Feature

The June/July Today's Farmer

Written by webadmin on .

 

Portrait of perseverance (Cover story with Video)
The Corlett family has been dairy farming for 70 years and counting
by Kerri Lotven

Agriculture’s simple mission
Drive to Feed Kids campaign seeks to combat rural food insecurity’
By Steve Fairchild

Hydration innovation (Video)
How Miraco refreshed the livestock waterer industry
by Allison Jenkins

Bin trends
Whether on the farm or at the elevator, grain storage is getting larger and more high-tech
by Nancy Jorgensen        

Steps in the right direction
Agape Ranch helps troubled teens turn their lives around
By Allison Jenkins
    
Break the summer slump with native grasses
Establishing warm-season forage alternatives can benefit your herd
by Matt Hill
    
Shield cattle from heat stress
Improved nutrition can mitigate effects of high temperatures, humidity
by Dr. Jim White

Manage diseases with
multi-faceted approach
Proper stewardship is important to protect seed treatment effectiveness
by Jason Worthington

COUNTRY CORNER
Persistent low prices mean dire days for dairy
by Allison Jenkins

UPFRONT/BLOG
Saluting stewardship
Missouri wants ‘fake’ meat clearly labeled
Missouri’s Fordyce to lead Farm Service Agency

MARKETS - as printed - click for Flipbook
Corn: Expect export demand to remain strong
Soybeans: Look for substantial price volatility this summer
Cattle: Herd growth continues to slow
Wheat: Crop concerns cause market uncertainty

RECIPES - as printed - clip for Flipbook
Blended bliss

BUY, sell, trade
Marketplace

VIEWPOINT
MFA values good stewardship
By Ernie Verslues

 

Click the magazine cover to view this issue as printed in FlipBook form.

Portrait of perseverance

Written by Kerri Lotven on .

Every morning, dairy farmers Wesley Corlett and his son, Daniel, rise with the sun and with the same surety.

In the pale morning light, they walk to the milking parlor to complete their early morning ritual. They will spend three hours milking and then head to the fields only to come back again in the afternoon and repeat the cycle.

Generations of dairy farmers have done the same. Here on their farm in Willard, Mo., the Corletts have managed the pinnacles and pitfalls of the industry for close to 70 years. There’s no secret recipe to their longevity. Like most other dairy producers, they readily admit that capital is one of the biggest challenges, but they have persevered through the tough times by diversifying their operation, limiting debt and maintaining positivity.

“If you have your health and are able to get up every morning and go, you can overcome a lot, can’t you?” Wesley said.

His family acquired the original plot of land in the mid-1800s, but it wasn’t until the 1940s that Wesley’s grandfather, father and uncle began the dairy operation. Together, they formed the original partnership that Wesley and his children continue to operate today.

Wesley said he knew from a young age he wanted to be a dairyman.

“His family said he’d sit in the window of the old stanchion barn just watching them work,” his wife, Annette, said. “They said they couldn’t pull him away.”

And much like his father, Daniel knew he would become the fifth generation to make farming his career.

“I like working for myself,” he said. “I was raised here, and I think the farm is a great place to raise my kids.”

In addition to Daniel, Wesley and Annette have an older son, David, a daughter, Diane, and eight grandchildren. Daniel and his wife, Jennifer, bought into the partnership in 2015 when David had to withdraw from the daily operations due to a progressive multiple sclerosis diagnosis.

Together, Daniel and Wesley milk 80 cows twice a day—at 6 a.m. and 4 p.m.—the sunup to sundown schedule that’s well-known to dairy farmers.

“We’re out there every morning and afternoon,” Wesley said. “No exceptions for funerals, weddings, vacations, operations or anything like that.”

When Wesley had to undergo a total knee replacement two years ago, Daniel handled the milking operations during his father’s six-week recovery. And more recently, when Wesley and Annette went to visit his sister for a week, Daniel and Jennifer both stepped in with their three kids in tow—Harleigh, 4, Aurora (Rory), 15 months, and Weston, 3 months.

“Jennifer was here in the mornings while her mom watched the kids,” Daniel said. “Then in the evenings, we had the kids with us, and they just did their thing. We would bring Rory’s swing into the parlor, and she would swing with me while I milked. Harleigh helped, and Weston was just passed around.”

