crop field or pasture is a tough row to hoe without taking some proper steps,” Jones said. “It will take time. It’s important to have a good plan in place long before you plan on putting a seed in the ground.”

Goodrich encourages producers who are bringing land out of CRP to work with their local NRCS office to put together a conservation plan. There are couple of reasons for this advice, he added. First if they’re participating in other USDA programs, they have to stay in compliance with those requirements. Second, a conservation plan can open up opportunities with other Farm Bill programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) or Conservation Stewardship Program. These can provide financial assistance to install conservation practices or activities to further control soil erosion, provide wildlife habitat and increase soil health.

That’s exactly the approach Matt Graham took when he acquired expiring CRP ground adjacent to his family farm in Eagleville, Mo., just south of the Iowa border. Four years ago, he purchased 30 acres from a neighbor who had enrolled the parcel in CRP in the late 1980s. The current contract expired Oct. 1. Graham plans to keep the land in grass to expand his beef operation.

“I feel pretty lucky that we were able to get this,” Graham said. “My neighbor had already been approached by other farmers who were going to pay him more than $100 an acre to rent it for row crops. That’s what I’m competing with. If you’re just running cows, it’s pretty tough to make that work.”

Graham, an agricultural engineer by trade, moved back home six years ago to this Century Farm, which was established by his maternal grandmother’s family. He and his wife, Amanda, and their sons, Kolton, 16, and Lane, 14, raise Angus-shorthorn cattle and recently added Wagyu to the operation. Graham’s father, Vince, also has his own beef operation up the road.

“My family’s been farming here since 1886,” Graham said. “That’s why I have a different view than some landowners. This ground is highly erodible and shouldn’t be farmed for crops. Running cattle on it is the best thing you could do. I want it to be here for my boys to continue to do it.”

Overall, the former CRP acreage wasn’t in bad shape when he took over, Graham said. To prepare it for grazing, he’s been controlling weeds, installing cross-fencing and putting in watering stations. He’s also been collaborating with Adam Jones, MFA conservation specialist, to grid sample the land and put together a nutrient management plan for NRCS, which is providing financial assistance through the EQIP program to build a winter-feeding facility.

“Right now, I’m just feeding in hay rings, and the ground gets pretty torn up,” Graham said. “NRCS is going to help cost-share the barn, so I’ll be able to feed in there during the winter and push all my manure into a pit and then eventually spread it across the pasture.”

While keeping expired CRP land in grass is preferred in most cases, Goodrich said, there are ways to return the acres to row-crop production in an environmentally responsible manner.

“A good system we like to see is incorporating no-till or reduced tillage prior to planting the crops as well as cover crops in between to control erosion and increase soil health,” he said. “NRCS also encourages structural practices, when and where needed, that could include terraces throughout the field or grass waterways in the concentrated flow areas. Growers might need to do a combination of both management and structural practices to really keep the erosion where we’d like to see it and to make them eligible for USDA programs.”

When it comes to such programs, Goodrich said NRCS will work with landowners and farmers to find the best fit. With the influx of federal climate-smart funding, there are even more opportunities than ever before, he added.

“That’s part of the job of our soil conservationists, to work with those producers to find the best program for what they want to do,” he said. “There are a lot of different options out there. We can help them find the best route to get them where they want to go.”

A brand-new opportunity, just announced in mid-November, is the EQIP Native Forages Initiative. This program is targeted to producers who want to convert non-native forages or cropland to native forages for haying or grazing. Expiring CRP ground could be eligible for this initiative, Goodrich said.

“This program was prompted by the drought, which caused folks to lose a lot of grass or pastureland,” he explained. “We’re trying to incentivize them to establish some warm-season grasses into their grazing operations so they will have something that’s going to respond during the hot, dry months. It’s a little bit different than our traditional EQIP program in that we are able to turn these around very quickly without having to go through a ranking and batching period like we do with our traditional programs.”

As for CRP, shifting conservation and environmental priorities and commodity price cycles will likely shape its future in the next farm bill debate, but Jones said he believes it will continue to play an important role in government-funded conservation programs.

