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Cattleman in command

A Carhartt-clad Mike Parson is crouched under his John Deere baler, attempting to unsnarl tangled net wrap with help from two of his security detail officers. The governor only has a few precious hours before his next official appearance, and he is trying to get a field of hay baled this July afternoon on his Bolivar, Mo., farm.

“Some people will think you staged these photos,” said Kevin Spauld­ing, Parson’s southwest regional office director, who was on hand to chaperon our Today’s Farmer interview. “But this is who our governor is. What you see is what you get with Mike Parson.”

What Missouri gets with Parson is third-generation farmer, Army vet­eran and former sheriff and state legislator. He once owned and operated a gas station. He’s a proud member of the First Baptist Church. He’s a grandfather of five, father of two and husband to Teresa for 34 years. He’s a friend to agriculture. And he unabashedly adores the Show-Me State.

“It’s an honor, coming from where I come from, to be the governor of Missouri,” Parson said. “The love I have for this state and its people make me want to work hard for them every day. And my Christian beliefs and faith guide me in trying to do the right thing.”

When he’s not running Missouri’s executive office, Parson is running his red Angus-based cow/calf operation, not far from where he was raised in Wheatland, Mo. In fact, he loves telling that he was sorting cat­tle at his farm last year when he got the call notifying him he would soon become Missouri’s 57th governor. Serving as lieutenant governor at the time, Parson assumed the top job a few days later on June 1, 2018, after months of scandal and criminal charges forced Eric Greitens to resign.

The new governor’s first job was to establish order out of the chaos.

“One of the biggest challenges was the way everything took place going into office,” Parson said. “Most gover­nors have 60 days to prepare and put a team together. We had 60 hours. Making sure to get the right people in the right place was important to me. Needless to say, it was overwhelming, but I’m really proud of the people who are serving in those capacities. They’re all very qualified, and they’re all hardworking.”

In his first year as governor, Parson made 185 appoint­ments, issued nine executive orders and worked to change criminal justice reform, infrastructure and workforce development. Among the legislation he recently signed are several initiatives that will benefit farmers, including a $5 million appropriation for the newly created Rural Broad­band Development Fund to expand access to high-speed internet across the state. It’s a much-needed measure, Par­son said. As recently as last year, Missouri was ranked 42nd in the nation in broadband connectivity.

“Farmers, agribusinesses and ag tourism operations must have communications capability, and that takes broadband internet,” Parson said. “Lack of access is a huge issue for our state.”

The governor also signed into law Senate Bill 391 that prohibits county commissions and health departments from passing regulations on confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, that are stricter than any state regu­lations. Many agriculture organizations supported the bill’s passage, although opponents argued the bill thwarts local government’s authority to meet the needs of their commu­nities.

“The CAFO bill protects our farmers and makes sure they can operate,” Parson said. “I think it’s a good piece of legislation that encourages investment in our rural commu­nities.”

Parson also has championed workforce development from Day 1 as a key priority of his administration. He said education is the answer. He wants to establish addition­al trade schools, especially in rural areas, to give young people the skills they need to succeed in today’s high-tech workplace. He supported and signed the bill creating Mis­souri’s new Fast-Track Workforce Initiative Grant Program, which is aimed at giving Missourians 25 and older ad­vanced training for jobs that are in high demand.

“After meeting with mayors across the state, both urban and rural, the biggest thing we heard was workforce devel­opment,” he said. “There are so many opportunities in this state, but we need to make sure young people have the standard of education they need and the skills to truly meet the demands out there. That’s really important to me.”

Agriculture is one of the fields that needs highly skilled work­ers, Parson added.

“Easily in 10 years’ time, you might not recognize agricul­ture,” he said. “It’s going to be an exciting arena in the future. Today’s young people, and their parents and grandparents, have to understand how much agriculture is going to change—and accept that change. We have to be able to meet the food de­mands of the world, and God’s not making more land. It’s going to be through technology.”

Parson, a former member of the state House and Senate, put that experience to use in pushing his agenda with lawmakers. In many cases, he said, not being elected governor had its advantages.

“Frankly, the way I came into office gave me some freedom,” Parson said. “I didn’t have any campaign promises to uphold. I just got to do what I believe the people in the state wanted, and I stayed focused on that.”

The governor said he considers his first year in office as a success, but it hasn’t been without its challenges—the first of which was helping Missourians get through one of the worst droughts in the state’s history in the summer of 2018. The cattleman personally knew how dire the situation was for farmers, recalling how he had to feed hay in August for the first time in his life. Right after taking office, Parson issued an executive order declaring a drought alert and reactivating the Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ Drought Assessment Committee. This coalition of state and federal partners worked together to provide struggling farmers unprecedented access to public lands for accessing water and harvesting hay.