The Corletts milk a mix of Guernsey, Holsteins and a few Jersey cows and retain their heifers each year to build the herd.

“We used to milk around 100 but there were a few years when our numbers dropped due to milk prices, drought and other issues,” Daniel said. “We’d like to eventually get back to that number, but we’re not quite there yet.”

With 80 cows, they average 50 pounds of milk per day per cow, for a total of around 1.4 million pounds of milk each year. The addition of 20 cows would likely increase their average 3-hour milking time by 30 minutes for an extra 1,000 pounds per day. Their cows are fed a mixed feed ration in the parlor sourced from MFA affiliate Bolivar Farmers Exchange in addition to free-choice hay and silage.

“It’s not a traditional dry lot,” Wesley said, “but we feed them about everything they eat.”

The Corletts work with MFA Feed Area Sales Manager Jody Boles to test their forage and silage quality a few times each year.

“They are a good dairy family, and they’ve been customers for years,” Jody said. “No matter if it’s a good day or a bad day, Wesley always has a smile or is laughing at some point.”

Three years ago, the Corletts also began raising a beef herd to supplement their dairy.

“We just put it together from nothing,” Wesley said. “I think we started with six cows. Now we have close to 30.

Recently, the Corletts began leasing 190 acres to plant wheat and soybeans as well as corn to chop for silage.

“Now we do the dairy chores in the morning, go to the fields and then come back and do the chores,” Wesley said. “I’m sure other farmers are in the same situation. You stay late if you have to and just go until you can’t anymore.”

“Every day is a blur,” Daniel added. “We’ve diversified, and now we just work all the time.”

Though it has added more work to an already full plate, diversifying their operation has helped to compensate for declining milk prices. Last year was the first time they planted soybeans, and the crop did well, Wesley said.

“That really helped to offset some of milk price,” he said. “I wish I had all the numbers, but it just seems to me like milk prices never really have reached a new level. How long have you seen milk at the stores for $2.50-$3? But what has beef done? What has chicken done?”

He is right. The price of milk doesn’t follow the common trend of other household staples such as bread, eggs or meat. It’s more volatile, the jagged line graphs more closely resembling price trends for oil or gas. According to the USDA, the national average retail milk price hit its highest point in January 2008 at $3.87 per gallon. In January 2018, the average price was $2.96. Conversely, beef and chicken prices have steadily risen over the years.

“Most of the time it’s like a roller coaster,” Annette said. “It takes forever to get up to that good price, and then it just shoots back down.”

The Corletts know they’re in the commodity business and a world market. These days, milk is used for much more than making cheese or butter. It can be distilled into milk powder, whey proteins, condensed milk, fat solids and skim solids—each with its own uses. When milk prices hit the 2008 high, China was importing large supplies from the U.S. and other countries due to a melamine contamination scandal at a large Chinese factory that produced infant formula. The incident reportedly killed at least six children and caused illness in thousands more. At the time, however, feed and fuel prices were also higher domestically, cutting into farm profit margins.

In 2014, milk prices again climbed with export demand. Still, the downswings drive many out of business. Wesley and Daniel can name most of the dairies in Greene County now on their fingers. They can also list quite a few that are gone.

“I think it would be hard to get started in this industry as a young dairyman,” Wesley said. “Especially if you have started thinking the going is good, so you borrow money for equipment. It would be really tough if you owed on the land and the machinery.”

Though they have had some debt at times, the Corletts said they never make large purchases unless they have a really good year.

“Really, if we can’t afford it, we don’t buy it,” Annette said. “You have to have a little buffer, a little nest egg, or you’ll find yourself in trouble.”

Part of their perseverance has been managing that debt and carefully maintaining the farm infrastructure while staying in step with technology. In the milk house, part of the original rock foundation can still be seen. Wesley’s grandfather had a few cows he milked in the stanchion barn, in which Wesley’s father and uncle later built additions. They would also go on to build the milk house, parlor and silo.

“The buildings are outdated,” Wesley said. “But the milking equipment is modern, outside of automatic take-offs. We try to keep up as best we can.”

