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B&B Technologies builds spray equipment business by focusing on niche markets, customer service

The flashy red 1930 Model A Ford depicted in the logo for B&B Technologies is more than just eye-catching artwork. It pays homage to the real-life hot rod that the company’s owner, Bill Japp, has prized for 58 years.

He restored the classic car himself in the early 1960s, custom­izing the roadster into a drag-racing dream. To build—and race—hot rods, it takes patience, courage and mechanical aptitude. And those traits served Bill well when he launched B&B Technologies in 1994 and started building his own line of spraying equipment.

“I worked at an equipment dealer in Omaha for 22 years, selling tractor loader backhoes and golf course equipment,” Bill said. “The company that made the sprayers we sold to golf courses closed down, and a gentleman who worked for that company, Bob LeClair, and I decided to start this business to fill that gap. He was the other ‘B’ in our name.”

Bob left the business about six months later, but Bill kept the pedal to the metal, expanding from the initial offerings of small, 12-volt spot sprayers and large pull-type sprayers to a dozen different product lines and more than 50 individual models within those categories today. In addition to a full range of agriculture, turf and lawn-care sprayers, parts and accessories, some of B&B’s newest offerings are carriers for combine heads and lawn spreader-sprayer equipment.

All of the products are designed, fabricated, assembled and shipped at B&B’s facilities in Tekamah, Neb., about 25 miles away from Bill’s homeplace in Kennard, Neb. It’s now a family affair, with Bill’s wife of 51 years, Mari, and their son, Jason, working side-by-side in the business along with six other employees. Mari, who has a banking and secretarial background, handles the finances and bookkeeping while Jason manages the shop and shares responsibilities for orders and customer service. He started working here with his father 25 years ago right out of high school.

“Through the years, I’ve done everything from welding to painting to assembly,” Jason said. “That’s one thing I always tell the guys—I’m not going to make you do anything that I haven’t done before.”

Bill also has been hands-on from the start, using his engineering degree and sales background to not only design and build B&B’s products but also grow the business across the country. True to the company’s roots, golf courses are still very much a part of B&B’s customer base along with lawn care and agricultural mar­kets. And MFA has been a loyal customer all along, Bill said.

“I’ve appreciated MFA’s business all these years,” he said. “They’ve always had good people who are excellent to work with. A lot of the products we offer today have come from ideas we’ve gotten from conversations with the managers, employees and customers at MFA.”

MFA’s exclusive Brush Buster range and pasture sprayer is one such ex­ample. The 300-gallon boom sprayer mounted on a high-clearance trailer was developed by B&B in collabora­tion with MFA’s Farm Supply Department.

“Right now, our most popular items from B&B are sprayers designed for range and pasture, such as the Brush Buster, and UTV sprayers,” said Ryan Mauzey, MFA Farm Supply product manager. “The biggest reasons that we work with B&B are their vast product knowledge and high level of service.”

B&B also began offering sprayers with boomless nozzles for producers who need to control pasture weeds in Missouri’s hilly terrain, Bill said.

“If you listen to your market, they’ll tell you want they want,” Bill said. “We’ve never wanted to be the biggest company but rather offer products that fit into niche markets like MFA stores. As a small, family-owned company, we can more easily adapt to specialized needs of our customers. Our products are tailored for the kind of geography we’re selling into and the types of farms our customers have.”

Along with flexibility and creativity, B&B employees also pride themselves on attentive customer service and strict quality control, Bill said.

“We want to be more of a service company, just like MFA,” Bill said. “Customers know they can call up here and get an answer to the problem. And we try to keep everything as simple as possible. We ship our sprayers already assembled so we know that they are put together correctly and will work proper­ly for the customers.”

The Japps have personal proving grounds for their company’s products. Bill and Jason raise 600 acres of corn and soybeans on the family farm, where they put B&B’s sprayers and combine head carriers to the test in real-world conditions. Bill and Mari’s other son, also named Bill, was a golf course superintendent and now owns his own seeding and landscaping business. Their son-in-law, Jamie, married to their daughter, Heather, also owns a lawn-care company. B&B’s turf and lawn-care sprayers and equipment carriers are used daily in their businesses.