“We had to get out in front of the disaster declarations because I knew the drought was going to affect farmers long term,” Parson said. “We had to think ahead, not just about the quality of the crops in July and August but also what cattle pro­ducers were going to feed in the winter. We had people on both sides of the aisle who reached out early on to help us through that situation.”

This year, the problem is just the opposite—too much water. In response to historic flooding this spring, Parson requested another federal disaster declaration and activated the Missouri National Guard to help fight rising water across the state. He acknowledges that having natural disasters two years in a row is devastating for some farmers.

“Mother Nature can outdo you in a heartbeat,” Parson said. “What our farmers are going through is difficult, but we all know those are challenges that come with agriculture. From my position as governor, I want to do everything I can to help them and give them the tools to succeed. The reality is, it’ll be a hard year, and there’s no way to sugarcoat that. But the one thing I know about Missouri farmers is that they’re made of tough character.”

Even though he has to balance both urban and rural inter­ests as governor, Parson said advancing agriculture—the state’s No. 1 industry—will remain among his top priorities. So far, his political career has proven that commitment. While in the Mis­souri legislature, Parson sponsored the Missouri Farming Rights Amendment, which changed the state constitution to guarantee all Missourians the right to farm and ranch. During his first year as lieutenant governor, his office launched the “Buy Missouri” initiative to actively promote products that are grown, manu­factured, processed and/or made in Missouri. Parson also was inducted into the Missouri Farmers Care Hall of Fame in 2018.

“We all have to remember how important agriculture is and how important rural Missouri is to making the state complete,” Parson said. “It’s a way of life and a heritage we need to protect. My son is farming with us now, and we have grandkids who are interested in the farming business, so I fully believe we’ll get to that fifth generation. I want to make sure other families have that same opportunity.”

For Parson, baling hay on a hot afternoon is a welcome respite from his official obligations. A member of local MFA affiliate Bolivar Farmers Exchange, the cattleman describes farming as his “getaway,” although he admits he and Teresa don’t get away to their rural home nearly enough these days.

“As governor, there are so many great things you get to do, but the downside is your time,” Parson said. “You’re driven by a schedule every day. It takes away from my family. It takes away from my farm. It’s demanding job if you’re going to do it right. And I only know one way, and that’s to go to work and give it my all.”

The farming governor is a favorite to run for a full term in 2020 and likely wouldn’t have opposition from within his Re­publican party. Constitutionally, he will be limited to one elect­ed term because Greitens had more than two years left when he resigned. Parson hasn’t formally announced his intentions, but his campaign accounts are actively collecting donations, and he hinted to Today’s Farmer that there would be a big announce­ment in “the next 30 to 60 days.”

“Let me just say that I feel really good right now about where we are and where we’re going,” Parson said. “I feel like we had a great year, and I have a lot of support across the state. It’s unbe­lievable how many people have reached out and encouraged me to run. That decision, that announcement, will be coming, but right now, I’m focused on Missouri.”

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June/July 2019 Today's Farmer

Daring dairy
Lenz brothers build a new future for their family farm
By Allison Jenkins

This place matters
Missouri Main Street Connection kicks off campaign at Newcomer Schoolhouse
by Kerri Lotven

Conservation in the 2018 Farm Bill
Popular programs remain in new legislation, although there are some changes
by Adam Jones

Creature comforts
Foremost Dairy installs waterbeds for cow health and productivity
by Kerri Lotven

Let’s get the river under control
Time to redouble efforts to mitigate floods
by Lynn Muench, special to Today's Farmer Magazine

Center of significance
Farm museum helps preserve Hermann history
by Kerri Lotven

Q&A with MFA
Learn more about your cooperative leaders
by Barry Kagay

Help horses keep their cool when heat is on
Strategies include adjusting workout schedule, providing water at all times
by Dr. Jim White

Turbocharge yields with nitrogen-fungicide synergy
Combine foliar applications to help fight stress, promote plant growth
by Jason Worthington

Unwelcome arrival
Black vultures encroach on Today’s Farmer country
by Steve Fairchild

Country Corner
Activists take misguided aim at animal ag
by Allison Jenkins

UpFront
Closing Missouri’s meal gap
Equipping the future
A case for rural broadband

Markets (flip book)
Corn: Corn plantings may be less than intended
Wheat: Prices expected to remain under pressure
Cattle: Herd growth nearing end
Soybeans: Lower acreage, better condition for U.S. wheat

Recipes
Corn utopia
CLICK HERE for Flipbook version

BUY, sell, trade
Marketplace

Viewpoint
A coming generational difference
by Ernie Verslues

 

Click to view as printed via a flipbook.