As for the future of the farm, Daniel plans to continue the family tradition.

“Jennifer and I have talked about a lot of different things we’d like to do, like selling items straight off the farm, but you really have to get a lot of things in order to do it right,” he said. “But we will always farm. I can’t really see myself doing anything else.”

And while Wesley, now 63, said he hopes he isn’t milking until he’s 80 like some of his neighbors, he also admitted, “If I’m able, that would be good. If you’re able to get up and work, that’s a great thing.

Steps in the right direction

Written by Allison Jenkins on .

When Glory began her first training class at Agape Boarding School Ranch, the 3-year-old mare was wild, nervous and afraid. She didn’t trust anyone. She refused to obey.

Her 17-year-old trainer, Hunter Scarbury of Mesa, Ariz., could relate. After all, that same type of behavior is what led him to this rigid residential facility for troubled boys in Stockton, Mo.

“Back home, I was skipping school, getting in trouble, and eventually my parents kicked me out,” Scarbury said. “I lived on the streets for a while, and then they decided to send me here to straighten out my life. It was rough for the first few months because I was fighting it, but now I love this place. It’s like a second home.”

The teen attributes much of his turnaround to Agape’s agricultural program, which allows a select number of boarding school residents to work on the ranch as part of their rehabilitation process. Scarbury is living proof that horses can help heal.

“I’d never worked with horses before I came here, and it was a little scary at first,” he said. “But once you show them that you’re in control, they’ll lend you the reins. I can understand how they feel, because I’ve been out of control myself. This class has shown me how I need to act for other people and how my behavior affects everyone around me. I feel like I’ve matured quite a bit.”

Home to about 100 teenage boys, Agape Boarding School was founded in 1990 by James and Kathy Clemensen in California and relocated to Missouri in 1995. “Agape” is the Greek word for “unconditional love.” At the Christian-based school, students adhere to a military-style structure under 24-hour supervision. They continue their academic studies during their stay, which ranges from 12 months to several years.

As they advance through the program, the residents rise in rank and gain privileges to participate in extra-curricular activities such as working on the ranch. Ranch manager Riley Olson, a Wyoming native, established the equine program six years ago with 14 of his own mares, geldings and stallions. The school’s stable has grown to more than 100 registered quarter horses that were either born on the farm or donated. He and his students also manage around 150 head of beef cattle on a neighboring farm.

“It was my dream to be a cowboy and train horses for a living, but I felt like God wanted me to do something greater,” Olson said. “I decided to go to Bible college in Indiana and went back to Wyoming to work for a little church there. Then I got the call from Mr. Clemensen to start a horse program here. My wife, Kyla, and I came down to visit and felt like it was custom built for us.”

Only Agape students who show good behavior, progress in their rehabilitation and keep up with their studies are considered for the ranch’s colt class, which currently has 14 participants. Enthusiasm for working with horses is essential. Experience is not.

“You should never put a green rider with a green horse and expect anything to go right, but by the grace of God, this program works here,” Olson said. “Most of the boys here have never been around horses, but everybody in this class wants to be here. Like a lot of young men, they find a natural affinity for horses—even boys who grew up in the city. They may not know much about farm life or taking care of animals, but they make a connection with them.”

Ian McCaghren of Somerville, Ala., is among the ranch hands who had no prior equine experience. The 17-year-old said his parents sent him to Agape two and a half years ago after he started causing trouble and running with the wrong crowd. The teen began working on the ranch about four months into his boarding school stay and discovered a natural talent for training horses. He hopes to turn that talent into a career.

“If I hadn’t come here, there’s no telling where I’d be. Probably in jail or something,” McCaghren said. “Being on the ranch has allowed me to learn a trade that otherwise I wouldn’t have known. I’ve just kept growing and learning all kinds of different things I could do. I’m planning to go to horse-shoeing school when I graduate next March and then do that for a living.”

MFA Feed Specialist Chad James said he’s seen firsthand the benefit of putting these troubled youth together with horses. James has volunteered with Agape Ranch for the past several years, helping the boys learn proper training techniques and consulting with Olson and other ranch employees on nutrition and animal health. Agape relies on the local MFA affiliate, Farmers Exchange in Stockton and Bolivar, for many of its farm supplies.