“We use everything we make,” Bill said. “There are a lot of people who build widgets and have good ideas for widgets. But they don’t know how to use the widgets. We don’t do that. We go out, use it, see how it works and how we can make it better.”

With his company generating a little over $2 million in sales annually, Bill said he believes B&B is positioned well for the future. Orders have continued to roll in despite agriculture’s challenges over the past few years. Like any business, however, he knows B&B must continue to evolve with its customers.

“After 27 years in business, we’re seeing newer gen­erations—the younger generations—taking over,” Bill said. “Product lines don’t necessarily have to change, but the way you do business has to change. I’d say our future depends upon where the future of agricul­tural products go and our ability to keep relating to those needs. We can’t be everything to everybody, but we can be the best at what we do.”

For more information, visit b-btech.com to browse B&B’s online product catalog or talk with the experts at your local MFA or AGChoice retailer.

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MFA value comes full circle for cattle producers

As corn and soybean prices go up, feed prices are expected to follow. Producers need to be thinking about how to survive these market conditions, said MFA Livestock Specialist Stephen Daume. Efficiency will be imperative to remain profitable.

“In the past few weeks, it seems like the No. 1 question I’ve gotten from livestock producers is, ‘What can we do to decrease feed costs?’” said Daume. “Throughout my years at MFA, I can definitively say cow/ calf or dairy producers who are most successful in the long term are those who do an excellent job with their forages.”

Chip Thomure is one such producer. He raises more than 400 head of commercial cattle on his farm near Park Hills, Mo.

“I’ve been in the cattle business since I was old enough to make money and buy one,” Thomure said.

The cattleman set out on his own when he was 16 years old. Living in a horse trailer at the time, he made money as a farrier. By age 20, Thomure had purchased 10 acres and operated his own concrete compa­ny. Everything he’s built has been carefully crafted from the ground up.

Thomure had done business sporadically with MFA for around 20 years, but three years ago, MFA Key Account Manager Chris Klein engaged him in a deeper discussion about the farming operation and its needs.

“We just started talking to him about what he does and what we do,” Klein said. “He was feeding a commodity feed at that time. Stephen and I have done enough research on how our feeds compare that we knew we could do better for him.”

Thomure started using MFA feed and enrolled his cattle in MFA’s Health Track program, but in 2019, he decided to go all in with MFA— adding Nutri-Track’s precision agronomy services.

“We really started looking at our pastures,” Thomure said. “If you can’t grow it, you can’t mow it. We had ground that wouldn’t even grow ragweed, and now we’re getting hay production off of it. It’s phenomenal.”

Daume and Klein said they recommended the Nutri-Track program because they have ex­perienced the results first-hand on their own farms.

“It’s something we make a point of talking about to all our beef producers because we be­lieve it is always the right thing to do,” Daume said. “We’ve seen it on our farms and on our cus­tomers’ farms. It’s absolutely one of the most important things a producer can do to ensure he’s spending money on the most essential nutrients to maximize the amount of beef produced on an acre of grass.”

Thomure began with 230 acres of his pastures in Nutri- Track, and MFA Precision Agronomy Specialist Rob Rickenberg put togeth­er fertility and weed-control plans for his forage production.

“We went in and grid-sampled his pastures to see if his lime and other nutrient levels were up to par,” Rickenberg said. “Then we applied a round of P and K in the fall, which generates good root growth. In the spring, we’ll come back and put on nitrogen.”

Thomure said the split application actually saved him money when fertilizer prices jumped earlier this year.

“I’m really glad I did it,” he said. “Rob could see the writing on the wall and let Chris know it would save me a little money to do it then. It ended up saving me a ton. What I really like about grid sampling, though, is you’re only putting on exactly what the field needs, where it needs it, and that’s where you’re investing your dollar. Over-fertilizing is just as bad as under-fertilizing.”

With Nutri-Track, Thomure said he has more grass than he’s ever produced, and controlling weeds allowed the grass to grow and take over, choking out future undesirable invaders.

