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Views from the countryside

Whether telling stories or working cattle, Andrew McCrea balances a multi-faceted career.

Everybody has a story. That’s what Andrew McCrea has discovered during his travels as an agricultural leader, speaker, broadcaster and author.

McCrea3McCrea, who serves on his local Agri Services board, was keynote speaker at MFA Incorporated’s 2018 annual meeting Nov. 27. His speaking career began when he was a state and national FFA officer. Since 1996, McCrea has produced “American Countryside,” a nationally syndicated radio program broadcast daily on more than 100 stations plus satellite radio. Even after 22 years and 5,000-plus shows, there’s an endless supply of ideas, he said.

“When I first started the daily broadcasts, I thought, ‘How will we ever come up with enough stories?’” McCrea said. “Well, it’s been just the opposite. Everybody in every place has a story. There are more stories than I can ever tell.”

He may spend his time telling tales about others, but McCrea has quite an interesting story of his own. It’s one of leadership and entrepreneurship, natural-born talent and fierce family ties. The 46-year-old is not only an award-winning broadcaster, celebrated author and sought-after speaker but he’s also a fifth-generation farmer who balances his successful communications career with his cattle and row-crop farm near Maysville in northwest Missouri. The farm was established by McCrea’s great-great-grandfather in 1910.

When McCrea was growing up, his father, M.L., and grandfather, Maurice, ran a renowned purebred Angus business and showed cattle all over the country. Maurice was also longtime beef cattle superintendent of the Missouri State Fair.

“About the time I was born, they got out of the purebred business because of the time and travel involved and got totally into stocker cattle,” McCrea said. “Over time, we’ve slowly expanded both crops and livestock.”

McCrea figured farming would be his full-time career, too, but his involvement in FFA sent him on a life-changing journey. Terms as Missouri FFA president in 1991-92 and then national FFA secretary from 1993-94 required extensive travel, public appearances, leadership training and speaking opportunities—all skills that would serve McCrea well in his next chapter.

“I got involved in FFA because I wanted to farm,” McCrea said. “And it helped me do that. But what I couldn’t see at the time was that it would make me a better leader and give me opportunities to speak that I may never have had otherwise.”

Mcrea2With about half the farm’s 4,500 acres in pasture, there’s a lot of ground to cover when checking or working cattle. That’s why the McCreas usually round them up by horseback. They continually bring in stocker cattle at 400-500 pounds and market them at around 900 pounds.His FFA experiences also sparked an interest in broadcasting, even though he was majoring in general agriculture at the University of Missouri.

“I studied animal science, agronomy and ag economics, and I was already halfway done with my degree when I finished my year as national officer,” McCrea said. “So, for the most part, all of my speaking and broadcast work has been on-the-job training.”

His first radio gig was an internship with the Brownfield Network in Jefferson City during his senior year at Mizzou. When he graduated in May 1996, Brownfield offered him a full-time job.

“I remember riding in the combine with Dad, and I told him I wasn’t going to take the job because I wanted to stay here on the farm,” McCrea said. “He suggested I ask if they could use me part time. When things are slower on the farm in the winter, that’s when Brownfield gets busier with all the farm shows and meetings, and I could be in Jeff City when they send out all their full-timers. I pitched that idea to them, and they agreed.”

McCrea started his run with Brownfield in the fall of 1996, working in the studio three or four days a week, mainly doing the daily market reports. But he had something bigger in mind—a concept that had been brewing since his days as a national FFA officer.

“I had the idea to do this American Countryside program because of all the people I met while out traveling to do speaking engagements,” McCrea said. “I told Brownfield I wanted to do my own show, interview these people and produce a feature for the radio. They said, ‘That’s fine. We’ll give you the free satellite time, but you have to do all the legwork of getting stations to sign up. It’ll just be your deal.’ So I started doing that one day a week, on Saturdays, in October 1996.”

Station No. 1 was KFEQ in St. Joseph. Story No. 1 featured the president of the New Jersey Sweet Potato Association.

“When the first American Countryside program was scheduled to run, I was in Oregon doing a conference for FFA,” McCrea recalled. “It ran at 6:30 in the morning, which was 4:30 Pacific time. I got up early and called home, and my mom put the telephone in front of the radio so I could listen to it. I laugh about that now, but it was such a big deal to me. And 22 years later, I still love doing it.”