“I come and help out wherever they need me, and I get a lot of enjoyment out of being able to see the boys progress,” James said. “It gives them an opportunity to see what agriculture is all about, and the guys who run the ranch still believe a handshake is meaningful and that you take your hat off to a lady. They’re teaching the boys those types of traditional values, which are being lost in the world today. What they do here really fits well with what we do at MFA. That’s the kind of company MFA is.”

The students are involved with all aspects of the farm, from feeding and veterinary work to assisting with foaling and calving. In the colt class, the boys start working with the young horses when they’re weaned at about 7 or 8 months old. They learn how to halter-break them and teach them to lead, walk over tarps and pick up their feet.

The training process begins in earnest when the horses are about 2 years old.

“We take a long time training and start really slow, teaching the boys how to be around the horses and watching their responses before we ever saddle and ride them,” Olson explained. “Then, the boys start working their horses in the round pen. Eventually, we’ll go trail riding and gather cows on horseback. Every once in a while a boy may get bucked off, but it gives him an opportunity to learn how to dust himself off and get back on.”

As the young horses learn and grow, so do the young men.

“You can’t control anything until you can control yourself,” Olson said. “That’s why most of these boys are here. They couldn’t control themselves. They got in trouble. And horses make great tools for rehabilitation. When they help a young colt get over issues like being saddled, crossing a creek and other things that spook it, the boys are learning how to conquer fear and overcome obstacles in their lives.”

The most recent group of horses the young men have trained will be sold June 15-16 at the ranch’s inaugural “Ride Prosperously Production Sale.” (See accompanying story on page 22 for details). Each boy will ride his horse into the sale ring and have a chance to share his story with the buyers and spectators.

“We’ve sold some horses off the farm in the past, but we decided to have our own production sale to give the boys a sense of accomplishment,” Olson said. “It will allow them to see their work from start to finish. I believe it will be something they’ll remember for a lifetime.”

After working so closely with his mare, Glory, for the past few months, Scarbury said he expects the sale day to be bittersweet.

“I think I’ll feel a little sad to see her go, but if I can train her to be a good horse, hopefully she’ll find a good owner,” he said. “That will make me happy.”

Not all the stories have a happy ending, Olson admitted. He’s seen too many boys whose potential goes unrealized because they refuse to change or accept help. That’s the tough part of his job.

But there’s a lot of good, too.

“The greatest thing about working here is to see a boy come in with a hardened heart who wants nothing to do with authority, and then see him change and open himself up to instruction and direction,” Olson said. “Oftentimes, the turning point is when he starts working with his horse. It’s like something switches on inside them. It’s just incredible how powerful horses can be to a young man.”

Ranch hosts sale and horsemanship clinic

Agape Boarding School Ranch’s first-ever “Ride Prosperously Production Sale” will be held Friday and Saturday, June 15-16.

The name comes from the Bible verse, Psalms 45:4: “And in thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness.”

“That’s what we want to teach the boys,” Ranch Manager Riley Olson said. “Many of them lack a desire for truth and righteousness, and we are definitely raising generations of boys who are very prideful. To get through life, you’ve got to get rid of the arrogance, be meek and honest and get your life right. And we want the people who buy the horses to ride prosperously wherever they go.”

The auction-style event will feature 17 quarter horses that are 3 and 4 years old, and all horses will sell that day. Proceeds will go toward ranch operations. Each participating student will receive a portion of the sale to help pay school tuition. The buyer of the high-selling horse will be given a handmade leather saddle crafted by Olson.

In addition to the sale, a free horsemanship clinic by renowned trainer Curt Pate will be held on Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon. The public is invited to attend.

The sale starts at 2 p.m. on Saturday, with the final horse preview at 1 p.m.

Concessions will be sold all day on Friday. A free cowboy breakfast begins at 9 a.m. on Saturday, and free brisket and pulled pork sandwiches will be served at noon. Door prizes will be given away throughout the sale.

For more information, contact Agape Ranch at 417-276-7215, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or online at www.facebook.com/AgapeHorse. The ranch is located at 12998 E. 1400 Road in Stockton, Mo.