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Unwelcome arrival

Black vultures are moving north, and their reputation precedes them. Unlike the Midwest’s ubiquitous turkey vulture, which quietly goes about its job of removing carrion, black vultures have earned ill renown for residential and commercial property damage. Now they are in Today’s Farmer country, and among farmers, black vultures are earning a reputation for attacking live calves.

That’s how Jim and Sharon Shepherd realized black vultures had moved into the neighborhood. The Shepherds have sighted the birds on their Lawrence County, Mo., farm, and the couple suspects they have lost two calves to black vultures.

“On the first calf we lost, I was checking cows and found one that hadn’t been nursed. At that point, we knew we needed to find the calf, and we did. There were buzzards all over it. There were enough of them that they’d eaten to the bone around the ribs. There wasn’t much of the calf left. At the time, I assumed it was just a calf that had died. I left it there for the buzzards to do their jobs.”

That was two years ago. Since then, Shepherd has learned more about black vultures, which increased his suspicions that the birds were lurking on his place.

“It was about two months after losing that first calf that I was at an exten­sion meeting led by Eldon Cole,” he said. “There were a couple of farmers there talking about black vultures, and they mentioned that black vultures aren’t very afraid of people.”

Shepherd thought back to the dead calf. “There were at least 10 buzzards on it,” he said, “I didn’t even know there was such a thing as black buzzards, but these weren’t really scared of me. I got within a few yards of them. One just sat on a stump and watched me. The others flew but lit on trees not far away and waited.”

One of the challenges of knowing whether black vultures are preying on live newborn calves is that the incident often happens with no witnesses. Because vul­tures generally feed on soft tissue first, calves with missing eyes but fresh red-col­ored blood around the eye sockets are a sign that the calf was fed upon while still alive. Black vultures also often feed on backs and side quarters, maybe as a result of injuries inflicted on the calf to bring it down.

In autumn of 2018, the second calf the Shepherds lost was more incriminating for the black vulture.

The calf belonged to a herd veteran, an easy-calving cow. She had good maternal instincts and was even what Shepherd calls “a little ranchy” or extra defensive of her calves. He can’t prove the vultures killed the calf, but he was on site within hours after it was born, and it was covered with black vultures. The cow had given up and was across the pasture. This time he could identify the birds. There wasn’t enough of the calf left to do forensics.

“They definitely had black heads. There were 15 to 20 on the calf. These acted the same way as the first ones,” he said. “I got up within 20 feet with the pickup before they started getting up.”

Stories like the Shepherds’ are becoming more common in MFA territory. While black vultures are a migratory bird, their territorial range has traditionally been in more southern regions of the United States, throughout Central America and the warmer areas of South America. In recent years, black vulture sightings have moved north. Roosting black vultures have been documented as far north as Highway 36 at Callao, Mo., where a case of live calf predation was documented.

Because they are migratory birds, black vultures are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which prohibits hunting them. You can’t kill them to protect livestock or property unless you have a permit.

Based in southwest Missouri, Josh Wisdom is one of six Missouri Department of Conservation Wildlife Damage Biologists across the state. Wisdom said it is hard to quantify numbers of black vultures or any precise reasons for their northward movement. Theories for the movement include changes in seasonal climate as well as a general range expansion due to growing populations or other factors.

“I think about the armadillo,” Wisdom said. “We went from not having them 30 years ago to the numbers we have now. You go from zero to a slow increase. We’ve just started hearing more about black vultures in Missouri in the past few years.”

Wisdom is called on regularly for assistance in con­trolling black vultures, especially in residential areas where congregations of them can do severe damage to houses and other structures. They pull out waterproofing materi­als between chimneys and roofs, destroy pool and hot tub covers and even remove shingles from houses. That’s not to mention the droppings. Wisdom figures the largest group he has seen is 50 to 60 birds on a house.

In residential areas, Wisdom’s go-to solution is to hang a black vulture effigy. Effigies are dead or fake dead animals hung to deter the species from congregating in an area. Wisdom uses a modified Canada goose decoy that he paints and adorns to look like a dead black vulture.

“Effigies work,” Wisdom said. “In Missouri, we have some vultures throughout the year, but they are migratory, so the problem is worse in the summer. Where I have used them, effigies will typically fix a problem for the season.”

He emphasized that its best to place effigies before migra­tory black vultures arrive on the scene and establish a rou­tine and roost. For cattle producers, Wisdom suggests hanging effigies around calving season.

Once he was convinced he had black vultures, Jim Shepherd decided that an effigy would be his first line of deterrence. His son, Jay, an agriculture teacher at Mt. Vernon, Mo., helped by plasma cutting sheet metal into a black vulture silhouette, which Shepherd attached to a step-in pole that he puts in his pasture.

“I’m not sure it scares buzzards,” Shepherd said, “But it scares horses.”

