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Weirich is new MFA director of agronomy

Brings commanding knowledge of weeds and agronomic systems to your cooperative

Today’s Farmer welcomes Dr. Jason Weirich as a contributor. He will begin contributing to the magazine and its digital outlets beginning next month. Jason is MFA Incorporated’s new director of agronomy.

Weirich grew up in Eads, Colo., where he worked on his grandparents’ farms in that Colorado environment of corn, sorghum and cattle.

He attended Oklahoma Panhandle State University in Goodwell, Okla., where he earned degrees in Agricultural Business and Agronomy.

“At that point in my life,” he said, “I was most interested in farming. But OSU had a research station on that end of the state, and I was encouraged to get a master’s degree by Rick Kochenower, who was the state grain sorghum specialist for Oklahoma State University. I’d been helping him as an intern doing field research. I took his encouragement and enrolled at Oklahoma State University to get my master’s degree where I studied and worked under Dr. Case Medlin, a weed specialist.”

Weirich earned his Master’s of Science in plant and soil weed science with an emphasis in applied weed science in 2007.

He took his experience at OSU and matriculated to Mississippi State to work on a PhD.

“My dissertation was research on glyphosate-resistant weeds in peanuts. It was a six-state project that looked at the long-term viability of glyphosate technology. I wanted to look at more than just the chemistry and plant science, though. I wanted to research the overall economics, which is how I ended up with a minor in agricultural economics from that experience,” said Weirich.

With his doctorate achieved, Weirich joined the University of Missouri’s Delta Research Center in 2010 where he was assistant extension professor of weed science. At MU, he focused on cotton, corn, soybeans and wheat.

Joining MFA Incorporated in the final months of 2011, Weirich will now head up the agronomy department where he will keep a close eye on agronomic issues in MFA’s trade territory and help train MFA field employees.

“My goal throughout my career so far both in education and now with MFA is to reach farmers,” he said. “My doctorate was 100 percent on-farm work. I enjoy the challenges and problem solving that come from not just weed control, but refining and employing agronomic practices that give farmers the best chance at success.”

Weirich said his work at the University of Missouri helped him realize how important cooperatives are to farmers in the Midwest and Mid-South.

“It’s going to be fun,” he said. “I like to be in front of producers and help find commonsense solutions for agronomic issues on their farms.”

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Foundation is ready for opportunities

On the farm, we call it resourcefulness. In business, it’s called the entrepreneurial spirit. At school it’s called discovery and collaboration, and for the College of Agriculture Foundation, it’s just what they do. Established in bleak agricultural economic times in the 1930s, the foundation’s goal has long been to promote and further agricultural education in Missouri and beyond through cooperation with MU’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

“The foundation has been around for a long time,” said Christine Pickett, director of external relations for CAFNR, “but in the past half dozen years it has refocused itself in helping CAFNR accomplish things that the college can’t achieve on its own.” Specifically, the foundation is able handle assets and direct funds without some of the same budgeting restrictions found in the university setting. And while its mission is closely tied to CAFNR, it’s not an alumni organization—it is open to anyone who wants to lend their support (see Web site at end of story for details). 

A couple projects the foundation has participated in recently show just how times change in agriculture and how entrepreneurialism and collaboration can pay off in research and helping students prepare for careers.

Agriculture and hospitality

In 2008, the Gathering Place, a historic bed and breakfast on the east side of the University of Missouri’s campus came up for sale. It was just down the road from CAFNR’s Hospitality Management classrooms and labs, and it was a couple hundred yards from the main agriculture building. When viewed by its proximity to campus and potential value to CAFNR’s hospitality majors, the bed and breakfast looked like a potential asset for the college.

With input from CAFNR, the members of the College of Agriculture Foundation were convinced that buying the bed and breakfast would help fulfill the foundation’s mission. The foundation procured the funding and worked to close the real estate deal knowing that CAFNR could employ the asset to improve the learning experience for students majoring in hospitality management. Today, the foundation leases the property to CAFNR, whose hospitality management students use the facility to gain experience through work-study opportunities, internships and capstone projects.

Deb Strid, innkeeper at the Gathering Place said, “We try to keep about eight students involved here on a day-to-day basis. We work around their class schedules, with 7 a.m. through noon as our busiest time.” Strid and her husband Marc are the professional in-resident management for the operation, but the students get a chance to perform all the jobs required to run a bed and breakfast.

