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FDA takes veterinary feed directive to next level

VFDWhen new FDA guidelines go into effect in two years, only veterinarians such as Dr. Jessica Stroupe of Fayette, Mo., will be able to prescribe animal antibiotics that were previously available over the counter.New guidelines issued in June by the FDA will effectively end over-the-counter antibiotic use in animal agriculture.

The agency’s guidance for industry (GFI) 263 puts more “medically important” animal health drugs under veteri­nary oversight. It’s a follow-up to 2017 FDA rules that took feed-through and water-soluble forms of these products to prescription status, requiring a veterinary feed directive for purchase and use. The intent was to eliminate the use of antimicrobials for production purposes, such as growth pro­motion, and only allow veterinarians to prescribe them when necessary for the treatment, control or prevention of specific diseases.

This latest document requests that animal health compa­nies voluntarily start labeling, marketing and distributing the remaining forms of over-the-counter (OTC) antibiot­ics—injectable, topical and oral products—as prescrip­tion-only. Once the change is made, these medications can only be used in animals under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian.

According to the FDA, about 96% of medically important antimicrobials used in animals are now under veterinary oversight. The remaining 4% will be covered by the new guidance for industry. Dr. Tony Martin, MFA Incorporated manager of animal health, said current OTC products that will be affected include penicillin, tetracycline, erythromycin, sulfamethazine, sulfadimethoxine and tylosin, among others.

“This situation is not totally new information,” Martin said. “We knew shortly after the VFD regulation went into effect in 2017 that the remaining OTC versions of these same anti­biotics would likely be the next group to be scrutinized and regulated. The new FDA guidance confirms that the change is now underway.”

Implementation of the new regulations will take place over a two-year timeframe. FDA plans to work with affected stake­holders and state partners to answer questions and provide assistance in the transition process.

“Producers need to be preparing to access the affected products either directly from their veterinarian or through use of a written prescription provided by a veterinarian for their acquisition and use when this process is completed in two years,” Martin said. “When it is all said and done, MFA and other retail locations will no longer be able to legally stock and sell the affected products.”

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Planting for premiums

It’s been 25 years since Roundup Ready soybeans hit the market, an event that dramatically changed agriculture.

Those first commercially available biotech seeds—created through transgenic breeding—revolutionized weed control with tolerance to over-the-top glypho­sate applications. And that was just the tip of the iceberg. Many more genetically engineered traits have been introduced since then to address issues such as plant diseases and pests, drought tolerance and enhanced nutritional content.

Given the agronomic advantages, biotech seed now accounts for 95% of soy­bean acres, 93% of all corn acres and 97% percent of upland cotton acres planted in the United States. That means only a small frac­tion of growers plant “conventional” crops—those that aren’t categorized as genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Missouri producers Mike Moreland and Jake Taylor are among that minority.

Moreland, who farms with his brother, Jay, and oldest son, Matt, in Harrison­ville, Mo., grew two varieties of conventional soybeans on about 650 acres this year. Taylor, a first-generation farmer in Columbia, Mo., is converting his 500 acres of row-crop ground into certified organic production. Growing non-GMO crops is part of that process.

“I started farming in 2014 and figured out pretty quick that I had to either get really big to spread my overhead costs over more acres, or I had to figure out a way to make more money on fewer acres,” Taylor said. “That’s when I switched over to non-GMO crops with the idea of eventually going organic. There’s a mar­ket for this, and there are companies willing to pay a premium for growing crops a certain way.”

Indeed, there is demand for non-GMO crops in both the feed and food industry, fueled by a complex and controversial consumer-level debate. As such, “non-GMO” labeling is becoming more prevalent on grocery store shelves. Many coun­tries, including a majority of the European Union, ban the production or import of GMO crops. And recent research suggests that the global market for food made with non-genetically modified organisms could increase at an annual growth rate of more than 15% from now through 2026.