McCreaMcCrea, left, checks with farm employee Doug Delaney, who is loading beans for transport to market. Much of the farm’s grain goes to MFA’s Hamilton Rail Facility.A few years into its run, the program’s popularity helped propel it to a daily schedule. When McCrea joined the staff of Farm Journal as a columnist in 2013, he brought the show with him. Being part of the multi-media conglomerate gave him new opportunities in both print and broadcast media. In addition to radio, McCrea now produces a television version of American Countryside that airs weekends on the

U.S. Farm Report and can be seen on RFD-TV. This past summer, he also launched a Farm Journal podcast, “Farming the Countryside,” which exclusively features agricultural topics.
During his broadcast career, McCrea has interviewed Emmy and Grammy winners, all-star athletes, Iditarod sled dog mushers and professional wrestlers. But he said his favorite stories are what American Countryside is all about: “ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”

“Some are historical, some are quirky, but it’s usually just people who love telling others about their lives and what they do,” McCrea said. “For example, I interviewed a gentleman who was aboard the Enola

Gay when they dropped the first atomic bomb. He was the one who worked on the ignition system and armed the weapon. That was an amazing interview.”

“I also remember visiting Grover’s Mill, N.J., which was made famous by Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast,” he continued. “I talked with a lady there who was at church when somebody came running in and told everyone the Martians were attacking. And just recently, I interviewed the curator of the vacuum cleaner museum in St. James, Mo. He was fascinating. That was one of the most fun interviews I’ve done all year.”

McCrea said his speaking and broadcasting careers are inextricably entwined, a proverbial chicken-and-egg scenario.

“Speaking gives me the opportunity to go get the interviews, and the interviews give me a lot of content for speaking. That’s how the two end up working together,” he said. “It’s rare that I make a trip just to speak somewhere or just to interview someone. That’s what made it work initially with Brownfield and now with Farm Journal. For the most part, they’re not having to pick up any travel expense.”

His interviews have also given McCrea material for several books, including “American Countryside,” “The Man Who Was President for a Day” and “God’s Perfect View.” His latest book, “Total Town Makeover,” came out in January and chronicles stories of small towns that have been revitalized by their citizens.

“In a sense, I’ve been working on that book for 20 years and never realized it until now,” McCrea said. “So many of the stories I’ve gathered were people in small towns doing neat things. There are so many people who see their towns vanishing, and hopefully this will help inspire people to do something to change that.”

No matter where he travels, however, McCrea is quick to say that home is his favorite place to be. In fact, he ends his on-stage presentations with a photo of the sign pointing the way to McCrea Farms, where he and his father keep up to 2,000 stocker cattle and raise row crops and pasture on 4,500 acres.

McCrea and his wife, Paula, are raising the sixth generation on the farm with their children, Luke, 11, and Alison, 10. The majority of McCrea’s broadcasts are produced from his “home” studio, which allows him to be more available for his family.

He’s also active in the agricultural industry and his local community, serving as past president of the Missouri Beef Industry Council and currently on the board of directors for MFA Agri Services in Maysville.

“MFA has been very important to our farm, and, as a farmer-owner, I wanted to help serve the co-op in return,” McCrea said. “A large percentage of what we use on our farm comes through MFA, and lot of grain goes back out to MFA, too. We’re on Crop-Trak and Nutri-Track programs, and it would be hard for us to do those things on our own. That’s why it’s important to have a cooperative to help you do that.”

Whether he’s harvesting crops or speaking to a crowd, telling stories on stage or working cattle on horseback, McCrea said he loves his multi-faceted career. He said he plans to keep doing what he’s doing, and “hopefully, do it all a little bit better while still trying to balance that with family.”

“If I went on the road and tried to speak full time, it just wouldn’t work, especially with young kids,” he said. “But even though I love the farm, if that’s what I did full time and never went and spoke, I think I’d feel like a piece of me was missing. I really like the combination, and I don’t think I would enjoy life nearly as much if I did all of one or the other.”

Learn more about Andrew McCrea and his American Countryside broadcasts at americancountryside.com.

You can also find his “Farming the Countryside” podcast at agweb.com.

Click to follow American Coutryside on Facebook HERE.

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Understanding equine ulcers

MFA launches Easykeeper HDC for gastric health     

Foals and performance horses risk running afoul of gastric ulcers, studies show. Anywhere from 60 percent of show horses to 90 percent of performance horses suffer from ulcers, a startling statistic that led MFA Incorporated to launch a new product in equine gastric health—Easykeeper HDC.

“A horse has a funny stomach,” said Janice Spears, MFA equine sales and companion pet specialist. “It’s divided in half. The bottom half has better coverage to keep acid from eating through the stomach lining, but for newborn foals that have just been in the birth canal and performance horses that travel in addition to performing, that acid can slosh into the top half causing ulcers.”