Bin trends

Written by Nancy Jorgensen on .

Concrete elevators have been a mainstay of grain storage for MFA Incorporated and other commercial elevator operators for decades. But recently, both elevators and farmers have turned to metal storage bins in a big way.

“Farmers have been producing record corn and soybean crops, and that’s why we’re seeing a trend toward more and larger bins,” said Nathan Belstle, project engineer for MFA Incorporated who purchases bins for the company. “These days, the focus is on steel.”

MFA and its corporate-owned Agri Services Centers handled 75 million bushels in 2017, the second-largest volume in company history. It expects to handle 92 million bushels in 2018 in its 90 grain-handling locations. That doesn’t include grain stored at locally owned MFA affiliates and the hundreds of independent dealers that work with MFA.

While MFA hasn’t added new storage so far in 2018, Belstle estimates that the company installed 40 metal bins a year for the previous five years—in increasingly larger sizes.

“Twenty years ago, a lot of bins were 48 feet in diameter, 22 rings tall and held 100,000 bushels,” he said. “Over the last four years, we’ve seen more bins with 72 to 105 rings that hold 250,000 to 300,000 bushels. MFA owns some 90-foot diameter bins that hold 550,000 bushels. We choose the size based on the amount of real estate available at each location.”

Ed Zdrojewski, editor of Grain Journal, published by the Grain Elevator and Processing Society, sees those same bin trends.

“Steel is the biggest trend, and steel bins are getting larger,” he said. “Some commercial elevators are purchasing new 105-foot-diameter steel bins that store 800,000 bushels. But you won’t see anything that big on the farm—the largest would usually be about 60 feet in diameter and hold 100,000 bushels.”

Glenn Kaiser is one of the farmers contributing to that trend. He is completing a 13-year plan to improve grain storage capacity on the family’s row-crop farm in Carrollton, Mo. That plan began in 2005 when Kaiser purchased land in a centrally located site for the sole purpose of locating new bins. He worked with W.B. Young of Marshall, Mo., to develop a master storage plan, and the company installed GSI brand facilities and equipment incrementally over the years.

This year, the Kaisers added two 100,000-bushel metal bins and will soon install two more, giving them 600,000-bushel capacity for corn and soybeans.

“I didn’t realize that placing all this storage in one setting would be so nice,” Kaiser said. “We move grain more quickly during harvest and have more control over when we sell it. We try to wait until June or July when the price goes up. We’ve been able to sell corn for $4 a bushel in the last few years.”

The first bins Kaiser added were equipped with traditional augers, but in 2013, he built a new tower dryer system with three receiving legs. One leg is designed to move wet corn into a wet bin; when the grain dries, it moves through a dry leg to one of seven dry bins. If the grain arrives dry enough, Kaiser bypasses the wet leg and uses the main receiving leg.

“It was a really wet corn year in 2013, and it put the new system to the test,” Kaiser said. “This was not an off-the-shelf project. It was well engineered.”

Automation has decreased labor, increased efficiencies and improved safety when it comes to monitoring the grain, Kaiser added. He owns three semi trucks and hires two additional truck drivers during harvest. When a truck arrives at his on-farm storage site, a scale house measures its load. The truck dumps grain into a pit from its hopper bottom, and the scale house then measures its empty weight.

“The truck never has to move,” Kaiser said, “and that speeds up the process.”

When delivering grain, Kaiser uses two augers to load into the front and back of the truck at the same time. An employee monitors weight from a catwalk, making sure the load doesn’t exceed the legal limit.  

He used to keep a worker at the bins all the time to check grain conditions and switch fans on and off, but technology has made that role unnecessary. His bins are equipped with cables that measure moisture and temperature. He can activate fans manually, automatically or remotely to reduce moisture or temperature.

“Now I watch-dog moisture and temperature levels from my cell phone and use my phone to activate or shut down bin fans as needed,” Kaiser said. “This new system has been great.”

The high-tech monitoring system means no one needs to enter a bin to unplug blockages.

“That’s when entrapment accidents happen—when grain gets out of condition and you have to enter a full bin,” Kaiser said. “We stay out of the bins until they’re empty.”