“They do it all,” said Strid. “They do housekeeping, laundry, food preparation and service. They clean the kitchen, take reservations and welcome guests. They learn the whole thing.”

Performing these jobs gives students a first-hand experience of the work they might be performing and managing after graduation. And while the work experience is valuable in itself, Strid said it’s meeting the guest that she thinks helps the students most.

“The best part here at the Gathering Place is to facilitate the interaction the students have with the guests. That’s a unique experience that they can’t get from other colleges.”

{gallery}March12/Found:200:260:1:2{/gallery}The Gathering Place employs modern, industry-proven software for guest and facility logistics, giving students experience that prepares them for post-college employment.

Strid said that occupancy rates are on the rise. Visiting lecturers and other academics account for much of the traffic at the Gathering Place, but the facility is open to the public. Last year we had about 35 percent occupancy in February. This year its 60 percent occupancy for February.”

Visit www.gatheringplacebedandbreakfast.com for information about staying at the facility. If you want to book for a football game, you’ll need your long-term calendar.

Composting and growing local

Just down the road from the well-kept rooms of the Gathering Place Bed and Breakfast, University of Missouri students dump leftover salad into a 30-gallon trash barrel. At a different residency hall cafeteria, uneaten spaghetti amasses in another 30-gallon barrel. By the end of the day, food waste from across campus will make its way to the University of Missouri’s Bradford Research Center to be turned into compost.

In total, about a half a ton of food waste is delivered to the farm each day. It’s part of a composting and vegetable-growing project that is growing into a showcase example for building a sustainable and local food chain. While the project launched with grant money and cooperation from University of Missouri dining services, the College of Agriculture Foundation is working to help fund the needed equipment.

Tim Reinbott, superintendent of the University of Missouri’s Bradford Research Center outside of Columbia, Mo., provides a good example how support from entities like the College of Agriculture Foundation can be leveraged in to education. During Reinbott’s tenure, Bradford has faced increased urban pressure. The farm once seemed a long way from town, but prosperous college towns have a way of fingering into the countryside. Bradford is now surrounded by acreages with houses—more each year. In that sense, Reinbott serves two constituencies. First, he knows that the farm’s proximity to MU’s Columbia campus means it’s essential for applied crops research, and professors and students count on that. But he also has recognized that research in the middle of a population center needs to be visitor-friendly and deliver results that the general public can see as directly beneficial in their lives. From quail habitat research to tomato festivals and sweet-corn variety evaluations and vegetable growing, Reinbott has helped steer research at the farm to wider audiences. The composting project, with its nod toward local food and closed-loop sustainability fits that outlook.

“It really started with our hoop houses,” said Reinbott. “We started taking our excess vegetables to Campus Dining. Once we got acquainted, Campus Dining’s executive chef, Eric Cartwright, told me, on average, students throw away 4.5 ounces of food per meal. That makes for 250 tons per year here.”

“The South Farm had been having trouble getting rid of their used horse bedding,” he said. “We put two and two together and decided to use the bedding and the food waste to make compost. We use the compost in our hoop houses and for our outdoor vegetable plots.”
Reinbott said Lincoln University had undertaken a similar project and gave him tips, particularly in the kind of facility to build and the equipment needed.

Under Bradford’s system, which is designed by students working on biological engineering degrees, food brought from campus is added to used horse bedding and stirred in a farm-sized PTO-powered mixer, where it begins its microbial composting. When the mixer is full, the material is moved to covered concrete bunks to finish composting. Reinbott said that the quantity of compost produced when the project hits full pace will be more than the farm can use in its vegetable projects. “We might tap the foundation with helping us bag and sell this stuff. It’s a very nice compost. Maybe we’d call it MizzouDoo.” 

Reinbott’s goal for the composting project is to show that the farm can be “completely green” in producing food. To meet that goal, equipment used for composting will run on biodiesel generated from used cooking oil also procured on campus.

“The College of Agriculture Foundation worked with the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council to purchase a biodiesel converter for us. We’re on the way,” said Reinbott.

Ed Turner, a trustee member for the foundation said that The College of Agriculture Foundation is increasingly active. Aside from its purchase of the bed and breakfast and work with the composting project, it purchased a tract of land adjacent to the CAFNR’s Horticulture and Agroforestry Research Center at New Franklin, Mo. The foundation is leasing the property to CAFNR to provide additional acres for research. “What we want to do,” said Turner, “is to help the college in ways that it can’t necessarily accomplish on its own.”
Find more about the foundation at http://www.collegeofagriculturefoundation.org.

