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Completing the circle

WHOLE FARM PERSPECTIVE, WHOLE FARM VALUE. For Danny Mairs, it’s more than just MFA’s motto. It’s a comprehensive approach to helping him and his wife, Gwen, fulfill a dream on their cattle ranch in the scenic Arcadia Valley just outside of Ironton, Mo.

From Health Track to Nutri-Track, livestock risk insurance to pasture management, fence posts to cattle-handling equipment, MFA has High Valley Ranch covered, with products, services and ideas to help the Mairs family maximize production and resolve daily challenges.

“MFA has been very good for us,” Danny said. “I mean, we have the whole team on our side.”

When the former Californians decided to sell their petroleum truck­ing business three years ago, the couple knew they wanted to live on a ranch and get back into the cattle business.

“I had two dreams when Gwen and I got married 50 years ago. One was to own a cattle ranch and the other was to own a trucking compa­ny,” Danny said. “I wanted to own up to 100 trucks, and we did that. In 2019, when I sold the company to my son, Jeremy, we had 175 trucks and about 450 employees.”

With the trucking dream realized, he and Gwen searched the country for the right place to raise beef cattle.

“This was my other dream—to own a cattle ranch,” Danny said. “We are not finished with dream building yet, so we are not retired. I say ‘we’ because we both worked on these dreams together.”

Married at the age of 18, Danny and Gwen moved from their home­town of Independence, Calif., to Bakersfield, Calif., so she could attend college. “He is good at that,” Gwen said. “If he has a vision and a direction, he finds a way of making it work.”

In the works now is their 711-acre ranch, which the couple is building into a top-of-the-line operation with infrastructure and equipment to care for 150 crossbred Angus cows, 150 calves plus 70 yearlings. Their oldest son, Matt, is helping his parents work to perfect that dream at record speed.

“What Danny and his family have done in two years usually takes a generation to achieve,” said Stephen Daume, MFA live­stock specialist, commenting that the ranch is one of the most beautiful spots in Missouri.

Prior to their Midwest move, Danny had some background in the livestock business. His experience was raising a few head of cattle while in high school, driving livestock trucks and then owning a herd on a small ranch in California.

“After we were married, I started hauling livestock for a com­pany,” Danny said. “I was on the road a lot and Gwen didn’t like staying home alone, so she got her license and drove with me. We ran cattle all over the western U.S.”

In 1985, Danny got into the petroleum trucking business and four years later purchased the company and its fleet of 35 trucks. The company continues to serve customers like Shell Oil, Chevron and ExxonMobil today.

As they were transitioning from trucking to ranching, Gwen found their Missouri farm on the internet. She said listening to her heart, her soul and the Lord led the couple to the Arcadia Valley. Gwen’s other passion is her custom greenhouse, which is still a work in progress.

When they purchased the ranch in 2019, Danny said he didn’t know how many challenges awaited them. The first problem to solve was pastures full of out-of-control weeds. Not really knowing where to turn, he called Lucas Brewen, the MFA bulk plant supervisor in Farmington.

“Lucas came out, and then next thing I know, Stephen (Daume), David Moore (MFA range and pasture specialist), Rob Rickenberg (MFA precision agronomy specialist), Landry Jones (MFA conservation grazing specialist) and Chris Klein (MFA agronomy key account manager) came out here to help,” Danny said. “We had a whole parcel of people trying to figure out what was going on and what were the best solutions for our cattle operation.”

As a result, High Valley Ranch was enrolled in MFA’s preci­sion Nutri-Track system for all the pastures, starting with grid sampling to get a baseline for the soil properties and nutrient levels. From there, MFA provided recommendations tailored to each acre and applied variable rates of fertilizer and lime. The third stage in the program is to monitor the fertility and replace only what is needed.

“The first year, we had to put down quite a bit of lime because these fields had not been fertilized in years,” Danny said. “With the maps, we know what each field needs and exactly where the product needs to go, which in the long run saves time and money.”

“And if you want to see the results, just drive down the road,” Stephen added. “You can see where the Mairs’ property line ends. There is a huge difference.”

To help feed the cattle throughout the hot, dry summers, Landry Jones worked with Danny to establish native warm-season grasses in the pastures.

“We cleared trees off about 100 acres and put in the native grasses,” Danny said. “We decided not to grow our own hay and are buying it from a local farmer.”

Another challenge they faced in that first year was calving. Gwen said she and Matt had their hands full with weak calves that suffered from scours and pneumonia.