“I think CRP is always going to have its place because it comes with that annual rental payment,” he said. “Just having that 10- or 15-year guaranteed annual income is meaningful for some of these marginal lands. It goes back to stewardship, which is one of MFA’s core values. Making decisions with stewardship in mind isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but it’s the right thing to do.”

For more information on transitioning CRP acres or other conservation opportunities, contact your local NRCS office or MFA affiliate or email Landry Jones at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

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


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Cracking open markets for Missouri pecans

The Show-Me State’s sweet, native nuts have much to offer—no matter how you say it.

Is it “PEE-can” or “pi-KHAN?” “Pi-CAN” or “PEE-khan?” The way you say “pecan” is usually determined by—well—various reasons. Sociolinguists think maybe it is a North-South or rural-urban difference. Others think it depends on dialect, while many believe it is the context of how the word itself is used.

No matter how you pronounce it, the pecan is a true American nut with a great history and so much to offer.

“In a native pecan grove, the trees are wild and were planted by the squirrels and the Native Americans,” said Cheyenne Miller Deitch of Miller Pecan Farms in De Witt, Mo. “Our native pecan is pretty much the same as it was hundreds of years ago and has the same sweet natural flavor. I think that is pretty amazing!”

The word pecan is derived from the original Algonquin tribe’s word “pacane” which meant, “nuts requiring a stone to crack.” Because of its thin shell and large kernel, the Native Americans used these nuts as a food source and were the first to cultivate and trade them.

The pecan is the only major tree nut indigenous to North America. Today, there are more than 1,000 varieties, many named after Native American tribes, such as the Pawnee, Osage, Kanza and Lakota. More than 75% of U.S. pecans are grown in Georgia, Texas and New Mexico, but pecan trees also thrive across Missouri.

In 1972, Brunswick was crowned the Pecan Capital of Missouri, but there are other hubs of pecan activity in the state—not only Chariton County but also the area encompassing Bates and Vernon counties in west-central Missouri. The state’s native species, Carya illinoinensis, originally only grew in southeast Missouri but was spread north and west by Native Americans. It now grows naturally throughout most of the Show-Me State with more than 11,000 acres of native or cultivated pecan trees, according to the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

Missouri growers benefit from those wild native pecan trees clustered together in groves or carefully planted in orchards with seedlings of different varieties. The pecans they harvest are smaller than the southern pecan, lighter in color and sweeter due to the high oil content.

Grafted Native Pecans
Precisely planted pecan trees line a portion of Highway 24 leading to Shepherd Farms in Clifton Hill, Mo.
“The ones on a highway, they’re just for looks,” said Dan Shepherd, who owns and operates the farm with his wife, Jan. “We don’t harvest them, and the state doesn’t bother them. They are there to look beautiful.”
Their farm has evolved through the years—eastern gamagrass seed, row crops, cattle, bison—but pecan trees have always been a constant.

“When I was about 12 years old, my dad bought 20 acres right down here on the river (East Fork Little Chariton) because he wanted to plant pecan trees,” Shepherd said. “I remember climbing up on the levee and looking to the north over at this place. I said to my dad, ‘You ought to buy that place. You could plant a lot of pecans out there.’”

A few years later, the 1,700-acre farm that Shepherd had pointed out was for sale, and his father, Jerrell, purchased it. The planting of native pecan trees began with 900 trees on 15 acres. At 14, Shepherd helped but said they really didn’t know what they were doing.

Shepherd started managing the farm in 1978 as his father continued with his career in radio. “My dad loved the farming business and he had a lot of input on the pecan trees and other operations,” said Shepherd. His father passed away in 1998 and never was able to see the full success of his dream.

Today, Shepherd estimates that he has about 5,000 pecan trees on about 300 acres of the now 4,000-acre farm. The orchards are beautifully designed and carefully manicured throughout the year. Each pecan variety is tagged and has its own plot.

“It took close to 20 years before we had a viable nut harvest,” said Shepherd. “I wish Dad could see the orchards now.”