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Livestock at the Western Farm Show

MFA co-sponsor of Dr. Ron Gill for livestock demonstrations

MFA and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association are set to help The Western Farm Show bolster its livestock offerings again this year with the Low-Stress Livestock Handling Demonstration. The one-hour sessions will be at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Feb. 24, 2012, at Scott Pavilion, adjacent to the American Royal Building, site of the Western Farm Show in Kansas City, Mo. The livestock demonstrations are free to paid Farm Show attendees. The Farm Show runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Feb. 24 and 25 and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Feb. 26, 2012.

Returning to lead the livestock sessions is Ron Gill, Ph.D., Texas AgriLife Extension Specialist. Gill has been providing technical expertise to livestock producers in beef cattle nutrition, management and livestock handling techniques for over 20 years. Ranchers can learn how to incorporate the economic benefits of improved livestock handling through reduced sickness and labor, and improved weight gains.

“We are extremely excited to be working with MFA Incorporated which is helping to support and promote the livestock demonstration during our Farm Show,” said Ken Dean, manager of the Western Farm Show. “Everyone at MFA is helping to make this a must-attend event for ranchers—regardless of the size of their operation.”

The 2011 Western Farm Show featured more than 500 exhibitors and occupied the entire American Royal Complex. That’s more than 400,000 square feet of floor space, filled with the latest in everything for agriculture from tractors to livestock equipment, feed, seed and more. The Family Living Center and Health-and-Safety Roundup Area provide information for the whole family.

Now in its 51st year, the Western Farm Show, owned and sponsored by the SouthWestern Association, will not only feature the livestock demonstration, but also will bring back the tractor pull and many of the same exhibits you’ve come to expect from the Western Farm Show.
Admission to the Western Farm Show is just $8, and coupons for $3 off admission are available by visiting your participating SouthWestern Association dealer. Children under 12 get in free. For more information, visit www.westernfarmshow.com.

The SouthWestern Association represents nearly 1,800 farm, construction, industrial and outdoor power equipment dealers, as well as 2,400 hardware retailers. Led by CEO Jeffrey H. Flora, CAE, the association spans eight states: Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

Make sure to check the show program to see all the MFA booths. Stop by to find out the latest from your cooperative.

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President’s / Chairman’s Letter

MFA Incorporated Annual Report for August 31, 2011

MFA Incorporated posted very good numbers for the fiscal year ending Aug. 31, 2011, including net income exceeding $18 million. The numbers are all the more impressive considering the crop-year weather. That operating environment saw delayed planting due to a wet spring and flooding in key areas of our sales territory which contrasted with severe drought in other key areas.

Three ingredients underlie the success of MFA Incorporated: an engaged and well-informed corporate board of directors; talented and dedicated employees; and most importantly, an interested and supportive customer base of local cooperatives and farmer/members.

Underscoring the financial success achieved during this fiscal year is our substantially improved balance sheet in terms of net worth (now $112 million), working capital, solvency, and earnings before interest, depreciation and amortization.

Management continues to focus on asset levels, while improving cash flow and building net worth. We manage capital requirements intensively. MFA enjoys good lender support and outstanding customer confidence, as evidenced by $73 million in prepay and exceptional bond purchases.

As your cooperative, MFA has focused on growth strategies, while developing effective solutions in selling, marketing, operations, inventory control, warehousing, credit, logistics, and personnel management and training. Sales volumes continue to increase. We continue to identify products and services that provide economic benefit to the customer.

Our corporate road map is focused on expanding the business through strategic acquisitions and sales growth into new geography adjacent to MFA’s existing trade territory. Measured against targeted levels of return, planned expansion allows us to capitalize on our strengths as a premier retail input supplier and grain originator.

Simultaneously, we have structured our wholesale divisions to complement retail expansion through planned volumes of plant foods, crop protection, farm supply, seed and feed with targeted levels of return. Wholesale divisions also concentrate efforts on sales growth into strategic new geography. We stay focused on core businesses and respond to changes in the marketplace.

In summary, at MFA we have a clear vision. We are communicating that vision throughout the cooperative and the customer base. We know where this company needs to be. More importantly, we know how to get there, even in an uncertain and volatile market.

We will stay focused, and we look forward to great things as the cooperative moves closer to its 100th year in 2014. Your cooperative will continue to be successful and vibrant as we grow the business and achieve continued financial improvements.

For more information, Visit MFA Incorporated's financial page where you can download financials.

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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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