“They were constantly giving the calves medication and trying to keep them healthy,” Danny added. “Stephen offered some ideas, and we decided to follow his advice with our calves and then our cows. Once weaned, we put the calves in the MFA Health Track program.”

Danny said having the advice from an experienced Midwest livestock specialist has been priceless.

“Running cattle in California is nothing like running cattle here,” Danny said. “You’ve got fescue toxicity, bugs, mud, severe weather, water freezing up, pasture rotation, fertilization and the need for shade. In California, we just had hillsides. We put the cows out and never fertilized anything. It was so different. The questions Stephen asked helped us change our whole operation.”

One suggestion was to think about crossbreeding the Mairs family’s cattle with a more durable breed that has the ability to fight heat stress and fescue toxicity.

“With the goals of our operation—retaining ownership, selling our cattle on the grid, working with a reputable feedlot and packer, and wanting more pounds per acre—crossbreeding was a great plan,” Danny said. “Stephen said a Bos indicus-influenced breed would help us achieve those goals while potentially adding another revenue stream by selling crossbred replacement heifers adapted for southern Missouri.”

After detailed research, Danny decided to crossbreed his black and red Angus with Beefmaster bulls. “Our search for a good provider of quality genetics lead us to NextGen Cattle Company in Kansas,” he explained. “They are a great fit for us because it is a one-stop shop. From the bulls to the feedlot to the packer, NextGen does an excellent job. We are very happy with our decision to move in this direction.”

The Beefmaster breed has excellent maternal traits with good growth and carcass abilities. The cattle are heat, drought and insect resistant, qualities that are needed in southern Missouri.

“From a genetic perspective, crossbreeding allows us to impact reproductive efficiency the quickest.”

With Stephen’s guidance, the feeding protocol at High Valley Ranch has also changed.

“We add Shield to our grain and use MFA Ricochet minerals and tubs—also with Shield—to improve colostrum quality,” Danny said. “We will start using a colostrum supplement with the fall calves this year.”

To complete the MFA whole-farm perspective, Danny and Gwen purchase cattle equipment, feeders, and posts and wire for fencing, and they work with MFA Area Crop Insurance Agent Taylor Gilmore for their livestock risk protection.

The learning curve has been tremendous, but Danny said he is constantly reading and asking questions to improve his knowledge and the operation.

“The MFA team is also responsible for the DNA testing we are doing with International Genetic Solutions,” he said. “We run DNA tests on all our cows, our calves in the feedlot and the heifers we breed. Plus, all our bulls are registered and have genomic information. We are using that data to generate expected progeny differences (EPDs) on our crossbred cows through American Simmental and IGS (International Genetic Solutions).”

Stephen added that this genomic information will also be used to develop strategic mating solutions through a new pro­gram with Allied Genetic Resources. The service aligns males and females to impact profitability traits, including marbling, growth and reproductive longevity.

“I want to do something that’s unique and provide excellent quality beef to consumers while at the same time raising cross­bred heifers adapted to south Missouri,” Danny said. “Raising heifers with this amount of genetic merit and profitability built in is extremely exciting. I’m not sure where we would have ended up without the MFA team in our corner.”

For more information on MFA’s whole farm solutions, visit with the experts at your local MFA or AGChoice center.


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Carlson is Cattleman of the Year

Teresa carlsonTeresa Carlson, who retired from her full-time role as MFA livestock specialist in September, was recently honored as “Cattleman of the Year” by the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association for her contributions to the organization and the industry. Here she helps a producer tag calves for MFA’s Health-Track program.The 2022 Missouri Cattleman of the Year is actually a cattle-woman—MFA’s own Teresa Carlson.

The Missouri Cattlemen’s Association presented Carlson with the award at the 55th Annual Missouri Cattle Industry Conven­tion on Jan. 7. Her longtime service to the association includes chairing the Missouri Cattlemen’s Foundation, overseeing scholarships, farm safety training, leadership development and endowments.

“The beef industry is a passion for me,” Carlson said. “If you don’t think producers have a passion for what they’re doing, go out on some farms and see. We raise beef. We are providing a wholesome product that helps feed the world.”

Raised on a farm near Boonville, Mo., Carlson graduated from the University of Missouri in 1983 with a degree in animal sci­ence. When her brother returned to the farm full time, that left Carlson looking for a job “in town.”

A few months after graduation, she was hired by MFA Incorporated as the company’s first female in a sales role. She initially served in the position of “livestock and agronomy ag professional” for Vandalia and Louisiana, then moved into the role of area sales manager for Northeast Missouri and finally to her position as Region 2 livestock specialist.

