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Managing help on the farm

Scott Hays manages 20 full-time employees at his family’s hog business near Monroe City, Mo. His brother Todd Hays oversees three employees on a separate pork operation nearby. The brothers agree, managing workers isn’t easy, no matter what your farm size. Especially when family members participate in the business.

Scott learned military-style management while stationed in a U.S. Army missile site in Germany. “I learned to have a well-defined chain of command and defined goals and objectives,” he said. These rules hold true on the farm, but he’s found that farm workers want something more.

“I don’t have the authority to demand things here,” said Scott. “I have to understand each person’s demeanor and motivate them accordingly to get the job done.”

Scott and his wife, Riss, bought her grandparents’ farm in 1994, and today six family members own Two Mile Pork. Here, 4,200 sows produce about 2,000 pigs a week. In total, the crew cares for 40,000 pigs at a time.

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Get rid of the low-carbon blues

MFA’s new Herdsman barb wire makes efficient, long-lasting fence

As spring weather clears, we can finally get some fence built. And if you’re going to the trouble to build a fence, it might as well be strong and long lasting. So I’d like to make your fence-building shopping list a little easier by explaining the difference between hi-tensile and low-carbon barb wire.

Low-carbon barb wire has been around for years—ever since barb wire was introduced. This barb wire is generally a 12 ?-gauge construction, Class 1 zinc coating with post spacing of 10 to 12 feet (about 3 or 4 mid-stride steps). Hi-tensile wire has a higher breaking strength, Class 3 Galvanization with post spacing up to 15 to 18 feet (5 to 6 steps).

It’s worth explaining the classifications of wire coating mentioned above. This rating tells us how much galvanization or zinc coating is on the wire. These wire classification standards are determined and certified by the American Society for Testing Materials. Class 1 and Class 3 measure the thickness of zinc coating on the wire. Generally speaking, Class 3 wire has 2 ? times more zinc than Class 1 and,  respectively, will last 2 ? times longer before rust appears.

When I mention hi-tensile wire to the occasional fence builder, I often get a look of anxiety and a sideways nod along with an opinion about the difficulties of working with this wire.

But most of the time when someone mentions hi-tensile barb wire, the first thing that comes to mind is a smaller-diameter, springier wire—the kind of wire that, when it breaks, tears things up. I know this wire has caused nightmares for some fence builders. But, I believe that the main reason for their troubles is that this wire was overstretched.

The truth is that fence wire often ends up stretched too tight. You never want a fence to be “fiddle string” tight. When a fence is this tight several things happen. First, the memory is taken out of the fence, making it easier to break. Memory is what allows the wire to contract on the cold days and lengthen on the hot days, and here in Midwest, we can see that all in the same day. Second, the wire’s galvanization is stretched out of the manufacturers proportions allowing “stress cracks” to form within the galvanization. These cracks allow moisture to seep through the galvanization down to the wire core, which causes pre-mature rust. That weakens wire and leads to quicker failure.

So, let me introduce you to a compromise between these two types of wires—our Herdsman 14-gauge, hi-tensile. This wire costs approximately $6 per roll less than low-carbon barb wire and it delivers potential post spacing of 15 to 18 feet apart. This is a third fewer posts compared to low-carbon barb wire. On a quarter-mile, 4-wire fence, this would save about $100 in material costs, not including the savings of labor of driving a third fewer posts and tying a third fewer clips. Many contractors estimate labor at the same cost as fence materials. Therefore, this $100 savings quickly turns into at least $200 back in your pocket. And, the fence lasts 2 ? times longer than conventional barb-wire fence.

Even though this wire is hi-tensile, it ties very similar to low-carbon wire and does not have the wicked recoil effect of 15 ?-gauge barb wire.
From what I’ve seen of Herdsman in the field, it’s time to get rid of those low-carbon blues and put up Herdsman 14-gauge hi-tensile.
(Please follow local ordinances on number of wires and post spacing.)

Allen Huhn is manager of steel products for MFA Incorporated’s Farm Supply division.

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CoBank event hosted by MFA

Cooperative board members gather to exchange ideas

In February, corporate board members of MFA Incorporated, Growmark, Southern States and Alabama Farmers Cooperative gathered for a leadership workshop sponsored by cooperative banking leader, CoBank. Participants spent a couple days in Columbia, Mo., discussing the challenges a modern cooperative board faces and gleaning insight into the new directions of the agriculture from guest speakers from the  University of Missouri.