In addition to automatic moisture and temperature control, the zero-entry power sweep is another technology that protects farm workers, Belstle said. In the past, someone had to enter the bin to unplug augers, but zero-entry sweeps eliminate that need.

“We no longer use conventional auger sweeps because zero-entry sweeps improved safety dramatically over the past 10 years,” Belstle said. “We’ve had luck with the paddle chain design. We’re adding zero-entry power sweeps to our older bins—they’re expensive but essential.”

Spreader arms are also a beneficial feature of modern-day grains bins. They operate by gravity, power-take-off or other energy sources to circulate the grain and achieve consistent quality. Fines often build up in the middle, preventing air from flowing evenly. Also, when sampling grain, operators usually pull from the center. When fines concentrate in the sample, it can lead to a lower price. MFA doesn’t used spreaders, but Belstle said it might be a good option for on-farm bins.

On-farm vs. elevator storage

With continued record carryover in grain stocks, don’t look for the trend toward adding metal bins to slow down, Belstle said. While he’s understandably biased in favor of commercial elevators, he admits that the industry needs all the storage it can get right now with growing farm sizes and increasing yields.

Belstle summarized these benefits of on-farm storage:

  • When you store your own grain, you may gain more control over when you can sell it, allowing you to optimize the price.
  • MFA continues to update grain facilities to speed up loading, but farmers with their own bins can avoid waiting in line at elevators during harvest.
  • You can avoid paying elevator storage fees. But keep in mind, there’s an up-front cost to purchasing bins, and you must also pay for energy to run fans.
  • You may also gain tax and depreciation advantages.

On the other hand, Belstle continued, storing grain at an elevator also has its advantages. First of all, adding on-farm bins can be expensive. W.B. Young’s most popular on-farm size stores more than 30,000 bushels of corn, and a standard model costs around $50,000 or about $1.50 per bushel, according to Manager Randy Sleeper.

“A smaller 10,000-bushel bin costs more per bushel to erect—about $2.50,” Sleeper said. “Automated technology can add as much as $12,000 to the price, and you must also pay an annual subscription.”
The cost of steel has gone up 15 to 20 percent since November, he added, as markets reacted to the threat of U.S. tariffs on steel.

Other benefits to elevator storage include:

  • Quality assurance — A commercial elevator takes on responsibility for moisture or insect damage to the stored grain. In May, because of the huge 2017 harvest, MFA continued to store grain on the ground in some locations, covering it with special tarping, Belstle said. “We work to get grain off the ground before warm weather can impact quality,” he explained, “but we guarantee that when you sell your grain, you’ll be covered for the same quality that you brought in.”
  • Liability — Storing grain at an elevator relieves farmers of safety and worker liability concerns. “There are more bin-related deaths on the farm than at commercial elevators,” Zdrojewski said. MFA elevator staff members are also trained and licensed to fumigate grain to control insects, a hazardous practice that is best left to professionals, Zdrojewski said.
  • Marketing — Every MFA location has a marketing expert to help you sell grain at the optimum price.

“Not every farmer has the time or the knowledge to manage grain storage,” Belstle says. “MFA elevators print out daily reports from different levels in every bin to measure things like moisture and temperature. When we see a hot spot, for example, fans automatically switch on.”

Zdrojewski shares Belstle’s preference for elevators.

“If you lose a tank of grain on the farm, that’s a lot of money,” he said. “Commercial elevators are better equipped to manage grain and maintain quality. A growing number of farmers use their own semi trucks to haul grain, and they can shop around to find buyers willing to pay top dollar—places like river facilities, ethanol plants and feed mills—so they may not need on-farm storage.”

What’s next for grain bins?

Expect new grain bin technology to continue to emerge, particularly in the area of safety, Zdrojewski said.

“GSI has been at farm shows demonstrating a new powered sweep, no-entry technology, but it has a ways to go before it’s on the market,” he said.

If you’re considering purchasing bins, W.B. Young’s Randy Sleeper suggests a way to save money. Traditionally, farmers wait until July or so to purchase, when they can estimate yield.