“There wasn’t a place for me to come back home to farm, so MFA gave me an opportunity to work with farmers, which I guess you’d say is the next best thing,” Carlson said. “In the beginning, I wouldn’t say it was easy. It took some adjusting to get used to a female being out in the field. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? To me, my MFA career was everything, and I hope I made a difference for the cattle pro­ducers I worked with through the years.”

During her long MFA career, Carlson worked with countless farming operations across Missouri and positively impacted the industry through her involvement with the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association. She has also served on the Missouri Farm Bureau Promotion and Education Committee and as a volunteer for 4-H and FFA, among many other activities in the ag industry and her community.

“I do like to volunteer,” Carlson said. “And MFA was always a major supporter of my involvement with the cattlemen’s associ­ation and other organizations. I appreciate that.”

After more than 39 years, Carlson retired from full-time work at MFA on Sept. 9, 2022, to spend more time with her young grandsons, J.R. and Emmett. She continues to work part time at MFA Agri Services in Mexico, where she resides. Her son, Andrew Cauthorn, raises row crops and beef cattle on her farm. She and her daughter, Kaitie Thomas, also do catering and run the Carlson House in Mexico, a guest house and event center.

“I didn’t quite make it to 40 years with MFA, but I wanted the chance to be there for my grandbabies,” Carlson said. “I think I do more work now than before I retired, but I have more free­dom to do things I want to do.”

See the video produced by the Cattlemen’s Association to honor Carlson here:

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Digging deeper into soil health

Soil Health Test CoryMFA Precision Agronomy Specialist Cory Clermont pulls soil samples in a field in Martinsburg, Mo. Soil health testing is now available as a service through MFA’s Crop-Trak Complete and Nutri-Track precision ag programs. The sampling process is the same as traditional soil tests, but the soil health samples are sent to a different lab for analysis that includes such factors as microbial activity, soil respiration, aggregate stability and nutrient availability.MFA Precision Agronomy Specialist Cory Clermont pulls soil samples in a field in Martinsburg, Mo. Soil health testing is now available as a service through MFA’s Crop-Trak Complete and Nutri-Track precision ag programs. The sampling process is the same as traditional soil tests, but the soil health samples are sent to a different lab for analysis that includes such factors as microbial activity, soil respiration, aggregate stability and nutrient availability.Soil testing is nothing new to farmers. Agricultural scientists have been measuring key plant nutrients in soils since the late 1800s, as farms began to transition from subsistence to production systems. The first public soil-testing lab­oratories opened in the 1940s and ’50s, giving farmers an important tool to make better-informed crop fertility decisions.

Today, however, many farmers are interested in digging deeper into soil health, which can’t be measured by standard soil tests alone. Soil health goes beyond fertility and physical properties to focus on biology, which has been overlooked or ignored in common soil-testing procedures. To meet those needs, MFA is now offering a new soil health testing service through its Crop-Trak Complete and Nutri-Track precision agriculture programs.

“There’s been a big push over the past few years to promote regenerative agricul­ture and climate-smart programs, and farmers need to measure the health of their soils in order to see the impact of those practices,” said Landry Jones, MFA conser­vation grazing specialist. “Typical soil tests can’t give us that type of measurement. Growers already trust MFA for soil-testing services and fertility recommendations, and offering soil health testing is a logical next step in our customer partnering.”

A soil health test is much like a wellness exam in human health. It identifies areas that are doing well along with those that need some attention. MFA’s soil health reports will provide details such as microbial activity, soil respiration, nu­trient availability, and water-extractable carbon and nitrogen, which measures the portion of organic matter that dissolves in water and, therefore, is more accessible to soil microbes. Also measured is aggregate stability, or the ability of a soil to reg­ulate the movement and storage of air and water throughout the soil profile. The more stable the soil’s aggregates, the more productive the soil.

Growers who request soil health tests will also receive standard measurements of macro- and micronutrients and key factors such as pH and organic matter. Ultimately, an overall soil health score is calculated based on a combination of these different indicators.

“Most traditional soil tests rely almost entirely on soil chem­istry and are tied to the nutritional needs of the plant,” Jones ex­plained. “But most of the nutrients that ultimately end up in the crop are transferred by soil microbiology. What’s different about a soil health test is that it not only shows what is available to the plant and but also the potential of what’s available in the soil to be released through microbial activity.”

