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Handle with care livestock demos at the 2024 Western Farm Show

MFA brings stockmanship expert Ron Gill to Western Farm Show for low-stress cattle-working demonstrations

Working cattle doesn’t have to be stressful on producers or the animals. Dr. Ron Gill of Texas AgriLife Extension returns to the Western Farm Show later this month in Kansas City to share proven methods that can help.

Gill’s Low-Stress Livestock Handling Demonstration, sponsored by MFA Incorporated, will be offered at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 24, at Scott Pavilion, adjacent to the American Royal Building, where the show is held. These sessions are free to paid attendees.

Lowering stress while handling and working livestock not only improves safety for the animals and farmers but also provides health and economic benefits, explained Dr. Tony Martin, MFA manager of animal health.

“When an animal gets stressed, there’s a cortisol release, which is what initiates the fight or flight syndrome,” Martin said. “That cortisol pulsing through their body suppresses their immune system, decreases appetite and has an overall physiological impact that is counterproductive to our efforts keeping them healthy. When you can reduce the stress by working them calmly, you’re not getting that cortisol release, and they will respond better to vaccines and nutrition.”

Gill discovered these advantages firsthand by working to reduce sickness in high-risk cattle on his own ranching operation in Texas, and he has now been sharing that expertise with livestock producers for more than 20 years. His techniques focus on understanding the animals’ natural instincts and using that knowledge to communicate with the cattle. The goal is to have cattle respond, not react, he said.

“People try to make cattle handling really difficult and overthink the process,” Gill explained. “The easier it is on the cattle, the easier it is on you. Just getting them to move and do what you want them to do, that’s stockmanship. But when you use stockmanship skills to actually manage the psychology and well-being of an animal, that’s low-stress handling.”

This method is based on basic principles of cattle behavior:

• Cattle want to see you. Understanding this is foundational to handler positioning and cattle response. If cattle can see you, they know where the pressure is coming from. If the cattle only feel pressure, they can become uneasy, resulting in an unsafe situation. “We normally get behind cattle where they can’t see us very well,” Gill said. “That creates difficulty in getting them to move and communicating what we are asking them to do. I want to work from the front and side, draw the cattle to me and let them take themselves out of the pen.”
• Cattle want to go around you. This allows you to position yourself so that, when the cattle do go around you, they are pointed directly at the intended gate or destination.
• Cattle are herd animals. They want to be with and will go to other cattle. If you get one started, the rest will usually go, too. 
• Cattle want to remove pressure. The key to moving the cattle where you want them is to apply pressure at the right time, Gill said. He suggests setting up the workflow where the handler is pressuring the cattle and then offering the reward of release.
• Cattle can only process one main thought at a time. If cattle are thinking about anything other than what you are asking them to do, change their focus before putting pressure on them.

“Cattle are smart,” Gill said, “and if they are asked correctly, using pressure and release, they will usually do what is asked.”

During his demonstrations, Gill will also discuss an effective working facility design known as a “Bud Box,” a term inspired by the late Bud Williams, who was known across the country for his teachings on livestock marketing and stockmanship. The Bud Box capitalizes on the cattle’s instinct to remove pressure by returning to the last known safe or comfortable place. Low-stress handlers can use this to their advantage when sorting and moving cattle from one corral to another.
While low-stress handling may take slightly more time on the front end, it will save time and money in the long-term, said Gill, adding that effective stockmanship has also been shown to positively impact beef quality and food safety.

“With increasing scrutiny of the industry, it’s important to use management skills that can improve performance, income and animal welfare without adding costs to the process,” he said. “Low-stress handling is one way this can be done.”

We’ll see you at the show

The 2024 Western Farm Show returns to the American Royal Complex in Kansas City Friday, Feb. 23, through Sunday, Feb. 25. More than 400,000 square feet of exhibit space will be filled with new farm and ranch equipment and wide-ranging displays of other agricultural products and services.

MFA Incorporated is once again a primary sponsor of the event, now in its 62nd year. MFA will have booths featuring agronomy, livestock and rural lifestyle products as well as recruitment specialists discussing internship and employment opportunities. MFA will also host two livestock seminars promoting quality health performance for cattle, sheep and goats, topics of special interest to 4-H and FFA exhibitors. In addition, MFA is bringing back stockmanship expert Ron Gill, who will demonstrate low-stress livestock handling techniques at two different sessions on Saturday (see above story).

Coinciding with FFA week, the Western Farm Show offers agricultural students several ways to participate. During FFA Day on Friday, teams from high school chapters will compete in the Farm Equipment Career Development Event, and students can attend 30-minute leadership sessions exploring technology and innovation.