The reward of a new pecan farm, like a good wine, takes time. Shepherd and his father learned how to graft native root stock and known varieties for better results. With grafted pecan trees, the nuts are larger than those from ungrafted native trees, and harvests can be sooner in the tree’s life and more consistent. The yields also tend to be higher per acre than yields from wild pecan trees. With grafting, Shepherd explained, growers are also looking for varieties that are less susceptible to disease, such as pecan scab.

Like the fruit of all other members of the hickory genus, the pecan is not truly a nut. It is technically a drupe, a fruit with a single stone or pit, surrounded by a husk. The pecan tree’s growing season begins in the spring with flowers in April and May. The fruit appears in September and October in clusters of three to 10 with a thin, reddish-brown husk that splits along four ridges during maturity to expose the nut. The nut has a thin, light brown shell that is cylindrical and pointed at the tip.

When the pecans reach maturity and the husks start splitting open in late October or early November, they’re ready for harvest. At Shepherd Farms, the orchard floor is mowed throughout the season to keep the weeds and grass at a minimum. The harvest party begins with a mechanical tree shaker, which grabs each side of a trunk with rubber clamps and shakes the trees to drop the nuts to the ground. The ground begins to vibrate like a mini earthquake as the nuts, leaves and branches rain down.

A pecan harvest implement is attached to a tractor and driven around the tree to collect nuts from the orchard floor. The nuts are deposited into a hopper as the machine spits out the debris from behind. Once at a processing facility, the pecans are cleaned, inspected and dried. They are sorted and sized for cracking and shelling, then packaged for sale.

This year has been difficult for Missouri pecan growers, Shepherd said. The lack of rain and an early frost will cut into the 2022 pecan yield. A saving grace for growers is that the pecan, shelled or not, can be stored in a freezer at 0 degrees and stay fresh for up to five years.

Shepherd does his own harvesting and has a state-of-the-art facility onsite to process, bag and store pecans. He also processes pecans for other growers. Typically, Shepherd Farms harvests about 180,000 pounds of pecans a year, and Jan operates a retail store that is open October through December.

“Our nuts are sourced by national ingredient manufacturers, exported internationally and sold in local retail shops as well as our own,” Shepherd said.
After spending most of his life dedicated to the farm, Shepherd said he is satisfied to see his father’s dream of raising pecans become a reality.

“It was a big upfront investment before we were seeing a good return,” Shepherd said. “The nice thing about these trees is that they could produce for other 80 years. We now just prune and make some adjustments to the orchard when needed.”

Native Pecans
In contrast to the cultivated, grafted orchards at Shepherd Farms, native pecan groves are the center of business for Miller Pecan Farms in De Witt, located along the Grand River about 45 minutes west on Highway 24. Pecan trees like to grow in moist, well-drained soil, heavy with humus, so native pecans are often found thriving in river bottoms.

Cheyenne Miller Deitch, who now manages the family business, said that the farm only has about 12 grafted trees. The rest are wild. Overall, a good harvest for the farm is about 10,000 pounds of pecans.

“Our native pecan is sweeter and smaller because they have a higher oil content. And since they are native to Missouri, we don’t have to spray them. They are all-natural,” Deitch said. “We mow around the trees and then harvest the pecans. We just let nature take its course.”

After a short stint as a teacher, Deitch began managing the farm six years ago. The business was established by her grandparents, Dean and Ruth Miller, in 1972 with one pecan cracker and about 20 trees.

“They were farmers and initially wanted to teach their kids how to make money on the side,” Deitch said. “They cracked their own pecans and sold a few, and they would crack some for neighbors for 5 cents a pound.”

Once the word was out, more and more people asked the Millers to crack pecans.

“My grandpa went around to the other pecan producers in Missouri and asked if anyone wanted to sell their pecan crackers,” Deitch said. “He came upon a family who wanted to sell out completely, so he bought all their equipment as well as their grove. That’s kind of how we got started.”

Dean, a seed salesman, had built a shed for his seed products and farm equipment. Ruth asked if she could have a little corner to put in a few candies and canned items.

“My grandpa was the sweetest man, so he said yes,” Deitch said.

The side business turned into a full-blown pecan operation with more cracking machines, washing stations and a drying room. There wasn’t much room left for the seed business or farm equipment. Ruth’s venture of creating candies and pralines developed into the family store, The Squirrel’s Nest.