In response, manufacturers that want non-GMO ingredients are willing to make it worthwhile for farmers to grow them. Both Taylor and Moreland say the promise of a premium price is the reason they grow non-GMO. Taylor’s organic corn and soybeans are used in poultry and hog feed. He also grows food-grade non-GMO soybeans that will end up in products such as tofu or tempeh, a fermented soy cake often used to replace meat in a vegetarian diet. The Morelands sell their non-GMO soybeans through an identity-preserved contract with a nearby grain company. The beans will eventually be exported to south­east Asia, where soy-based foods make up a large portion of the consumer’s diet and non-GMO products are in demand.

“Even with today’s $14-$15 beans, we’ll still get a premium of up to $1.50 per bushel on top of those prices for growing what these markets want,” Moreland said. “And yields with these non-GMOs have been comparable. We saw 55-plus, even 60, bushels per acre last year.”

However, those premiums don’t come easy. Producing non-GMO crops requires stringent cleaning procedures for com­bines and equipment, segregated storage, inventive ways of dealing with weed and insect pressures and careful scrutiny by the contracting company.

The Morelands don’t mind the rigorous standards. They have grown seed beans for around 20 years, so the leap to non-GMO wasn’t much of a stretch. They started with about 150 acres of conventional soybeans about four years ago. This year, the Mo­relands weren’t asked to grow seed, so they devoted those fields to non-GMO, too.

“With seed beans, we were used to the whole system of keeping everything clean and following all the protocols,” Mo­reland said. “For example, you have to vacuum out the planter between varieties, and make sure every last bean is out of the grain bins. The biggest thing is the combine. It takes four hours just to clean it out. But the extra money we get is worth the extra work.”

The protocols for certified organic production are even more strict, Taylor said, requiring meticulous rules and record-keep­ing. The fields have to be farmed for 36 months as if they were organic, which means only using USDA-approved practices. Plant nutrition and soil fertility must be managed through till­age and cultivation, crop rotations and cover crops. Animal and crop waste materials and some synthetic products can also be used. Pests, weeds and diseases can only be controlled through physical, mechanical and biological practices.

“It takes a lot of time, and if you’re not a detailed paperwork person, it could be a disaster,” Taylor said. “You have to track every sort of field activity—when you did it, what you did, what you used. Everything’s traceable.”

Taylor said he considers weed control one of the most daunt­ing challenges in both non-GMO and certified organic crops. He uses a specialized cultivator, the Austrian-made Einbock Chopstar, to remove weeds early in the season. As the inno­vative implement moves through the field, a camera pointed down at the crop continually sends a message to the hydraulics and adjusts the position of its harrows between the rows.

Later in the season, Taylor uses another implement called the Weed Zapper to control weeds that grow above the crop’s cano­py. This machine kills weeds by sending electricity down their stems and rupturing the plant cells.

“You’ve got to have the right equipment to do this, and it’s not cheap,” Taylor said. “One thing I don’t like about organic production is the amount of tillage required. That’s bothersome to me, but it’s something we have to do.”

Because the Morelands aren’t growing their non-GMO soybeans organically, they have more freedom in their inputs and practices. They use regular agricultural fertilizers and crop protection products, and all of the farm’s non-GMO ground is no-till. After an effective burndown, the crop only needs to be sprayed once more in season, he said, if conditions cooperate. The family usually relies on West Central AGRIServices to make that application.

“You definitely have fewer weapons when it comes to weed control, so you have to make sure you start clean in order to stay clean,” Moreland said. “We follow a strict rotation of corn and soybeans, and that’s helped. We also have a good residual program that works until we come back in with whatever product we can use in a non- GMO situation.”

Extra weed pressure can also make plant nutrition a challenge in non-GMO crops, said Kaitlin Flick, MFA district agronomist. Those undesirable plants can compete with the crop for soil nutrients, which means scouting becomes crucial to ensure growers keep weeds under control and provide sup­plemental plant nutrition if necessary. To that end, MFA’s Crop-Trak and Nutri-Track programs can be a tremendous benefit for non-GMO and organic crop production, Flick added. She and other MFA agronomists can work closely with growers to help accomplish their goals.

