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Upward trends

The first computer David Backer remembers seeing was in the office of his family’s machinery dealership, Wise Bros., in the 1970s. His uncle, J.O. Wise, used this state-of-the-art technology to buy and sell commodity futures long before the practice was common on Midwest farms.

Being on the leading edge of the agricultural industry has been a hallmark of the Wise family through six generations of farmers and entrepreneurs. Today, David, who took over management of the family business in 2014, is carrying on that progressive tradition with his two oldest sons, Harrison and Matthew.

“Wise Bros. was always into the next big thing, and somehow that’s turned into us,” David said. “We’re continually looking to the future and trying to be forward-thinking. The stakes get higher with every generation.”

The current operation is divided equally into equipment sales and farming, David said. He and his sons buy and sell farm equipment and host machinery auctions at their facilities, advantageously located alongside Interstate 70 a few miles outside King­dom City, Mo. The Backers also farm around 2,000 acres, producing corn, soybeans and wheat along with beef cattle, hay and straw.

With so many enterprises running simultaneously, the Backers say they need all the help they can get, especially when it comes to managing their crops. MFA’s Crop-Trak scouting program provides that extra support. Since enrolling in Crop-Trak in 2016, David said the service has not only increased efficiencies on the farm but also keeps him on top of the latest trends and technologies.

“Our business has been growing so much over the past few years to make room for these kids of mine, but sometimes the room is made before they’re here,” David said. “That’s where Crop-Trak comes in. It’s relieved a lot of my stress. It’s the best thing we’ve done, honestly. I can get the crop fertilized and planted and harvested, but I can never find time to walk the fields. MFA gives me a guy who is looking at our crop every week and letting me know what we need to be doing.”

For the Backers, that guy is Crop-Trak consultant Cade Shiflett, who scouts around 900 acres of their farm. One of his recommendations that paid dividends last sea­son was a fungicide application paired with MFA’s Gold Advantage Trend-B, a proprietary product introduced for the 2019 season. This foliar-fed, slow-release nitrogen is combined with boron to provide targeted nutrition when the plant needs it the most.

Beyond disease protection, fungicide benefits include stay-green, stress tolerance and standability. Working in synergy with the fungicide, Trend-B boosts these benefits by promoting plant growth, resulting in more gain with higher N efficiency.

“When Cade recommended we put fungicide on our corn because there was some southern rust coming through, he also said Trend-B was something we should try,” David said. “I trust his advice. If it had just been me trying to scout and figure things out, I may not have known we needed the fungicide, and I probably wouldn’t have known about the Trend-B, either. But I’m glad I did. That application more than paid for itself.”

Even though the season got off to a shaky start with last spring’s excessively wet weather, David said both his soybean and corn crops produced record yields with good standability into harvest. He largely attributes that success to the fungicide and Trend-B. In fact, he said the treated corn yielded 25 to 30 bushels more than an untreated field on his homeplace.

“I look at things like Trend-B from an agronomic stand­point—what will give my growers an edge to take yields to the next level,” Cade said. “The benefits of fungicide are proven, but adding more nitrogen over the top gives you an even better return. So, in a year like we had in 2019, I was really eager to try it. And it worked. I never really saw any stress in the plants, and the yield difference was amazing.”

Trend-B not only adds the small amount of available N necessary to help a fungicide improve plant performance, Cade explained, but it also helps maintain optimal boron nutri­tion, which is often needed late in the season. Boron is essential for grain development but commonly deficient in Midwest soils. The issue with boron, unlike many plant nutrients, is that it is very mobile in the soil but not in the plant. Adding boron to a foliar application reduces its need to move from the soil through the plant and ensure it is where it is most needed.

The most reliable measure of boron deficiency is tissue test­ing, a practice that proved Trend-B’s benefits in soybeans last season on the farm of Derek Twenter in Smithton, Mo. Because of the spring’s weather challenges, he said not all of his fertilizer applications went out as planned. His Crop-Trak consultant, Taylor Birdsong, advised treating half of the bean crop with a fungicide/Trend-B combination.

“When we took the tissue samples afterward, the boron had gone up to the level we wanted,” Derek said. “I have no doubt it helped yields, too. The beans with the Trend-B did better than all the others, averaging more than 70 bushels. We definitely saw results. In fact, I wish we’d done more of it.”