“Now, here we are 50 years later, with three generations in the business and the fourth generation who comes with me on the weekends,” laughed Deitch. “My two girls love spending time here, and every now and then, you get Grandma, Mrs. Miller, out here checking on me. My heart is here. This is what I have always wanted to do my whole life.”

Dean Miller passed away on Christmas morning in 2020, but Ruth is proud to see her family carrying on his legacy. “I have enjoyed working with my children to develop good work ethics and fostering an understanding for the value of a dollar in them,” she said. “I have loved watching our business grow and develop into what it is today. Working with family has helped us to ensure quality and develop a sense of pride in our accomplishments together. We are certainly nutty about it!”

Organic Native Pecans
Along with Chariton County, west-central Missouri is also known for native pecan production. In Nevada, Mo., just off Interstate 49, the Missouri Northern Pecan Growers (MNPG) facility processes and stores pecans and offers a variety of products, including Missouri and American native pecans and pecan oil.

“We started the business in 2000 with seven growers,” said Joe Wilson, MNPG co-owner. “At the time, we were gathering and selling pecans to Texas and Georgia but not getting a good price because our natives were smaller. Yet, everyone admitted that our pecans had a very good flavor. So, we decided to capitalize on our great-tasting native Missouri pecans.”
To capture another segment of the market, MNPG started offering 100% certified organic pecans in 2003.

“Our organic certification ensures the public of our due diligence in offering a product that is not only tasty, but also is not harming the environment,” said Wilson. “To be certified organic is an extensive process.”

With a strong international export business, the growers took the organic certification process even further by getting authorized to sell to South Korea, which does not recognize the U.S. certification.

“A company in South Korea that we were connected with sent a certifier to the United States to come to little Nevada, Mo.,” Wilson explained. “We took this young lady out to our groves, and she inspected them and reviewed our records here at the plant. We are now certified to sell organic pecans in South Korea, and, as far as I know, we’re the only company in the United States that can do that.”

“It’s just kind of fulfilling to think that these little nuts we raised right here in Vernon County are being eaten all over the world,” he added.
MNPG works with about 60 growers in the region and typically processes about 1 million pounds of native Missouri pecans each year.

“We began doing all our own processing and purchased more equipment, and we can easily shell 2 million pounds of pecans a year,” Wilson said. “Two years ago, we built a 5,000-square-foot freezer so we can freeze our pecans and also offer custom freezer space to the community.”

Ben Bennett and his wife, Amanda, are also co-owners of MNPG, along with her two brothers. The siblings’ father, Wayne Harth, who passed away two years ago, was one of the original founders. Bennett enjoys the harvest and telling people about Missouri native pecans.

“When people say they don’t like pecans, it’s usually because they only get the brown, dried-out pecans from the grocery store. Who knows how long they have been on the shelf?” Bennett said. “The fresher they are, the better they are.”

One new venture for MNPG is pecan oil, which has been shown to have health benefits, Bennett noted. He shared a story of a customer who claimed he lowered his cholesterol by 60 to 80 points by using pecan oil on his popcorn rather than butter. Pecan oil is rich in monounsaturated fats and low in saturated fats, with one-third less saturated fat than olive oil and two-thirds less than butter.

“We make our own pecan oil, and it’s all cold-pressed, not refined,” Bennett said. “It has a high smoke point of 470 degrees and a nice light, nutty flavor.”
Pecans are not only good for our bodies but also good for the land, Wilson added.

“Our wild pecan trees are unaltered by man, planted by nature and the squirrels,” he said. “These pecan trees grow in the environmentally sensitive floodplains, naturally protecting the land that runs along rivers, creeks, estuaries, lakes and wetlands. This ecosystem provides habitat and supports diverse communities of plants and animals. Our farmers are proud to nurture and harvest this sustainable crop.”

For more information about the pecan farms featured, visit online at shepherdfarms.com; millerpecanfarms.com; and mopecans.com.