EasykeeperHDCEasykeeper HDC, which stands for horse digestive care, contains sodium bicarbonate to neutralize the stomach acid. It works much like an acid reducer for humans, Spears explained.

Symptoms of an ulcer can include reduced appetite, weight loss, dull coat, changes in behavior, impaired performance, diarrhea and colic. Stress and exercise can contribute to these symptoms.

“A ‘cinchy’ horse can also be an indicator,” Spears said. “When you tighten the girth, some horses seem like they’re in pain. They may turn around and act like they’re going to bite. If you’re putting pressure on an ulcer, that could be a sore spot.”

In their natural environment, horses graze throughout the day. As they continually eat, they produce saliva, which helps buffer acid in the stomach. For performance horses that do not spend as much time in the pasture, increasing feeding and available roughage, regulating starch intake, allowing more opportunities to graze, minimizing stress and ensuring water is available at all times can help manage and prevent ulcers, Spears said.

Confirming if your horse has an ulcer requires a veterinary visit. Using an endoscope, a veterinarian will visually check for the presence of ulcers. Though effective, this procedure can be expensive and calls for sedation, which is potentially dangerous, Spears said. She suggests trying a product like Easykeeper HDC first to see if symptoms abate.

“To treat horses, top-dress their food with two cups a day for about two weeks. After two weeks back it off to one cup for maintenance,” Spears said. “A 30-pound package of Easykeeper HDC should last for about a month. Some of our customers have even chosen to use the feed for preventative maintenance, like taking a Tums each day.”

During the months of testing Easykeeper HDC, owners reported improvement in their horses’ attitude.

“Customers who tried the product said they could just tell a difference,” Spears said. “The horses were happier and, ultimately, performed better.”
For more information on gastric ulcers or Easykeeper HDC, contact Janice Spears at 573-876-5473 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Empower Change

Leaders address challenges of 2018, share cooperative updates at annual meeting   

Weather extremes and marketplace challenges dominated discussions at MFA’s 2018 Annual Meeting, held Nov. 27 at the Holiday Inn Executive Center in Columbia.

With so many outside forces at work—from economics and trade to regulations and technology—the meeting’s theme, “Empower Change,” was even more meaningful, said CEO Ernie Verslues. His president’s address outlined some of the ways MFA took charge of change in 2018 for the betterment of the cooperative and its farmer-owners.

presMFA Incorporated President and CEO Ernie Verslues delivers his president’s address in which he outlined ongoing changes to MFA’s retail and sales structure.“The current pace of change is mind-boggling, but it also provides unlimited potential,” Verslues said. “MFA implements change because we want to deliver the best products and services possible. In most cases, we succeed. But no matter the outcome, we try, we learn and we keep moving forward until we’ve met the challenge.”

More than 600 delegates, employees and special guests attended the meeting, which featured exhibits by MFA’s operating divisions and MFA Oil.

Even with weather and political issues affecting yield and prices, MFA managed to stay profitable, said Board Chairman Wayne Nichols. He specifically mentioned MFA’s efforts in helping farmers through the summer drought.

“MFA and its employees took up the unique demands of drought by seeking solutions for its members,” he said. “From county-by-county information on drought relief to finding products and services that could help mitigate short feed situations and row-crop challenges, I believe MFA was a valuable resource.”

Verslues listed other operational highlights of 2018, including cutting-edge livestock feeds, MFA’s PowerCalf app, a successful first full year at the Hamilton Rail Facility, MFA’s proprietary MorCorn and MorSoy brands of seed and industry-leading precision programs. He also reported that MFA is nearing completion of its MerchantAg software implementation at all company-owned stores, an upgrade that will provide better data access and management.

“We never sit still,” Verslues said. “We are always looking to improve. We embrace the challenges and opportunities we are facing in agriculture, and we know it will require continued change.”
The biggest change for MFA in recent months is the reorganization of the cooperative’s sales structure, resulting from the recommendations of a committee assembled from a cross-section of the company.

“With these changes, livestock and agronomy sales are now a full-time focus,” Verslues said. “Customer interaction can’t be a part-time job. As a company, we are better focused on building relationships and better prepared to serve your needs.”

What won’t change, he added, is MFA’s attention to people, finances, products, services and facilities.