“A lot of time and energy and money are invested into these special projects, so we want to help growers maximize their profits,” Flick said. “We start by learn­ing about their expectations, where they’re selling the crops and what their yield goals are. Knowing those things, we can check in throughout the season to help keep the crop on target. In niche markets like these, especially, you want to be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to potential problems in the field.”

Careful handling at harvest is also a major consider­ation, Moreland said.

“They want the beans clean—no weeds, no corn, no mold or mildew—and they want them kept in very good condition,” Moreland said. “We bought a belt conveyor a few years ago, so all the beans go in and out on that belt, instead of an auger, which can dam­age them. The premium is based on quality. The better the quality, the more money we get.”

During the three-year organic certification period, his crops can’t be sold as organic, Taylor ex­plained. He is growing non-GMO soybeans in the fields that are still in transition. They will bring the $1-to-$2-per-bushel premium of­fered for non-GMO grain, whereas organic production usually garners twice the regular commodity mar­ket price, he said.

“It needs to be about double to justify the extra input costs and the time you put into organic produc­tion,” Taylor said.

Ultimately, non-GMO and organic crop production involves the same basic agronomic princi­ples and problems as traditional farming, both Moreland and Taylor point out. They still have to manage fertility, weeds, insects and diseases. They still have to plant and harvest in a timely manner. They still have to worry about the weather, the environment and government regulations. They just have to manage and market their crops a little differently.

“When it comes down to it, we’re really just doing old-school farming with a lot more tools in our tool belt than growers had back then,” Taylor said. “It’s not always easy, but it does pay in the end.”

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Groves family dairy reaches new heights in production, forages and genetics

Two breeds. One goal. That’s the motto of Groves-View Dairy in Billings, Mo., where elite Holstein and brown Swiss cattle mingle and milk together in a highly productive combination.

The motto could be, “Two brothers. One goal.” As the fourth generation to run the family’s 118-year-old farm, Todd Groves and his younger sibling, Brad, are taking the dairy to new heights in milk production, forage quality and award-winning genetics.

“Todd and Brad are excellent forage raisers, they have top-notch registered Holsteins and brown Swiss, and they sell bulls locally and all over the country,” said Chuck Hubbert, MFA livestock key account manager in southwest Missouri. “They have quality show cattle, and they also have cows that really milk. I would put them in the top of the state.”

Make that top of the entire industry. Groves-View Dairy is currently tied for No. 1 in breed age average (BAA) with a score of 109.2 among dairies with more than 150 cows, as ranked by Holstein Association USA, the largest dairy breed organization in the world. The BAA provides a way to compare the score of an animal—and the herd average—to other registered Holsteins in the industry, while taking into account age and stage of lacta­tion. The BAA of the average Holstein herd is 100.

It’s only one achievement in a long history of success for the venerable dairy, which was established in 1913 by German immigrants Walter and Lula Luezinger. The farm subsequent­ly passed into the hands of their only child, Emma, and her husband, Jack Groves. Their sons, Lonnie and Darrel, were the third generation to operate the dairy.

Todd and Brad, Lonnie’s sons, took over most of the farming responsibilities in 2008 after their father was seriously hurt by a bull. While the injuries have limited his physical abilities, the elder Groves, now 78, is still involved in farm planning and record-keeping.

“Dad was in the hospital and in rehab for four and a half months,” Todd said. “He didn’t walk probably for a year and a half. In fact, they said he would never walk again, but he proved them wrong.”

At the time, Brad was farming with his dad, but Todd worked in the oil refinery business, which kept him on the road more than half of the year. After the accident, Todd came home to farm full time.