“Today, farmers are purchasing metal bins earlier,” Sleeper said. “When harvest ends in November, look for manufacturers to come out with incentives to buy early.”

For more information on bin safety, search online: “OSHA Fact Sheet: Worker Entry into Grain Storage Bins.”

What to look for when buying steel bins

Nathan Belstle considers many factors before purchasing steel bins for MFA Incorporated:

  • The gauge of steel. The heavier the steel, the sturdier the bin.
  • The grade of steel. Go for high tensile, he said.
  • The number and strength of steel rings. Rings are heaviest at the bottom of the bin and get thinner as they rise. Considering ring strength is important but can be complicated.
  • The roof’s load capacity. Belstle said he looks for bins that can take up to 100,000 pounds of weight so catwalks can be added to the roof rather than on the side.
  • How they’re galvanized. Manufacturers coat steel to prevent rust. The thicker the mil, the better the resistance.
  • How they’re stiffened. Belstle prefers bins with external supports that make them easier to clean out compared to those with internal channels. “Older bins sometimes crumpled from the weight of grain,” he said. “Bin manufacturers started adding internal supports, but grain, debris and moisture tend to build up in the channels, leading to rust. These days, externally stiffened bins are mandatory.”

Concrete elevators endure

Concrete elevators remain ubiquitous, especially along railroad tracks and at river-loading facilities. Most were built from the 1950s to the 1970s, said Nathan Belstle of MFA Incorporated.

“Concrete elevators fill faster and last longer, but metal bins last up to 50 years,” Belstle said. “Metal is more flexible and usually more cost-effective than concrete. They also go up faster.”

MFA Incorporated has focused on steel bins lately, with one notable exception. In 2017, MFA completed a large concrete storage elevator at its new rail facility in Hamilton, Mo.

“Even there,” Belstle explained, “we added three 30,000-bushel steel tanks to use for segregating grain that doesn’t meet our criteria, and several 5,000-bushel steel loading tanks for short-term storage.”

Concrete bins hold an advantage when it comes to strong wind, including tornadoes, but metal bins are tougher than they used to be.

“Out of hundreds of steel bins, storm damage affected just 10 of MFA’s bins in the last five years,” Belstle reported.

Hydration innovation

Written by Allison Jenkins on .

The U.S. energy crisis of the 1970s had a lasting impact. Oil supplies became a critical political issue. Environmentalism reached new heights. Smaller, more fuel-efficient cars were produced. The search for alternative fuels intensified.

Out of this crisis, innovation was born.

In 1974, feeling the effects of higher power bills on his farm in Grinnell, Iowa, Claude Aherns began looking for a more energy-efficient way to water his cattle. Like most farmers of the time, he used traditional metal tanks heated with electricity to keep water from freezing in the winter.

Aherns, who also owned Miracle Recreation, a playground equipment-manufacturing company, purchased the patent on an insulated water closure device for ponds and adapted the concept for livestock watering. He established Miraco Livestock Water Systems and began producing the industry’s first energy-free, insulated poly waterers.

“It was a totally new concept at the time,” said Mike Witt, Miraco CEO, who is married to Aherns’ granddaughter, Susan. “Claude already had the manufacturing ability, so he started making waterers, too, and marketed them along with his playground equipment.”

The two companies eventually separated but remained in the Aherns family. Miraco stayed in Grinnell, while Miracle Recreation moved to Monett, Mo. The first Miraco product, a MiraFount 3320, is still in the company’s catalog, which now includes some 40 waterers in different sizes and styles to meet the needs of varying farm operations.

“There’s such a diverse clientele in the ag industry out there, and each farm has a little bit different application or different size they might use,” Witt said. “Whether you have one head or 100 head, we can accommodate those needs.”

No matter what type or size of waterer, Miraco products are all made with the same sturdy, energy-efficient design using a “Roto-Mold” system. This process involves a heated hollow mold that is filled with powdered polyethylene resin and then rotated continually during the heating and cooling phases. The poly material is impact-resistant and withstands rusting, deterioration and general wear and tear. The tanks are double-walled and filled with urethane foam insulation.

Think of it as a Thermos or Yeti cooler for livestock, explained Miraco Vice President Denny Durr, who’s been with the company 32 years.