Also on Friday, FFA students from Missouri and Kansas can take part in the “Unite Against Hunger” food drive. Each chapter that brings in a minimum of 200 canned and nonperishable food items will qualify for a drawing.

Other popular activities include “Let’s Talk Shop” educational sessions, the Health and Safety Roundup, and the Family Living Center with shopping opportunities for the whole family. Free health screenings will also be offered.

This year’s show hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Feb. 23 and 24; and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Feb. 25. Adult tickets are $10 daily, and children ages 12 and under are free. First responders, military and veterans are free on Sunday with proper identification. Visit your local MFA Agri Services center for a coupon to save $3 at the door.

For more information, visit and follow the Western Farm Show on Facebook and X (formerly Twitter).

Learn more about the events at this year's Western Farm Show HERE:

Read more of the Feb. 2024 Today's Farmer Magazine Issue HERE.




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Learn, laugh, lead

Emerging Leaders conference brings together young producers to build knowledge and connections

Taking time away from their business to work on their business. That’s what a group of some 70 young farmers and ranchers were doing in mid-January at the annual Emerging Leaders in Agriculture Conference, jointly hosted by MFA Incorporated and MFA Oil.

Now in its third year, the conference brings together a select group of professional producers between the ages of 21 and 45 for education and networking. The 2024 edition was held Jan. 10-12 in Lake Ozark, Mo.

“One of the more challenging things in the world today is just having the time to do everything you want to do or need to do. If you’re always working in your business, you’re never working on it,” said MFA Oil CEO John Ihler as he thanked the attendees for their participation. “Work on yourself. Work on getting better. This conference isn’t here to sell you anything or pressure you in any way. This is about making agriculture and the cooperative system better in the future.”
Producers from Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Iowa heard from agribusiness experts and discussed issues and challenges facing agriculture, cooperatives and rural America.

2024group“There’s something here for everybody, and it’s all good information,” said Adam Oswald, a corn and soybean producer in Atchison County, Mo., who attended the event with his wife, Tessa. “It’s been a great opportunity to grow and be better than I was yesterday, while meeting new people and gaining contacts around the state. I enjoy hearing other people’s stories, their trials and tribulations and the successes they’ve had. I’ve learned a lot just from that.” 
The conference kicked off with a reception and dinner followed by a fun and thought-provoking presentation from Wayne Humphreys about how attitude, communication, enthusiasm and sincerity can change the world around you.

Also on this year’s slate of speakers was Ben Brown, senior research associate with the University of Missouri’s Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute, who shared his expert perspective on the agricultural economic outlook and provided some business strategies to help navigate markets in 2024 and beyond.

In a separate presentation, Brown outlined risk management strategies for row-crop and livestock operations, from understanding grain market fluctuations to using insurance protection for livestock, pasture, rangeland and forage. He even gave attendees samples of his own farm’s pre-harvest marketing plans to emphasize the importance of making deliberate decisions when it comes to protecting and selling their crops.

Drexel Atkisson, area soil specialist with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, led a discussion of soil health principles and how they can improve farmland productivity and profitability. He called his presentation, “The System is Greater than the Sum of its Parts,” a nod to philosopher Aristotle’s quote that defines the concept of synergy.

“You want to maximize what’s right. You want to eliminate what’s wrong. You want to add what’s missing,
and you want to clarify what’s confused.”

— Richard Fagerlin

“Think about that concept and how about applies to agriculture and your operation,” Atkisson said. “You can’t just look at one thing. You have to look at the opportunity or opportunities that one thing brings to the entire system.”

Practices such as no-till, cover crops, rotations and biodiversity can help producers manage their farms for resiliency, he said, which will, in turn, help them avoid risks and be more sustainable.

“When we don’t consider managing for resilience, we will have to mitigate an imbalance,” Atkisson said. “That may mean marketing less crop, selling off cows when we don’t want to or buying more feedstuffs. But if you’re applying practices on your cropland and grazing land that are moving your organic matter in a positive direction, you are building resilience on your farm and lowering the chance you’ll need to mitigate.”homeworkAttendees review handouts from speaker Ben Brown of the University of Missouri’s Food and Policy Research Institute. Brown shared examples of his own farm’s pre-harvest marketing plans for the young farmers to use as a guide in creating their own.

Another presentation addressed mental health, which continues to be a top concern among the agricultural community. Karen Eddington, researcher and author of “The Under Pressure Project,” gave attendees tips on how to navigate the ebbs and flows of life by learning to rest and repair their bodies and minds, combat stress and find more peace.

“Pressure doesn’t have to be negative,” she told the audience. “It can be a catalyst for growth. The key to navigating pressure is staying open to that growth and learning to ride the wave.”

Among Eddington’s strategies were engaging in creativity, rewarding efforts instead of just outcomes, setting boundaries and accepting that there will be disappointments. Above all, she said, having a support network is the most powerful solution.