“I worked off the farm for about 20 years,” Todd said. “Well, the whole time, I was here helping when I could, but full time it’s been 13 years ago this June. It was a good job; I was just never home. And when I was, I was either putting up hay or planting corn, and gone again. There were a lot of years I was gone 280 days a year. I learned a lot. Met some incredible peo­ple. But I was needed here more.”

Todd’s wife, Sheila, can be credited with adding brown Swiss cattle to the farm’s Holstein heritage. The herd is now a mix of about three-fourths Holstein and one-fourth brown Swiss. 

“The Swissies came with my marriage in 1991,” Todd said. “Shei­la’s family had Holstein and Swiss, but they milked on two different farms. She brought some Swiss with her, and they just kind of got out of control. Seriously, they’ve been good to us. They bring extra fat and protein to the milk, and they compete really well with the Holsteins.”

HISTORY AND PROGRESS

The Groves-View Dairy of today is a merger of tradition and evolu­tion. Family history can be felt throughout the 700-acre farm—from the vintage blue Harvestore silo to the 1960s-era milking parlor where Todd, Brad and two full-time employees milk 175-180 cattle twice daily.

Progressive changes in the farm’s more recent history include the adoption of no-till practices, electronic production measurement technology and embryo transfers to improve herd genetics. About a decade ago, the brothers also enlisted the expertise of a herd nutritionist and switched their milk cows to a total mixed ration (TMR) feeding program.

Perhaps one of the most influential advancements, however, is an intensified focus on high-quality, high-yielding forages. Todd and Brad raise 150 acres of pure alfalfa, along with wheat and rye, all of which is harvested and stored as baleage. They cut and bale the forage with 55% to 60% moisture, and then wrap it in plastic to create an airtight environment for ensiling.

The system takes a quick turnaround, Brad said. They try to cut one day, bale the next and wrap immediately. None of the baleage is tedded, if they can help it, he added. Eliminating this step not only saves one more pass through the field but also limits mechanical damage to the forage.

Compared to dry hay, the decreased curing time from cutting to baling makes weather less of a factor, helps reduce harvest losses and preserves as much nutrition as possible. It also takes careful, timely management—and dedication.

“It doesn’t matter how many hours we have to work in the night or day, if it’s time and the weather’s right, we put our forage up,” Todd said. “I’ll admit, sometimes we do get carried away cutting and get too much down. A couple weeks ago, I started on the alfalfa at 3:30 a.m., and I walked in the house at 20 after 3:00 the next morning.”

“And we’ve done that twice in the last month, once putting up our rye, and the second time putting up our first alfalfa cutting,” Brad added.

During the growing season, the Groves family harvests the alfalfa on 28- to 30-day intervals and usually gets five to six cuttings per year. Todd said they consistently achieve more than 6 tons of dry matter per acre, which removes a relatively high amount of soil nutrients. Ensuring adequate soil fertility for the legume is another key to their successful forage production.

“You’ve got to feed that crop—and it takes lots of pot­ash and sulfur,” Todd said. “We don’t put any nitrate on at all, and we don’t have to apply any phosphate. Usually, it gets 220 to 240 units of potash per year in split applications, once after second cutting and last cutting. And I put 30 pounds of sulfur on the first application.”

“Our phosphate is done with cow manure,” he added. “Neighbors tell us that’s cheat­ing, and I tell them we’ve got to have some added benefit for milking cows. All the manure is put on during the corn years.”

Todd explained that once an alfalfa stand has “played out,” 

usually every four to five years, the field is rotated to corn, which is no-tilled into the forage stubble. The Groveses then raise corn, mostly for silage, back-to-back for three years, before re-seeding those fields into alfalfa again.

“In that first year you put corn into an alfalfa stand, the yield is mind-boggling,” Todd said. “It will outperform everything on the place.”