MFA agronomists warn, however, that foliar feeding is not sufficient to meet all the plant’s nutritional requirements and must be part of a sound fertility program. Proper timing is also crucial to maximize the benefits of both fungicides and Trend-B. In corn, applications should be made typically at tasseling, when the plants are rapidly using nitrogen for growth. Corn takes up half its N supply between the V8 and VT stages and needs boron for silking and kernel fill. In soybeans, the combo should also be applied in the reproductive growth stages, from about R2 to R4. That’s when a soybean plant takes up 70% to 75% of its boron, which is important for pod-set and fill stages.

Using his own high-clearance sprayer, Derek made the combined application on about 500 acres of soybeans at R4, based on Taylor’s guidance. Since enrolling in Crop-Trak about five years ago, Derek said such recommendations have been invaluable to his family’s operation. The 28-year-old farms with his grandfather, Arthur, and father, Greg, growing around 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans, backgrounding cattle and raising 600 cow-calf pairs.

“Working with Taylor is almost like having another employ­ee on the farm, someone I can trust,” Derek said. “He knows all our fields, and if I’m busy and need something, I just call him up and he’ll take care of it for me, no questions asked. We bounce ideas back and forth, and he’s always bringing new things to the table that he thinks will help us.”

Derek, who returned to the farm full time 10 years ago after studying diesel mechanics at Grand River Technical School in Chillicothe, Mo., bought his own acreage in 2014 and is hoping to build the operation for the next generation. He and his wife, Emily, now have an 18-month-old daughter, Laken.

“Since buying this place, margins have gotten much tighter, and it’s tougher to make a profit,” Derek said. “We have to do more to increase yield, and that’s where something like Trend-B comes into play. We spend our money where our crops have the most potential and just keep pushing them, trying to get to the next level. It benefited us last year, and if it makes sense this year, we’ll do it again. Anything that can gain us extra bushels and still be in the black, we’re going to try it.”

Talk with your Crop-Trak consultant or other MFA agronomy experts about the opportunity to improve your crop’s health and increase yields by combining fungicides with Trend-B foliar nutrition.

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Better way to hay

Quality or quantity? When it comes to hay production, it’s not an either/or question. You want both.

Every year, we are asked by producers, “How can I make high-quality hay and lots of it?” There’s no sim­ple answer. That’s what Ben Buckner, one of our MFA customers in southwest Missouri, discovered when he started managing forage more attentively on his cow/ calf operation in Walnut Grove. He raises 275 acres of hay and produces an average of 750 bales each year to support his beef herd.

“I’ve come to realize there are better ways to do things than the way I’ve done them in the past,” Ben told us, emphasizing that proper harvest timing and fertilization are two of his most important consider­ations.

For the past few years, Ben has worked with his local MFA to soil sample his forage fields and create a custom fertilizer blend, rather than spreading a blanket 3-1-1 analysis as he had done for many years. Last year, he enrolled in MFA’s Nutri-Track precision pro­gram, which helps him manage soil fertility on an acre-by-acre basis. He plans to add more acres this year.

Following other recommended management practic­es, Ben said he sprays his hayfields for weeds as much as his budget will allow and tries to start harvesting hay as early as possible to maximize quality and quan­tity. He’s learned that achieving the best of both worlds in hay production requires multistep management that starts long before baling.

If you, too, want a closer focus on high-quality, high-quantity hay, we offer these management tips to help accomplish your goals.

Species selection and diversity

The type of forage you grow is a driving force behind the quantity of hay you produce. Here in the Midwest, we have plenty of forage choices, and over time we can make species changes that improve production and create an abundant supply for the majority of the year.

Fescue is the predominant forage in the Midwest and yields 1 to 3 tons per acre in a single cutting and 3 to 5 tons in two or more cuttings during the season. These totals are quite typical for any cool-season grass.

To increase tons per acre by species selection, look to alfalfa, bermudagrass, native warm-season grasses (NWSG) or summer annuals. Alfalfa and bermuda are both capable of 6-plus tons per acre in three to five cuttings per season. NWSG yields can average 4 to 5 tons per acre on the first cutting, depending on the species, and may yield a second cutting. Eastern gammagrass, big bluestem, little bluestem, Indiangrass and switchgrass all work well for haying operations. Sorghum-Sudangrass is an annual capable of two to three cuttings of 2-plus tons per acre.