Joining the group as keynote speaker was Brett Begemann, Chief Commercial Officer at Monsanto. Begemann’s remarks focused on Monsanto’s commitment to double yield by 2030 and the challenges agriculture faces from finite resources, the public perspective of traditional agriculture and climate fluctuation. Begemann was straightforward in explaining his company’s focus toward that goal. Its R&D resources are pointed squarely at realistic advances in yield for customers of Monsanto corn, soybean and cotton seed. The company will use genetics to push plants toward additional yield, of course, but it will also breed plants that provide better protection against pests and better weed control.

For Monsanto to hit its goal, corn production in the prominent agricultural markets of Argentina, Brazil and the United States would need to reach a weighted average of 220 bushels per acre by 2030, compared to 109.1 bushels per acre in 2000. Soybean production in those countries would rise from a weighted average of 39.5 bushels per acre in 2000 to 79 bushels per acre in 2030. Cotton would increase from 1.4 bales (672 pounds) per acre to 2.8 bales (1,344 pounds) per acre. While seed companies like Monsanto may lead the charge in seed genetics, Begemann pointed out that suppliers like MFA and other cooperatives will be challenged with additional demand for plant food and other crop inputs. One aspect of Begemann’s address that holds promise for MFA is precision agriculture.

“The piece that is yet to be defined,” he said, “is precision agriculture. We haven’t touched the tip of this technology.” He added that a researcher at Monsanto believes there are an additional 50 bushels per acre to be added through precision technology. Begemann pointed out that current precision practices take advantage of shifting seed planting population on-the-go. He said if that worked, why wouldn’t we adjust row spacing, too? And why wouldn’t we change corn hybrids as we crossed a field to better match soil types? Begemann implied that these questions weren’t so much blue-sky thinking as something that is obtainable prior to Monsanto’s 2030 deadline.

As he reminded the crowd that Monsanto wasn’t the only company with plans to make great gains in crop yields, he asked another question that was out of Monsanto’s and all other seed companies’ purview: If they deliver on the tremendous yield increases they seem capable of, will the rural infrastructure that gets food from field to table be up to the challenge?

Leadership means keeping up

Aside from Bregemann’s address, participants in the event discussed the changing technology in agriculture and how company know-how needs to pass through generations of employees as more than mere information but rather knowledge that is ready for uptake by new employees. Group discussion focused on how effective owner/member boards select, retain and train their members. The event is sponsored by CoBank each year.

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What do exports mean to you?

Two U.S. farmers trek to Asia to promote our products

Kenny McNamar calls his trip last fall to China an eye-opener. At a feed mill near Shanghai, he was surprised to see how corn arrived.

“They opened the back of the truck and it was filled with gunny sacks,” said McNamar, who farms near Gorin, in northeastern Missouri. “Workers cut open the bags by hand to dump the corn into the pit.”

This is just one example that McNamar witnessed of the labor-intensive nature of Chinese agriculture, leading him to believe that there’s great hope for U.S. ag export growth. It helps explain why McNamar found that the price farmers receive for corn in China runs higher than the U.S. price. “It would be cheaper for them to import corn than to grow it,” he said.

McNamar, president of the Missouri Corn Growers Association, raises 700 acres of soybeans and corn and 150 beef cows, with help from his wife, Donna and son, Chris. He traveled to China, Japan and Taiwan to promote U.S. ag exports with three other farmers, two corn staffers and representatives of the U.S. Grains Council.

McNamar thinks this type of promotional effort is well worth it. “Most farmers don’t realize the importance of exports,” he said. “Exports help stabilize the price we receive for our products.”

As you look over your fields, consider this: In the U.S., about 20 percent of your corn and 59 percent of your soybeans go to export markets, according to the U.S. Grains Council and the Missouri Soybean Association.
Gary Marshall, CEO of Missouri Corn Growers Association, explains how farmers like McNamar, who live near the Mississippi River, especially benefit from exports. “The corn market is 20 to 25 cents higher within 75 miles of major users and/or river terminals,” he said. “With Missouri having the good fortune of two major rivers, we also have a distinct advantage over other corn states in transportation costs.”

Kansas grower sees rising demand
Keith Miller of Great Bend, Kan., lives about 250 miles from the nearest river grain hub, but he, too, benefits from exports. He raises wheat, corn, soybeans, milo, alfalfa and 350 head of Angus on 7,500 acres. Like McNamar, he’s seen export opportunities first-hand, trekking to Asia several times as president of the U.S. Meat Export Federation. In addition to meeting with trade officials in urban centers, he traveled through the Chinese countryside by train.

“Things are still done by hand,” Miller said. “There’s no

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