BALEAGE TO BRAG ABOUT

The agronomic attention pays off in feedstuffs with outstanding nutritive quality, which, in turn, translates to impressive milk production. The farm’s forage tests regularly break the 200 mark in relative feed value—an RFV over 185 is considered to be the highest ranking of “supreme.” And the dairy’s average milk output is 86 to 87 pounds per cow, per day—more than 10 gallons—well above the average of 75 pounds the Holstein Association reports.

“I like seeing how far we can go, what levels we can reach,” Todd said. “But it all comes at a cost. You’ve got to decide if it’s worth it or not.”

The value of those efforts was affirmed last summer when Groves-View topped the alfalfa haylage category of the hay show at the 2020 Ozark Empire Fair in Springfield, Mo. The win­ning entry scored a relative forage quality of 276—one of the highest RFQs ever recorded at the competition. The farm was also awarded reserve champion for another entry with an RFQ of 264. Both entries were the same alfalfa variety, WL 375HVX, which features Roundup Ready technology and the HarvXtra low-lignin trait.

It was the first time the brothers had entered the hay contest, but they said it won’t be the last.

“When we got our forage test results back last spring, Chuck Hubbert saw them and said, ‘Why don’t you enter a hay con­test?’” Todd said. “I said, ‘Because we never have.’ So, he sent somebody up here from Extension to pull samples for the show. Those tests came back better than what we sent in. I knew it was good, but I didn’t realize it was that good. We’ll definitely enter again. Brad has pulled samples from this year’s baleage, and it’s pretty impressive, too.”

When it comes to managing their cattle, the Groveses are just as meticulous as they are with their forages. Lactating cows are provided a TMR in the feed alley prior to milking. The ration formulation fluctuates depending on the nutrition levels of the corn silage and baleage. Weaned calves are fed MFA Stand Out Dairy Calf Starter, then transition to MFA Trendsetter developer ration at 5 to 6 months of age. 

“It all begins when the cow is pregnant, making sure she has plenty of feed and a clean, dry bed,” Todd said. “When calves are born, they get colostrum within an hour, and then they get all their vaccines. We wean the hutch calves at roughly 3 months old, and then they transition over to feed.”

SUCCESS IN THE SHOW RING

Such attention to cow care and quality genetics has helped Groves-View Dairy build a reputation for top-performing Holstein and brown Swiss cattle, highly regarded for both milk production and on the show circuit. Through the years, the family has received numerous awards in the industry and at livestock shows all over the nation. In 2020, one of the dairy’s home-bred cows was named “All-American” by the Brown Swiss Association in a program that recognizes outstanding animals exhibited at state and national shows during the year.

The Groves family is also known for selling embryos and bulls from the farm’s deeply pedigreed lines. But as dairy num­bers continue to dwindle, so does that business.

“It used to be 80 bulls a year. In 2015, we sold 128. Now we’re under 40,” Brad said. “But you look at how many dairies are gone, and it’s no wonder. In 2000, there were 128 dairies in Christian County, and there’s only seven of us left.”

For Groves-View, there’s a fifth-generation poised to continue the farm’s legacy if they desire. Brad and his wife, Gail, have a son, Taylor, 22, a mechanic by trade, and a daughter, Kiera, 20, who runs her own laser-engraving business. Both work on the dairy part-time.

Todd and Sheila have three children, Bailey, 19, an animal science major at Missouri State University; Grant, 20, who just graduated from Kaskaskia College in Centralia, Ill., with an animal science degree; and Brittany Whitehill, 27, who works for the Farm Service Agency. The three siblings are active in the show circuit and help out on the dairy when needed.

“This year, they’ve got big plans for attending the World Dairy Expo in Madison (Wisconsin) and the South­western National Brown Swiss show in Stillwater (Oklahoma),” Todd said. “And they’ll hit all the state shows, too.”

Whether any of the children will return to the farm full time is yet to be seen. “Who knows?” is the only answer Todd can give. What he and his brother do know is that, despite the indus­try’s challenges, the Groves family plans to stick with dairying as long as they can make it work.