“We more than tripled our hay production on that field and were able to graze our cattle on it until February,” Thomure added.

According to Daume, that’s what producers want when facing unfavorable market conditions.

“During this time of high feed costs, maximizing the amount of beef produced with forage is key to minimizing cost of pro­duction,” Daume said. “Producers who do a good job producing and managing high-quality forage rely less on harvested feed or grain to produce a pound of beef. They have better performance with lower costs. Animal health and productivity are also better when high-quality forages are present in an operation.”

The phrase “one-stop shop” gets thrown around a lot in business. Daume would rather describe it as having more tools in the toolbox.

“MFA offers everything from start to finish,” he said. “We have the tools to assist producers with being efficient, raising beef, producing pounds of milk or whatever it might be. It could be using Shield to help improve calf survivability or Ricochet FesQ Max mineral to help cows utilize fescue-based forage more efficiently, meaning they gain better, milk better and conceive better. We can help with fertility and weed pressure so there are more nutrients available to the plants. We have fencing materi­als to help put in a decent rotational grazing system. And when it comes time to sell those cows, we can help with that, too.”

In addition to participating in Health Track and Nutri-Track, Thomure uses MFA silage wrap, helping mitigate problems with spoilage. He provides the herd with Ricochet mineral, and his calves get a dose of Shield Plus when they are born.

“We had 200 head of calves weaned to sell, and we didn’t have to doctor but one calf,” Thomure said. “It’s good insurance for us.”

MFA’s business model was built to support the idea of “going all in.” Everything works together, Daume said. But, for Thomure, it’s not just about the products and services. It’s about the people.

“MFA has people who are experienced,” Thomure said. “They know what they’re talking about and will treat you with respect.”

Daume, Rickenberg and Klein have 35-plus years of collective experience with MFA. Their individual knowledge of agronomy, livestock and farm management is evident and extensive, but coming up with a plan to fit a producer’s needs and goals is a team effort.

Roughly three years ago, MFA Incorporated restructured, in­troducing the key account manager position into the field. That concept was designed to facilitate better customer experience.

“When I first started in this position, MFA leadership said ‘Build relationships. Sales will come from that,’” Klein said. “That was a true statement.”

And that’s what he set out to do.

“Chip’s been there for us, just as often as we’re there for him,” Klein said. “He’s one of our best promot­ers of MFA and he’s even helped us work cattle on another customer’s farm.”

Likewise, Thomure said all three men go out of their way to ensure his experience is a good one.

“I don’t even have to look at the feeder,” Thomure said. “They come out and check my grain bins. They know the amount of feed I’m feed­ing every day—whether that’s a ton or a ton and a half. They know how many days to count so I don’t run out of feed. They schedule around holidays. They help me work cattle. The other day, I had a bull in bad shape and Rob called to make sure I checked it. It’s just a good deal.”

That level of service is important to Thomure, who still operates his concrete business in addition to farming. With two full-time jobs, he understands that time is money, and money is also money.

“With what MFA offers, I’ve been able to have more production on this farm,” Thomure said. “I think that’s the true value in this relation­ship.”

For more information on what MFA can do for your farm, visit your local MFA Agri Services.

Expert advice for flourishing forages

Stephen Daume, livestock specialist for MFA Incorporated, shares these considerations to produce a quality, highly productive forage crop:

1. Understand your field’s fertility. Nutri-Track has proven very beneficial in increasing the quantity and quality of forage harvested per acre. It allows producers to take inventory of soil nutrients and prioritize cash expenditures on nutrients that will provide the most benefit per dollar spent.

2. Control weeds and brush. Timely, targeted application of herbicides to control weeds also greatly improves quantity and quality of forage harvested per acre. “I’ve seen producers go on their own and end up using the wrong product for the job or at the wrong stage of growth and get less-than-desirable results,” Daume said. “That’s expensive!”

3. Use nitrogen stabilizers. These products are environmentally responsible and economically smart, especially with higher fertilizer costs. Stabilizing nitrogen ensures it will stay where you put it.