Farm Supply Product Manager Ryan Mauzey, left, talks with Tom Silvey of Hamilton about the features of the Brush Buster pasture sprayer.Farm Supply Product Manager Ryan Mauzey, left, talks with Tom Silvey of Hamilton about the features of the Brush Buster pasture sprayer.“We have a staff that does an incredible job of servicing our customers’ needs. We must provide them the tools to do their job,” he said. “Despite the tough ag economy, we continue to have a strong balance sheet. We can’t lose sight of continued financial strength. And we must continue to develop solutions to your challenges, provide value to your operations and be good stewards of the land, air and water.”
2018 by the numbers

Financial highlights of MFA’s 2018 fiscal year, which ended Aug. 31, were shared by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Raetz. Consolidated sales reached $1.76 billion, which includes volume from MFA’s business entities and joint ventures.

In 2018, MFA Incorporated’s cooperative business reached $1.05 billion in sales. MFA Enterprises, a wholly owned subsidiary of MFA Incorporated, had $195 million in sales. Formed in 2001, MFA Enterprises represents non-cooperative expansion in southern Iowa, southeast Kansas, west-central Missouri and northwest Missouri.

Northwest Missouri Grain, also known as the MFA Rail Facility, reached $58 million this year. This joint venture with MFA Oil Co. opened in the summer of 2017.

Other joint ventures include AGRIServices of Brunswick, Cache River Valley Seed, Mid-State Seed and Alliance Animal Care. MFA holds a 50-percent ownership in these companies. The cooperative also has 45-percent stake in Central Missouri AGRIService. Together, the joint ventures delivered $462 million in sales this year.

Pre-tax profits were $8.3 million, and MFA will return $5.1 million to member-owners in cash patronage and equity retirements.

While it was a “respectable profit year,” Raetz said, those figures aren’t ultimately where MFA needs to be. He attributed both the summer drought and harvest rains for the less-than-expected financial performance.

“Needless to say,” he said, “the weather had an impact on final numbers and will reduce our grain handled in 2019.”

Reviewing financial performance by category, Raetz reported that grain sales were $519 million, an increase of $37 million, with 84 million bushels handled throughout the system. Anticipating lower yields from this past season, he said the 2019 plan forecasts just over 70 million bushels.

Field crop sales—which includes plant foods, seed and crop protection—were $613 million, an increase of $31 million over fiscal 2017. Raetz attributed the increase to a “good year” for plant food sales, which increased $41 million. MFA’s MorSoy and MorCorn also continue to make up a larger portion of seed sales.

The drought, however, negatively affected crop protection sales, which decreased $9 million.

Livestock supply sales increased $15 million to a total of $173 million, which includes feed, animal health and farm supply sales.

“The lion’s share of this increase is in our Feed Division,” Raetz said. “Feed tons totaled 351,000, an increase of 17,000 tons. There is no question our Feed Division is the market leader in our trade territory, and we have high-quality products that set us apart from our competition. These products continue to add value to our livestock producers.”

Total margins and operating revenues were $223 million, an increase of $4 million from fiscal 2017. Joint venture earnings were $2.3 million compared to $3 million last year. Working capital was $83 million at year end.

Total assets at the end of August were up slightly to $496 million, due mainly to an increase in supply inventory. Again, Raetz pointed out, this was a byproduct of lower sales volume during the summer.

Raetz reported that MFA Incorporated has long-term debt of $84 million, including a term loan with CoBank, which financed the rail project, and the MFA Bond Program, which is unsecured debt.
Total net worth increased to $165 million, divided into non-cooperative earnings at $112 million and member equities of $53 million.

“Thanks to your support and continued patronage, MFA has built a strong balance sheet, and we continue to be a very strong company,” Raetz said. “It was a challenging year, and I believe the sales and volume numbers show your management team did a good job of maintaining and growing our market share. As a team, we are optimistic going into fiscal year 2019 and beyond.”

Change for rural Missouri    
Addressing the challenges of 2018 has also been a focus for the Missouri Department of Agriculture. Speaking at the annual meeting, Missouri Director of Agriculture Chris Chinn gave an update on the department’s “MORE” campaign, which she said addressed food insecurity, rural access to high-speed internet, government regulation and workforce development over the past year.

“Agriculture is the strongest economic driver in rural Missouri, and from the beginning, MFA has been a central part of that economic hub,” Chinn said. “The tradition of putting farmers first and keeping rural Missouri strong is a shared goal of not only MFA but also your department of agriculture. Revitalizing rural communities is a passion of mine, and that’s what we built our MORE strategic initiative around.”

The meeting’s featured speaker was farm broadcaster, author and farmer Andrew McCrea, host of a national radio program, “American Countryside.” He also raises crops and cattle in Maysville, Mo., where he serves on his local MFA board. (See related story,)

A gifted storyteller, McCrea shared his experiences both on the farm and on the air, describing interesting places and people he’s met along the way. His overall message focused on the meeting theme, “Empower Change,” emphasizing that there’s a huge difference between change that is done to us and change we are empowered to make ourselves.

