Jack Shields, manager at the Lineville MFA Agri Services, says keeping good employees, cooperating with other MFA locations and constantly aiming toward facility improvements have combined for recent success.
The Lineville MFA Agri Services is the southernmost MFA retail location in Iowa. It is part of a group of four stores that serve MFA customers in Iowa—with locations at Leon to the northwest, Humeston to the north and Corydon to the northeast.
Shields said the MFA’s Iowa locations operate as a “pod,” with a philosophy of cooperation when it comes to making the most efficient use of equipment and personnel.
“We all have the same general busy time, but we can meet challenges by cooperating with each other. An applicator at Humeston got sick during the busiest part of the spraying season, and we had an extra, so I could afford to loan him out for a week. If a neighboring location gets behind, we can help. We share some equipment in the same way,” said Shields. “It lets our locations play to their strengths,” he added.
“Three of us handle grain, but Leon MFA Agri Services doesn’t. So they’ll help cover our fall fertilizer application if we are handling too much grain to have the manpower available for fertilizer application demand.”
Lineville is one of the MFA’s full-service Agri Services, offering the sale and application of a complete line of fertilizer and crop protection, buying and selling grain and offering farm supplies and automotive parts.
Shields said that as farms get larger and farmers more busy, custom application is an increasingly popular service in the area. For the Lineville Agri Services, that includes custom application of anhydrous ammonia.
“We have a Cat Challenger and a 17-knife applicator,” said Shields. “That’s gotten more attention lately. It works for both large farmers and smaller operators who have gotten to the point that they don’t want to handle anhydrous. Anhydrous is a good product, but you have to pay attention to it when applying it, and some growers would rather have us do it.”
Shields, who managed the Corydon, Iowa, Agri Services from 1999 to 2009 came out of semi-retirement to head up the Lineville location. He said there is a competitive grain market in the area and that PSF facilities to the south create a nearby end-use market. To better serve area grain farmers, efforts to improve grain handling are underway at Lineville.
“We’re reworking the east side of the elevator with new pipes and adding an extra grain pit,” he said. That will make labor more efficient at the facility, freeing hands for fall fertilizer application.
In recent years, Lineville has constructed an all-weather temporary grain storage facility. The covered storage gives the location the ability to handle large amounts of grain when it is coming out of the field and strategically market it over time.
“It held about 325,000 bushels of corn,” said Shields, “We’re adding side panels to move that up to 600,000 bushels. When we finish with the upgrade, it will be center filled, which is much better than running a conveyor. With the center-fill design, the cover tarp will move up as the grain grows higher and we won’t have to expend the challenging labor it took to cover it manually. And for growers, we’ll have the advantage of dumping into a pit now.”
Lineville MFA Agri Services also sells automotive parts through a NAPA franchise.
“Parts sales have grown in the past few years,” said Shields. “We’ve topped $250,000 in sales, and it adds door traffic and phone traffic from non-farm customers. Chris Kirsch manages the NAPA business and helps staff the counter for other sales, too.”
Like anyone in agriculture, the Lineville location faces challenges from changes in the business. Shields said that he is fortunate to have good employees, but the days when you could hire people with on-farm experience have passed.
“You used to count on farm experience as a way to reduce training time for employees,” he said. “We can’t do that anymore. There just aren’t as many farm kids. So we train them, and we work to keep them.”
And yet, Shields, who farms across the road from Lineville Agri Services, said that working at MFA is a form of farming in itself, “We want to be as dedicated to each field as the farmer is.”