We highly encourage you to have a portion of your farm in warm-season grasses. They’re harvested later than cool-season forages and can provide good-quality hay without increasing your workload during the busiest part of spring. Plus, native grasses are inherently more efficient with fertilizer than most other forages.

When it comes to quality, there is a fair amount of variabil­ity among various species. Legumes, as a rule, test higher in crude protein and digestibility than perennial, annual and native grasses. That being said, stage of maturity at cutting has the largest impact in crude protein, digestibility and energy in baled forage.

Grid soil sampling

Many growers use composite soil samples, which can get you started in the right direction. A composite soil sample gives you the average fertility and pH of the field. That means roughly half the field is above that mark and half is below. When you apply the recommended plant nutrients and lime, you meet the needs of half the field, but it won’t be enough for the other half.

Grid sampling through a program such as MFA’s Nutri-Track gives you a comprehensive look at the fertility and pH of every acre. Composite samples are taken on a 2.5-acre grid, which allows you to precisely apply nutrients and lime. Think about it as a report card with details on how you can maximize forage production more efficiently.

On the Buckner farm, Ben had seen an increase in sage grass in a hay field where he’d always applied the same fertilizer analysis. After working with MFA on soil testing and custom application, he said the sage grass has decreased and hay yields have increased.

“MFA has really helped me by making a fertilizer blend that is not only what my soil needs but also the most economical for my operation,” Ben said. “Most producers have limited acres, and Nutri-Track allows me to maximize every acre of my hay fields to be more efficient and productive.”

Variable-rate application of lime and fertilizer

The soil-test reports generated through Nutri-Track allow pro­ducers to use variable-rate technology to spoon-feed each acre with the proper amount of fertilizer and lime. As a result, you maximize production while more efficiently investing fertilizer dollars.

A proper diet of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulfur plays a key role in hay quantity and quality. Phosphorus, in particular, has many uses in the plant. One of the most im­portant is developing and maintaining a vigorous root system for uptake of nutrients and water. Potassium, too, has many essential functions in the plant, such as improving standability and water-use efficiency. In drought situations, low P and K levels indicate poor root systems that can’t hang on to what little water is available.

Variable-rate applications of lime are just as crucial to hay health. Having the correct pH on every acre makes all nutrients more available to the plant, therefore improving leaf matter, pal­atability and crude protein levels. Better palatability improves consumption and animal performance.

Weed control

It goes without saying that controlling weeds increases forage quality. This is especially true with the huge influx of toxic weeds we have seen in recent years, such as poison hemlock, horse nettle, perilla mint and nightshade. Unfortunately, most remain toxic when cut, baled and fed, so control of these weeds is a must.

Controlling weeds isn’t just about improving quality, howev­er. Long term, controlling weeds also has a huge impact on tons per acre. For every pound of weeds you terminate, you get 1 to 2 pounds of desirable forage in return. Start with a clean field and keep it clean for maximum yields.

Mowing height

Before harvest begins, be sure your cutter bar is set to the right height. For cool-season grasses, it should be at least 4 inches high, while alfalfa and bermudagrass can be cut at 2 inches without adverse effects. Annual and native warm-season grasses should cut to a height of 6 to 8 inches.

Growers often ask why we recommend leaving so much for­age in the field. The answer is two-fold: stand life and recovery time. Repeatedly cutting below the recommended height, or the growing point of the plant, decreases tillering and thins the stand, allowing more room for competitive weeds to encroach. Short cutting heights also remove much of the carbohydrate reserves and photosynthesis capacity, delaying recovery of the grass stand. Rapid recovery leads to a higher likelihood of a good, timely second harvest, and honestly, you really don’t add that many pounds to the harvest with shorter cuttings.

Harvest timing

Maturity stage at harvest is the most important factor influ­encing forage quality. As the crop matures, crude protein falls, fiber increases, digestibility decreases and palatability drops. Waiting for a great weather forecast usually results in more lost quality than a rain event would have caused. If rain is in the forecast, and you can time harvest correctly, precipitation right after cutting doesn’t cause nearly as much damage as rain on dry hay.

It’s a principle Ben Buckner says he tries to live by.

“We cut as early as weather will allow,” he said. “We realize that good-quality hay is not only better for the cows, but also you don’t have to feed as much to meet their nutritional needs.”