“Changes beyond our control are often a source of stress and worry,” McCrea said. “Changes we initiate ourselves, on the other hand, can be exhilarating and motivating.”
Reflecting on the many interviews he’d conducted through the years, McCrea said those who prosper in times of change have three traits that set them apart: They are personal and purposeful, and they have perspective.

“When you have purpose, you have a direction,” he said. “Being personal is all about how you deal with others. It takes a balance of both. Successful change also requires perspective. It’s not all about you. It’s about the people around you, too.”

And people, Chairman Nichols said, will continue to drive successful change for MFA.

“To empower change is to take ownership of it,” he said. “There is exciting work going on in both livestock and row crops at MFA. I want to thank MFA employees—from the home office, to the behind-the-scenes drivers, plant managers, and salespeople, to every location. As customers, we all know how vital employees are as the face of MFA.”

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Sharing the conservation commitment

Scherder Farms honored with 2018 Leopold Award for efforts to promote stewardship    

Scherder Farms of Frankford, Mo., received the 2018 Missouri Leopold Conservation Award on Jan. 10 at the 48th Missouri Governor’s Conference on Agriculture. Pictured from left are Lance Irving, Sand County Foundation National Director for the Leopold Conservation Award; Sandy and John Scherder; their daughter and son-in-law, Holly and Curtis Delgman; and Missouri Farmers Care Executive Director Ashley McCarty. Scherder Farms of Frankford, Mo., was named winner of the 2018 Missouri Leopold Conservation Award, which honors Missouri farmers’ achievement in voluntary stewardship and natural resources management.

John and Sandy Scherder farm with their daughter and son-in-law, Holly and Curtis Delgman, growing corn, soybeans, wheat, hay, and beef cattle on 3,500 acres in the Peno Creek watershed. The family implements conservation practices including cover crops, innovative seeding methods and crop rotations to preserve wildlife habitat, promote soil health and reduce erosion. Other conservation practices include constructing grass waterways, terraces and sediment basin structures.

“We are honored at Scherder Farms to be nominated and to receive this very prestigious award,” John said. “However, the soil conservation practices we have implemented were not done for money or recognition, but rather to conserve and improve the land we have been using for the past 40 years and to leave it better than we found it. Our hope is that it can be sustainably used by future generations with the practices put in place by this generation.”

Missouri Farmers Care, a coalition of agricultural organizations, including MFA Incorporated, partners with the Sand County Foundation to bring the Leopold award to the Show-Me State. Other finalists for the award this year were Kenny Brinker of Auxvasse and Haubein Farms of Lockwood. Uptown Farms of Laclede received the first Leopold Award presented in Missouri in 2017.

“We congratulate the Scherder family on receiving this distinguished award in recognition of their exemplary stewardship efforts,” said Gary Marshall, chairman of Missouri Farmers Care. “John and Sandy are firmly committed to preserving and improving the land and water for future generations. We are proud to showcase their achievements and continue working alongside our partners to promote the innovative conservation practices being implemented by today’s farmers.”

The Sand County Foundation created the award in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold to inspire American landowners by recognizing exceptional farmers, ranchers and foresters. Leopold’s 1949 collection of essays, “A Sand County Almanac,” is one of the most influential books about the environment ever written. His namesake award has been presented annually since 2003 by the Sand County Foundation, which was established in 1965 to preserve the Wisconsin property where Leopold did his writing and research. The organization now supports and promotes conservation on working lands across the U.S. and presents the Leopold award in 14 states.

In Missouri, the award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, Missouri Farmers Care, the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council and the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Scherders were honored with a $10,000 award and commemorative crystal trophy Jan. 10 at the Missouri Governor’s Conference on Agriculture.

“John shows his commitment to the land on his farm and his passion for innovation in his service to his fellow farmers,” said Robert Alpers, a farmer from Prairie Home and chairman of the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council. “It is outstanding to see his hard work and positive examples recognized as a Leopold Award recipient.”

In addition to the on-farm improvements, the Scherders helped develop the Peno Creek Cooperative Partnership, a farmer-led watershed initiative that promotes the importance of cover crops, rotational grazing systems and agricultural conservation practices. “There is no better example of how to utilize natural resources to make a living and also improve them for future use,” said J.R. Flores, NRCS State Conservationist. “The Scherders’ conservation ethic is exemplary. They offer proof that we can live in harmony with the land.”

For more information on the Leopold Award, visit www.leopoldconservationaward.org.

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