“Community matters,” Eddington said. “Know who you can go to for support, someone who truly understands and connects with you. I hope you find someone to add to your community here in this room.”

Connie Haden, who has participated in all three Emerging Leaders conferences, returned to address the important but touchy topic of farm business transference. As a partner in the law firm of Haden & Colbert, she specializes in helping farm families prepare for the next generation through succession planning. Haden walked the attendees through different types of farm transitions, key issues in succession planning and how agricultural operations can be structured for simplicity, liability protection and tax advantages.

“What we’re really trying to do here is preserve relationships,” Haden told the group. “Farm succession is a hard topic to discuss. It’s real, and the emotions can be raw, but it’s better to address the situation now rather than let it tear a family apart down the road.”

Also on the agenda was Richard Fagerlin, a consultant and speaker whose work focuses on creating healthy leaders, teams and organizations. He gave a dynamic presentation about identifying and adjusting thinking patterns that can damage chances of success.

Looking at the year ahead, he challenged the young farmers to strategically reflect on their operations in 2023, asking four questions: What was right? What was wrong? What was missing? What was confused?

“Asking the question isn’t all that important, but coming back to those questions and analyzing the answers is important,” Fagerlin said. “If the list still looks the same in 2025, you’re doing something wrong. You want to maximize what’s right. You want to eliminate what’s wrong. You want to add what’s missing, and you want to clarify what’s confused. You must constantly be working toward that.”

A panel of leaders from both cooperatives—MFA Incorporated CEO Ernie Verslues and Chairman Don Schlesselman and MFA Oil CEO Jon Ihler and Chairman Glen Cope—closed out the conference, sharing the history and mission of each cooperative and discussing the most recent advancements and plans for the future. The panelists also addressed questions from the audience and discussed some of the industry’s most concerning issues and challenges.

“The fact that you’ve taken the time to come here shows you have a real passion for agriculture,” Verslues said. “You know there are going to be peaks and valleys, and the challenge is pretty tough sometimes, but there will be some good times, too. My message for this group is when you’re having those tough times, look in the mirror and say, ‘Who’s got it better than me right now?’ And if you’re involved in agriculture, nobody does.”

In closing, Cope encouraged the attendees to get more involved with their co-ops, pointing out that cultivating engagement among young farmers, including more women, is one of the main reasons for creating the conference.

“We see a desperate need for young folks to be involved in governance of their cooperatives,” he said. “That’s something I challenge you with as you go home: take what you’ve learned and step up and be part of the process.”

Read more of the Feb. 2024 Today's Farmer Magazine Issue HERE.


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2023 in review

Farm Bill focus
A new Farm Bill was top of mind for the agricultural industry last year, with the existing version set to expire at the end of September 2023. Congress failed to meet that deadline and passed a one-year extension. While work on the new legislation progressed, Missouri hosted two farm bill listening sessions: one at the Missouri State Fair in August and one in October hosted by Sen. Eric Schmitt in Columbia. Chris DeMoss, MFA Incorporated senior director of Plant Foods, spoke at the latter event, emphasizing the need for improved transportation infrastructure to help get inputs and farm products to market. As negotiations continue in 2024, producers and ag industry representatives continue to convey the need for a Farm Bill to provide risk management options, conservation funding and other programs.

Shared prosperity
Stewardship of resources is one of MFA’s core values, and our cooperative proudly gives back to the community while helping to develop the next generation of farmers and agricultural professionals. In 2023, the MFA Foundation awarded 274 scholarships to high school seniors totaling nearly $548,000. A separate fund, the MFA Incorporated Charitable Foundation, distributed $270,850 to nonprofit organizations throughout MFA territory. Grants included $77,600 for community projects, $78,390 for education, $68,200 for public service and safety, and $46,660 for youth activities. Employees at MFA’s home office in Columbia, Mo., also raised $37,000 for Welcome Home: A Community for Veterans, which provides housing, employment assistance and supportive services to at-risk and homeless veterans.

Water woes
Dry conditions have lingered across MFA territory for two years, and the situation has been particularly dire for livestock producers. The drought limited forage production, dropped ponds and creeks to critically low levels and forced cattle producers to sell part—or even all—of their herds. Row crops were hit hard, too, with many growers harvesting a smaller-
than-expected corn crop in 2023. Timely rains improved Missouri’s soybean yield, and, overall, soil health and seed genetics helped produce surprisingly good crops in challenging conditions. Missouri Climatologist Zach Leasor said the state experienced a one-in-20-year drought event in 2023, with the stretch from April through November ranked as the seventh-driest growing season since 1895.