Cutting legumes in the bud to early bloom stage provides a great compromise of quality and yield. Cool-season grasses and NWSG should ideally be cut in the boot stage, which is very early in the reproductive stage of growth. Stem elongation is happening, and you can feel the seed head inside the stem, but it is not emerged yet.

Alfalfa is typically ready for the first cutting in late April or early May. Cool-season grasses such as orchardgrass, fescue and brome are typically in the boot stage by early to mid-May. When it comes to harvest timing, native warm-season grasses have a real advantage. Their first harvest, at the boot stage, is typically in mid-June. Not only are rainfall events a little further apart in June, but warmer temperatures encourage faster curing of the hay.

After baling, native grasses can be grazed rotationally, or a second cutting can be taken, as long as it’s before Sept. 1. Warm-season annuals should be cut each time they reach around 30 inches. Bermudagrass should be harvested at 15 to 18 inches. In cool-season grass pastures, you can generally take additional cuttings every 4 to 6 weeks after the first harvest.

Anything that shortens the time between cut­ting and baling helps to mitigate risk of weather losses. Using a mower/conditioner and tedder can be a great help in shortening that interval. Baling high-moisture hay (45-60%) and wrapping it for haylage is a practice that is expanding every year.

Preventing leaf loss during harvest is important. For this reason, alfalfa is frequently raked with the dew on. With the use of mold inhibitors, alfalfa can be baled at moistures approaching 30%. Likewise, grass hay should still be carry­ing some moisture when raked. Leaf shat­ter is unacceptably high when overly dry windrows are raked and baled. Use of net wrap greatly reduces loss of dry matter in movement and storage of the bale.

We realize that management of pastures and hay fields is not a one-size-fits-all approach, but putting these recommendations to use on your farm houls allow you to produce more - and better - hay on fewer acres than you have in the past and give you more forage for grazing this summer. 

If you need more information on forage management or are interested in MFA's Nutri-Track program, contact either of us: David Moore at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Landry Jones at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

David Moore is a MFA range and pasture specialist. Landry Jones is MFA's conservation grazing specialist. 

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Having 'brave conversations'

Row-crop grower and swine producer Bob Hemesath is no stranger to speaking out on behalf of the agricultural communi­ty, whether in national news interviews, visits to Capitol Hill or hosting groups on his farm in northeast Iowa.

At the recent 2020 Commodity Classic in San Antonio, how­ever, Hemesath’s advocacy became extremely personal during a panel presentation on mental health hosted by the National Corn Growers Association. The fourth-generation farmer talked candidly about his struggles with depression and the challenges he and fellow producers face in talking about their problems and finding professional help.

“When they were looking for a farmer to be on this panel, I offered to do it myself,” Hemesath said. “I’ve dealt with depres­sion for 20 years. It can be difficult, but for me, the biggest issue is getting over the stigma of mental health, especially among farmers. We think we’re tough; we shouldn’t have those problems. We have to get past that. It’s a health issue. Period.”

Aptly titled “Brave Conversations,” the panel also included perspectives from Cammy Hazim, area director for the Ameri­can Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and Sue Springer, who founded the Suicide Prevention Corporation of Iowa County, Wisc., in 2014 after losing her brother to suicide. The discus­sion was moderated by Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, of which MFA Incorporated is a member.

“Over the past few years, there’s been growing concern over mental health issues in rural America,” Conner said. “In particular, we have seen an increase in people dying by suicide and more efforts by local communities, co-ops, government agencies and trade associations to improve suicide prevention. Agriculture can be a stressful way of life, and some of the traits that make the best farmers—independence, self-reliance, stoicism—often get in the way when they need to seek help. We hope to change that dialogue.”

Indeed, Hemesath said, the inherent isolation of farming often makes it more difficult for producers to talk about the problems and pressures negatively affecting their mental health.

“As a farmer, you work alone a lot,” he said. “There are days where I don’t interact much with people at all. That makes it hard to reach out, especially when I’m feeling down. It makes you want to become even more reclusive or just work harder and hope that feeling will go away. Well, I’ve learned it doesn’t go away if you don’t deal with it and find ways to cope.”

In those situations, suicide can be a very real threat for peo­ple who don’t share their thoughts with others or seek profes­sional care, Hazim warned. Recasting mental health conditions in the same light as someone with cancer, diabetes or heart disease can go a long way toward eliminating the stigma that often keeps people from getting the help they need, she said.