“Yeti is only a few years old, but we’ve been doing this for more than 40 years,” Durr said. “Like their coolers, the key to our waterers is that they are very well insulated and have the durability of poly construction. These things are built to last.”

To be “energy-free,” the waterers tap into geothermal heat through a tube inserted in the ground under the tank, keeping lines thawed in the winter. Water flows into the tank at ground temperature, which means it’s warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Water can be pumped from a well, pulled from a stream or pond, or supplied by a municipal water source.

“It’s a simple concept,” said Brent Wells, Miraco territorial manager, also a 32-year employee. “Water comes into the unit, the animals drink it, displace the water and more water comes in. Water turnover is the key. That’s what keeps this thing going.”

After the success of the first MiraFount model, Miraco patented another hydration innovation—waterers with rollaway ball closures. The tank openings stay covered until cattle put pressure on the float and move it out of their way to drink.

Afterwards, the ball returns to the opening to keep the water inside the tank warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

The concept is working well on Steve Stone’s beef farm in Galena, Mo., where he relies on automatic ball waterers in his rotational grazing system. In 2006, he installed 11 MiraFount four-hole waterers from Ozark MFA Agri Services to provide a fresh, clean water source for his cattle in each paddock.

“Before, when we just had ponds here and there, we had trouble getting water for the cattle any time we had a drought situation,” Stone said. “And to do the grazing system, you just about had to have them. We didn’t have enough ponds. The other added benefit is never having to break ice.”

While Miraco waterers are now marketed through dealers such as MFA and its affiliates, the first ones were sold the old-fashioned way—by door-to-door salesmen.

“They went farm to farm selling waterers directly to producers,” Witt said. “It was a hard sell at first. This was something totally different, and farmers had to be convinced to try something that was pretty expensive at the time. It was a slow start, but they stuck with it, and our business has grown tremendously.”

Miraco’s biggest market remains in the Midwest, Witt said, but the company now sells waterers all over North America and overseas, with international sales making up 10 to 15 percent of the business. Some 15,000 units are turned out each year by the factory’s 50 employees.

“We’re a small company, very ag-oriented,” Witt said. “Many of our employees have farm backgrounds, so they understand the needs of our customers and apply that thinking on the job. We have very little employee turnover because we maintain a low-stress environment here and treat everybody like family. Even our temporary employees have good longevity.”

For several years, Miraco exclusively manufactured ball waterers along with the original models but kept experimenting with product design. Responding to customer requests, the company began offering open-top waterers in its BigSpring and LilSpring lines. They are equipped with a submersible heater to keep water from freezing. Even though they require power, these units are considered “energy efficient” waterers because they have the same double-wall poly construction and foam insulation as MiraFounts.

“Some people wanted an open water design, and some wanted the ball design,” Witt said. “So we decided to offer both.”

Miraco no longer has an exclusive patent on its energy-free waterer, but Wells said customer service, longevity and consistent quality help distinguish the 44-year-old company from the competition.

“We’ve had a lot of companies follow suit, but we’re the originators, the pioneers,” he said. “We’ve figured out a lot of the things other companies may be struggling with, and we focus on waterers. That’s all we do.”

Another advantage for Miraco, Durr said, is that the company has adapted to changes in agriculture through the years. For example, as dairies expanded, farmers needed larger waterers to provide more lineal drinking space per cow. In response, Miraco now makes the biggest poly waterer on the market—a 14-foot model used mainly at larger dairies and feedlots. On the flip side, the company has also seen growing demand for smaller waterers by goat producers, horse owners, organic operations and hobby farmers who have a few head of livestock.

As the industry continues to evolve, diversity and flexibility will drive Miraco’s offerings in the future, Witt said.  

“When new ideas and new issues come along, we’ll work to solve those needs for our customers, but we don’t plan on deviating from making waterers,” Witt said. “It’s a niche market, but as long as it’s working, we’re going to continue.”

For more information on Miraco waterers, visit with the farm supply specialists at your local MFA affiliate. Several different models are included in MFA’s June sale. To see a video that explains more about the products and the manufacturing process, visit http://mfa.ag/miraco.

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