Agronomy advancements
MFA entered a new era in service last year with the opening of two agronomy centers that act as regional hubs and consolidate older, smaller MFA facilities into larger, more modern operations. The River Valley Agronomy Center in Higginsville, Mo., features the largest bulk fertilizer plant in the MFA system with a fully automated, declining-weight blending system. An open house was held at the new center on June 28. Likewise, the Four Rivers Agronomy Center in Ravenwood, Mo., became fully operational in 2023, serving farmers in MFA’s northwest trade territory. Guests attended an open house on Sept. 15 to tour the state-of-the-art complex, which includes a fertilizer plant, crop protection warehouse and centralized seed treatment system.

Smart moves
Whether it’s called “regenerative” or “climate-smart” or similar terminology, momentum is growing to encourage farming practices that lower greenhouse gas emissions and sequester soil carbon—and there are monetary incentives from USDA to support those efforts. MFA is collaborating with the University of Missouri’s Center for Regenerative Agriculture on the Climate-Resilient Crop and Livestock Project, which offers incentive payment programs for implementing practices such as split nitrogen applications, cover crops and rotational grazing.

Tech checks
From targeted spraying systems to drone input delivery, MFA continued to evaluate the latest in agricultural technology in 2023, seeking advancements that could bring value to the company and its customers. In the spring, MFA worked with Sydenstricker Nobbe Partners for a trial run of a John Deere’s See & Spray Ultimate technology, which uses artificial intelligence, computer vision and machine learning to target in-season weeds. A field day on May 9 allowed MFA and John Deere personnel, agriculture officials, industry and university representatives and media to see the technology in action. MFA also began testing the use of drones to spray research plots, plant cover crops and apply fertilizer. The Agronomy Division developed policies to approve third-party companies to offer drone services to customers as MFA assesses how the technology fits into our operations.

Read a related story about the 2023 Annual Meeting HERE.

Read more of the Feb. 2024 Today's Farmer Magazine Issue HERE.

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Understanding units

Learning more about your options can help guide crop insurance decisions

Harvest is complete, winter is upon us in full force and, before we know it, planters will be back in the field for the next crop year. Though most growers have purchased some—if not all—their inputs for the 2024 season, it is best not to forget a crucial component: your crop insurance policy.

Crop insurance policies can be adjusted by three factors. These are the percentage of coverage, percentage of price to be elected, and unit structure. Unit structure is often overlooked due to the changes in premium between each structure, but it is one of the most important choices producers will make when purchasing their policy. Unit structures options are:

Enterprise Units (EU): acres are broken down per county and crop.
Basic Units (BU): acres are broken down per county, crop AND share.
Optional Units (OU): acres are broken down per county, crop, share AND section.

Enterprise Units are the most commonly used unit for growers, mainly because it has the lowest premium. Coincidentally, EU also have the most minimal amount of coverage when compared to

Basic or Optional Units. All crop acres in the county of the policy will be lumped together in claims situations. Here’s an example. If you had two fields of soybeans, one field doing above average and the other doing poorly, production from both fields would be combined, more than likely depleting the chance of a claim.

The golden rule of Enterprise Units is you need to have at least 20 acres or 20% of your acres in another section within a county to qualify. If you do not meet those qualifications, your acres will revert to Basic Units. BU most commonly occur when growers farm very few acres in a county and fail to realize their intended acres do not qualify for EU. Growers do have greater coverage through BU, but in the interest of being cost-conscious, it is best to discuss your planting intentions with your crop insurance agent to avoid the reversion.

Finally, Optional Units are the top tier of unit structure. Though often confused as the unit structure that breaks down acres “by farm,” OU actually break acres down per section basis in addition to crop, county and share of the acres. So, using our Enterprise Unit example of those two fields—one doing poorly and one doing above average—each farm (assuming they are in different sections) would keep separate production and claims would be worked separately.

With this basic understanding, here are a few other facts about unit structure:

a. You do not have to elect the same unit structure for multiple crops. You can elect OU on your corn and EU on your soybeans, for example. This can be altered every year before your state’s sales closing date.

b. If you farm in one county but have a field in a bordering county that will revert to BU, you can elect Multi-County Enterprise Units to bring that single field into your main county. This avoids a larger premium on those acres.

c. The replant guidelines for your policy follow the same EU rule, which means 20 acres or 20% (the lesser of the two) of your acres must be replanted to qualify for a replant claim.
Ultimately, the most important tip is to make sure that you sit down for a 20- to 30-minute annual consultation with your crop insurance agent on your policy. The MFA Crop Insurance team is happy to help ensure you are in the best possible position for 2024. Reach out to your nearest MFA location to be put in contact with one of our agents.

Read more of the Feb. 2024 Today's Farmer Magazine Issue HERE.

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