“Suicide really is a health issue. The brain is part of our body, and a lot of times we forget that,” Hazim said. “We also know through our research that suicide is preventable. Just like heart attacks have risk factors and warning signs, so does suicide.”

Those warning signs are typically in the form of talk, behav­ior and mood, Hazim continued. People who talk about ending their lives, dealing with unbearable pain or feeling trapped could be having suicidal thoughts, she said, even if those things are said casually or kiddingly.

Other suicidal signals are behaviors such as increased substance abuse, sleeping too much or not enough, acting recklessly, withdrawing from activities or giving away possessions. Though depres­sion is most often associated with suicide, Hazim explained, other mood changes that can indicate such risk include apathy, rage, irritability, impulsivity and anxiety.

“Trust your gut,” she said. “If you are worried about someone and feel something isn’t right, say something. Don’t be afraid to ask directly, ‘Are you thinking about killing yourself?’ It’s a myth that if you ask some­one about suicide, you’re going to plant a seed in their head. In so many situations, you just need to be a good listener.”

Support exists for people who need help with those conversations, said Springer, who is a certified trainer in the “QPR” method for suicide prevention—question, persuade, refer. She said learning how to recognize the warning signs of a suicide crisis and how to question, persuade, and refer someone to help can save the life of a friend or loved one.

“Don’t worry about saying the wrong thing. It might be scary, but keeping silent won’t help,” Springer said. “Speaking up lets people know you want to help them get through this hard time. And you don’t have to do it alone. Whether you are struggling yourself or worried about someone else, there are resources out there to help.”

The organization she founded in Wis­consin offers extensive online resources at suicide-iowacountywi.org as does Hazim’s organization, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, at afsp.org. The National Suicide Hotline can be reached any time by calling 1-800-273-8255 or the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. The American Farm Bureau also provides mental health resources through the Farm State of Mind/Rural Resilience program.

While such assistance is valuable, the shortage of mental health professionals is an ongoing problem, especially in rural ar­eas, Hemesath said. For those who do have access to therapy, it’s even more difficult to find someone who understands agriculture.

“That’s not easy to do,” Hemesath said. “One therapist couldn’t understand why I couldn’t come in for an appointment on the first of May. I’m kind of busy then. We’re planting corn. I’m not saying that we need special therapists, but we need thera­pists who relate to farmers.”

All the panelists agreed that there is a critical need to bridge the gap in mental health care for rural areas while recogniz­ing such changes don’t happen easily or quickly. In the meantime, they hope rais­ing awareness will encourage more brave conversations in the farming community.

“The notion we are in a period where mental stress and suicide are increasing among those who feed and clothe and provide energy for us is just not accept­able,” Conner said. “While we struggle for those solutions, we’re not going to drop this topic. We’re going to continue to work to make sure that people have the resources they need.”

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In this April 2020 issue


Chickens and the eggs (COVER STORY)
Folks have flocked to Cackle Hatchery for birds since 1936
by Kerri Lotven

Conservation in concert
Pigs, crops and wildlife coexist on Brinker Farms, Missouri’s 2019 Leopold Award winner
by Allison Jenkins

Health care in the country
Rural areas look for ways to cure the shortage of doctors, hospitals
by Nancy Jorgensen

2020 insecticide eartag comparisons
Click to view chart as printed via flipbook.
Click to download pdf of chart.

Creating a safer future - Click to view as flipbook
Annual poster contest raises awareness of risks on the farm

‘Bee’ing good stewards and applicators
Use best practices when spreading or spraying this spring
by Adam Jones

Cocklebur can be a pasture peril
Young spring seedlings of this annual weed are especially toxic to livestock
by Dr. Jim White

Everything under the sun
Running on solar power, MFA Exchange in Meta expects bright future ahead
by Allison Jenkins


Country Corner
Will hemp live up to the hype?
by Allison Jenkins

Building for beans
Barn bedding benefits Missouri State Fair cattle exhibitors
New leaders elected to MFA board

Acreage expected to return to 2016 levels
Chinese purchases could influence spring markets
Record exports, strong demand expected
Buyers waiting on new-crop harvest

Stalk of the town-Click to view as printed
BUY, sell, trade - Click to view as printed

Resilience in a harsh environment

by Ernie Verslues

Click to view flip book

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