Click HERE to read more in this Dec/Jan2023 issue of Today’s Farmer

CLICK HERE to read this article as printed in the flip book of this magazine issue.
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Victory in Indy

Missouri FFA members earn top awards at the national convention

Missouri FFA chapters brought home five first-place awards among many other honors from the 95th National FFA Convention & Expo, held Oct. 26-29 in Indianapolis.

Audrain County FFA member Emily Hoyt, in front, is all smiles as she accepts the national agricultural proficiency award in agricultural education at the National FFA Convention Oct. 27 in Indianapolis. Audrain County had not one, but two national winners. Justin Duenke was also the national winner in diversified agricultural production, entrepreneurship/placement.Audrain County FFA member Emily Hoyt, in front, is all smiles as she accepts the national agricultural proficiency award in agricultural education at the National FFA Convention Oct. 27 in Indianapolis. Audrain County had not one, but two national winners. Justin Duenke was also the national winner in diversified agricultural production, entrepreneurship/placement.Two of those national winners came from the same chapter—Audrain County R-VI FFA—in Agricultural Proficiency categories, which honor outstanding work in supervised agricultural experiences (SAE). Emily Hoyt took first place in Agricultural Education with a project involving her work with Missouri Farmers Care’s Ag Education on the Move program. She also served as a teaching assistant for seventh- and eighth-grade agriculture classes.

Justin Duenke, a fellow Audrain County FFA member, was the national winner in Diversified Agricultural Production, Entrepreneurship/Placement. His SAE involved multiple areas, including grain, oil crops, forage production and tending to beef cattle and Haflinger draft horses on his family farm in Laddonia.

Trenton Jones of the Higginsville FFA Chapter was tops in the nation for Diversified Horticulture. He works at C&M Farms greenhouse and operates his own plant store, Trent’s Tropicals, which he started in his backyard by selling exotic plants on social media.

Gallatin FFA member Trent Lane Dowell was the national proficiency winner in Wildlife Production and Management. He has a two-part SAE involving wildlife habitat management and deer feed mineral production.
North Shelby FFA also captured a national championship in Agronomy as part of the convention’s Career and Leadership Development Events. North Shelby member Luke Schwanke was the top-placing individual in Ag Technology and Mechanical Systems competition, in which his team also won second place overall.

Other top-placing chapters in CDE/LDE events included second places for Farm and Agribusiness Management, Palmyra; Poultry, Columbia; and Nursery/Landscape, Van-Far, with Ennis Childs as the top-placing individual. Third-place honors went to North Shelby for Conduct of Meetings and Troy for Parliamentary Procedure. North Callaway took fourth place for Floriculture, Forsyth earned fifth place in Forestry, Fair Grove came in seventh in Livestock Evaluation and Monroe City landed ninth place in Food Science. Lauren Bailey of Clinton FFA was the fifth-placing individual in Horse Evaluation.

During the national convention, Missouri members were also awarded 582 American FFA Degrees, the most from any state in 2022. Less than one-half of 1% of all FFA members earn this top individual honor given by the organization.

In 2022, a total of 35 Missouri chapters received the highest available rating, three stars, with the Blue Springs FFA chapter named as a “Premier Chapter: Building Communities” national finalist. Centralia FFA was selected to represent Missouri in the “Hall of States,” an exhibit that provides members the opportunity to learn about various agricultural industries through interactive booths created by FFA chapters across the nation.
Nine Missourians were also awarded Honorary American FFA Degrees, which are given to individuals who have provided exceptional service on a national level to agriculture, agricultural education or FFA. This year’s recipients are Dave Baker of Columbia, the late Edward Hager of Eugene, Eddie Sydenstricker of Mexico, Aimee Hood of O’Fallon, Mindy McDermott of St. Louis, McKenzie Conner of Neosho, and agricultural teachers Sherry Byram of Owensville and Sarah Peterson of Mansfield.

FFA student enrollment is now at a record high of 850,823 members, an increase of 15% from last year. In addition, chapter numbers increased by 178 over the past year, numbering 8,995 in the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Missouri has 26,260 members from 353 chapters, ranking it eighth in national membership.

A full list of this year’s award winners and event results are available at www.ffa.org/95th-convention-event-results.

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


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