The sampling procedures are conducted like a regular soil test, Jones said, but MFA precision specialists and agronomists will package soil health samples separately and send them to Ward Laboratories in Kearney, Neb. Here, the soil is subjected to the “Haney Test,” which is designed to mimic nature in deter­mining what quantity of soil nutrients are available to the crop and accessible to the microbes. This test, which the USDA has adopted as its official Soil Health Nutrient Tool, was developed by Rick Haney, a researcher at the Grassland, Soil and Water Research Laboratory in Temple, Texas.

“The heat and chemicals used in standard soil testing aren’t conducive to measure microbial life,” Jones said. “The Haney Test uses water and natural extracts, more like what soil would encounter in Mother Nature.”

Once the results are available, Jones and MFA’s new natural resources conservation specialist, Emily Beck, will work with the grower’s Crop-Trak or Nutri-Track specialist to interpret the data and provide recommendations. If needed, practices that can improve the soil health profile include using minimum till­age or no-till, planting cover crops, increasing crop biodiversity or implementing different crop rotations.

“Improving soil health doesn’t happen overnight,” Jones said. “The value of a soil health analysis is to provide a way to gauge benefits of conservation cropping practices or other manage­ment changes. The soil health movement is still pretty new and evolving, and there’s some uncertainty on how to truly quantify things. Our goal is to equip farmers with good, solid informa­tion now that will still be good, solid information down the road, whether that’s next year or five years from now.”

For more information on MFA’s new soil health service, talk with the precision specialists, agronomists or key account man­agers at your MFA Agri Services or AGChoice location.

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Claim to fame

Nichols MICFormer MFA Board Chairman Wayne Nichols is surrounded by family to celebrate his Missouri Cooperative Hall of Fame induction on March 16. To his left is wife Karen. In back, from left, are their daughter, Carrie Luttrell; Wayne’s brother, Duane Nichols; and daughters Sharon Nichols and Nora Buckley.THE NEWEST CLASS INDUCTED into the Missouri In­stitute of Cooperatives Hall of Fame includes former MFA Incorporated Chairman Wayne Nichols, who recently com­pleted his term limit on the board of directors. Nichols was honored March 16 at the MIC annual meeting in Camdenton.

The cattleman from Pomona, Mo., was recognized for his 50-plus-year career devoted to cooperatives, with service that began in 1970 at as a loan officer at the Hannibal Production Credit Association (PCA). From that first-job introduction to cooperatives, Nichols went on to hold leadership positions as CEO of Ozark PCA, vice president of loan examination at the Federal Intermediate Credit Bank in St. Louis, and president of Farm Credit Midsouth at Jonesboro, Ark.

He has also actively participated in coop­eratives as a member. Nichols was involved with Dairy Farmers of America for nine years and was elected to serve on the MFA Incorporated Board of Directors in 2011. He served as chairman of the MFA board from 2018 until 2023.

In his leadership role for MFA, Nichols had a hand in hiring the current CEO, Ernie Verslues, and helped navigate the co­operative through both financially difficult years and near-record successful years.

“I am privileged and humbled to receive this honor,” Nichols said. “The success of a co-op is predicated on the quality of people in management and in the boardroom, and we have some pretty savvy men and women leading our state’s cooperatives. I leave the cooperative system after 53 years knowing it is a long way down the road from where we were when I started, and I’m very proud to have been a part of it.”

In remarks before the induction, MFA’s new board chairman, Don Schlesselman, said that Nichols believes in the power of working together and the benefits of coop­eration for the greater good. Schlesselman noted that his predecessor’s time as chair­man resulted in a better-informed board, a stronger member-driven approach and an organization empowered to succeed.

“Over the past three years, I’ve had the honor of serving as vice chairman of the board, which allowed me to work closely with Wayne and get to know him better,” Schlesselman said. “When Wayne speaks, you pay attention because it is going to be insightful and thoughtful. As chairman, he has done an excellent job of leading meetings, keeping people on task and making sure that all board members were heard. He’s left me some big shoes to fill but served as an excellent example, and I feel blessed to step into this role.”

Joining Nichols in the Hall of Fame for 2023 are Brad Lee of St. Louis, a 40-plus-year employee of CoBank and Farm Credit; Phillip Ragsdale of Marshfield, who had a 50-year career with Webster Electric Cooperative; John Schuster of Tipton, a Co-Mo Electric Cooperative member who served as the first chairman of its fiber subsidiary, Co-Mo Comm, Inc.; and Dave Janish of Columbia, who retired in 2022 as president and CEO of FCS Financial after a 43-year career.

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