While Wisdom has been success­ful with man-made effigies and seen silhouette effigies work around landfills and other places where vultures can be a nuisance, he says the best effigy is an actual dead black vulture, preferably one from the group of birds you hope to disburse.

Permits granted to destroy black vultures are more to collect birds for effigies than to reduce black vulture populations. The number of vultures allowed to be destroyed will vary by permit and the circumstances for which it is issued.

“You aren’t going to shoot your way out of the problem,” Wisdom said.

After having lost a couple of calves to suspected black vulture attacks and seeing more of them in the surrounding area, Shep­herd is in the process of obtaining a permit. He said that both state and federal officials have been easy to work when it comes to dealing with vultures, but there is paperwork required.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues the permit, but you can start with a call to the state USDA-APHIS office at 1-866-487-3297. If you are suffering livestock losses due to vulture attack, USFWS will coordinate with USDA to expedite the permitting process down to a couple of days and can issue the permit by email. Be prepared to answer a few questions about the nature and extent of damage to property or injury to live­stock. It’s a good idea to take photos of any livestock injuries as well as the birds on your property if possible.

While you need a permit to kill a vulture, it is not illegal to harass them to move them off your property or discourage threats to livestock. Pyrotechnics such as scare cartridges for firearms can be used to frighten roosting birds. Wisdom said that lasers work to move birds as well. An online search for “bird laser” yields several options.

As preemptive management against black vultures, Wisdom suggests looking at the habitat around lots and pastures used for calving. Vultures are drawn to dead trees for roosts. “If you have dead trees, push them down,” he said.

Properly disposing of dead livestock helps, too. If you see turkey vultures circling your above your farm, see what is attracting them. Black vultures can’t smell as well as turkey vultures and as a result, follow turkey vultures to find carrion.

So far in the Midwest, livestock losses from black vultures are infrequent, but that’s hardly consoling if it’s your calf build­ing the statistics. Wisdom said that due to vultures’ federal protection status when the birds prey on livestock, producers are eligible for the Farm Service Agency’s Livestock Indemnity Program. Payment on losses is based on 75 percent of market value along with other considerations. For more information on the program go to mfa.ag/livestock_indemnity.

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Q&A with MFA

This is the second in a series of interviews with MFA Incorporated’s board of directors to help members get to better know their cooperative’s leadership. In this edition, we’re featuring Barry Kagay, District 1 director from Amity in north­west Missouri, where he and his family operate a row-crop and beef cattle farm.

When you look at MFA’s values statement, which one means the most to you and why?

Empowering employees to take initiative and serve our members is important. One of the strengths of our system is that we give our employees the ability to adapt to what people in their area need depending on current condi­tions. That allows them to respond to market or weather situations as quickly as a company our size can. It’s also important that MFA stays successful for our local commu­nities, to help to keep them financially healthy and provide vital products and services to producers in the area, who may not have other reliable choices for their farm inputs. It’s especially important that MFA remain successful in the smaller local communities. Many of them are struggling and need a stable source of employment and a way to bring more income into these towns. Having a strong busi­ness or two is critical to the well-being of many rural areas.

We just went through an unprecedented spring rush. What would you say positions MFA to meet those challenges like no other company out there?

This spring has been exceptionally tough for getting ground prepared, fertilized, and crop protection put on with the wet winter and early spring. MFA has been one of the few businesses in our area that has been able to keep fertilizer available because of the storage and facilities we have and because of employees with foresight and the desire to go the extra mile to make sure the members get our crops planted in a timely manner.

In addition to the compressed spring, the past year has been stressful in many ways for farmers in MFA territory. How can MFA help our members through times like these?

As farmers, we know we can count on MFA when things are difficult or the weather doesn’t cooperate. MFA has the infrastructure and experience to keep us in the prod­ucts we need and also provide good current advice on growing crops or livestock—in good times and bad.

MFA’s sales structure has recently gone through some pretty major changes. As a director and farm­er, how do you feel these changes will better serve our members and the company?

The new sales structure has been a pretty drastic change in how we do business, but I think it should position us to compete into the future. Change is always hard, and some tough decisions were made, but you can’t keep do­ing things the same way without getting left behind. With the new structure, MFA should be in a good position to take care of our customers and go after new business.

You’re coming up on 12 years on the MFA board. What have you learned about MFA during your tenure as director that you might not have learned without the closer involvement?

After being on the board nearly 12 years, I have learned that from the top to the bottom MFA employees really want to do a good job for the members and help the company succeed. It is good to see management and employees all pulling together to get the job done. I also learned just how many different things MFA is involved in and the size of this company. It has been a wonderful experience for me. All of the board members are good, dedicated people who care about the future of MFA. I would tell anyone who has an interest in our company to get involved at whatever level you can to help guide the cooperative.

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About Today's Farmer magazine

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