“I wish there were more money in it, but now’s not the time to bail, even if we wanted to,” Brad said. “It’s not easy, but we really love what we do.”

Visit grovesviewdairy.com or follow on Facebook to learn more about the farm. For more information on MFA feed and alfalfa varieties, talk with the experts at your local MFA affiliate or visit online at http://storelocator.mfa-inc.com/.

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Research brings microbial-level nitrogen products to the field

With several products in their first years of commercialization and more on the way, ag research is edging its way toward an elusive goal—harnessing the relationships between microbes and plants to help fertilize crops.

The quest is as old as agriculture itself. Research coming to fruition today could mark a significant moment for the industry— especially if you think about it from a historical perspective.

Before we reached the modern age of agriculture, humans spent millennia selecting and improving grain for its domestic utility in feeding ourselves and livestock. Humanity had done pretty well for itself, too. We’d done the selection work. We’d figured out that manure was good fertilizer. We’d learned about green manures and crop rotation. But even with all that time-earned agricultural wisdom, pushing yield with fertility had hit a plateau.

Of course, that changed in the early 1900s when German sci­entists Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch developed the industrial pro­cess for converting atmospheric nitrogen to ammonia—a pivotal moment and a foundation for the agricultural output we enjoy today. And while commercial nitrogen produced from this pro­cess will remain a foundation of fertility programs, the new focus can be traced back a few decades before Haber and Bosch made their discovery to another pair of Germans, Hermann Hellriegel and Hermann Wilfarth, whose research focused on how plants fix nitrogen for themselves.

In the 1880s, Hellriegel and Wilfarth explained how inoculum of suitable species and variety promoted root nodules on legumes. These nodules, through symbiotic activity among plants and soil organisms, fed the target plants nitrogen and helped them grow. It was a controversial suggestion at the time.

Such early research and discovery may seem quaint by modern standards. Still, it provided the foundation that is being built upon by today’s technology, from advanced screening for beneficial microbes to gene editing and genom­ic work to identify and proliferate the biological interactions needed for bacteria and plants to work together.

What’s coming to the agricultural marketplace has been derived from multiple methods and approaches but collec­tively uses activity from soil microbes and plants to attain nitrogen.

In a meta sense, you can sometimes measure the general advance of technology by merger, acquisition and licens­ing activity in the sector. Capital seeks innovation, and innovation seeks capital. In the past few years, announce­ments from multiple companies signal progress in the field. Aligning with that process is continued scrutiny on nitrogen production regarding the energy used to produce it and its environmental fate once applied. Addressing those issues without sacrificing yield will push development all the more.

MFA is in the early stages of evaluating these types of microbial products. This year’s research will focus on rate equivalents of nitrogen provided.

While the field is growing, some of the available products include:

Corteva Utrisha N (foliar application)

Corteva Agriscience recently announced an agreement with micro-biologically focused Symborg to bring microbe-based nitrogen fixation products to market in the United States, Canada, Brazil and Argentina.

The agreement gives Corteva an exclusive license to distribute the endophytic bacterium, Methylobacterium symbioticum, which works with the plant to secure needed nitrogen from the atmosphere. You will see the product branded as Utrisha N.

PivotBio PROVEN (in-furrow)

Pivot Bio PROVEN is applied in-furrow during planting. The mi­crobes create a symbiotic relationship with the corn plant, produce nitrogen and deliver it directly to the roots of the corn plant.

Azotic Envita (in-furrow, foliar application, seed inoculant)

Envita is a naturally occurring, food-grade bacteria—Gluconaceto­bacter diazotrophicus—that was initially discovered in sugarcane. Envita forms a beneficial relationship with the host plant and pro­vides nitrogen to cells throughout the plant, both above and below ground, all season long.

Sound Agriculture Source (foliar application)

This chemistry activates hormones in the plant to produce a gel-like substance from the root that stimulates existing soil bacteria to fix nitrogen and make phosphorus more available.

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