4. Implement rotational grazing plans. This practice will help keep forages vegetative and more productive. Don’t overgraze.

5. Pay attention to timing. Harvest forage for hay or silage at optimum time for peak quality and quantity.

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Making hay the Nutri-Track way

As the elementary school principal in Grant City, Mo., Chuck Borey works hard to ensure his 150 students have healthy, productive environment for growing and performing. He’s doing the same thing for the 180 head of beef cattle on the nearby farm he operates with his wife, Janice.

Ultimately, being a good principal—and a good farmer—means being a good manager. In both roles, Borey is responsible for providing inputs, creating effi­ciencies, setting goals, monitoring progress, adopting new technology and using resources wisely.

That’s why he was willing to try MFA’s Nutri-Track program when it was recommended by his stepson, Jared Harding, MFA district precision manager in Northwest Missouri, to help improve the farm’s forage production. The precision nutrient program manages soil fertility on an acre-by-acre basis, giving farmers the information and technology needed to adjust fertilizer application rates by zones.

“I knew a little about Nutri-Track, but I had always assumed it was for row-crop farmers,” Borey said. “One day, I was talking to Jared about the variability in our hay ground, and he said Nutri-Track could help even out the hot spots and weak spots. Instead of applying a flat rate of fertilizer like we had been doing, now we put it just where it’s needed. Our hay production has been much more consistent ever since.”

Precision agriculture may, indeed, be more commonly associated with row-crop production, but Harding said forages often have the highest opportunity for returns when using practices such as variable-rate nutrient application. In fact, he pointed out, hay and pasture ground consistently has more variable fertility than crop fields.

“Our grasses need precision just as much as row crops—maybe even more,” Harding said. “We have to replace the nu­trients removed through grazing and haying, but a shotgun approach isn’t the most efficient way. Cows do put some of those nutrients back, but they’re not very good at applying them evenly. They tend to gather around waterers, feeders and shade, so those areas have high fertility levels, while areas that have the best potential for forage production tend to be deficient. Nutri-Track is designed to help that uneven distribution of nutrients.”

Borey prudently began with 80 acres in the Nutri-Track pro­gram six years ago, but the positive results were so obvious that he decided to enroll 720 acres of hay ground and pastures.

“After Jared signed us up, we limed those first 80 acres on a variable-rate basis, and the grid-sampling paid for itself with that application,” Borey said. “I could see the benefits of Nutri- Track right from the start.”

While lime savings are common with Nutri-Track, Harding said producers shouldn’t expect to use less fertilizer with pre­cision applications. Those applications will, however, be more accurate and effective.

“What we’re trying to do is be more efficient with your fertilizer dollar,” Harding said. “We’ll put inputs where they are needed and pull back where they are not. With margins tighter and tighter for growers, efficiency is the name of the game.”

For Borey, the benefits have continued to abound. His pas­tures and hay fields are much cleaner because the flourishing forages outcompete the weeds. He’s able to graze his cattle longer and feed hay for fewer months. Balanced fertility also promotes stand persistence. Healthy plants are better able to withstand traffic and tough conditions, whether due to a drought or a severe winter.

“We haven’t added more cows—although we could—but we’re now able to graze our pastures until early January every year,” Borey said. “During the drought a few years ago, instead of selling off some of the herd because we couldn’t support that many head, like some producers had to do, we were able to keep the cows we had. I think Nutri-Track is what made that possible for us.”

While the abundance of grass means he may not need as much hay, Borey is nonetheless harvest­ing more bales from the same acreage. Harding said the difference is particularly apparent on the initial 80 acres the pro­ducer enrolled in Nutri-Track.

“It was essentially his worst-producing hay field, and he’d rarely gotten a second cutting off it,” Harding said. “After we got the fertility leveled out, he’s consistently getting second cuttings. It’s producing so well that he is able to fence off about 25 acres and use it for extra grazing days.”

No matter what type of acreage is enrolled, the Nutri-Track program begins with grid sampling to create a baseline for soil nutrient levels. Grid sampling uses GPS mapping to break the field down into smaller management units from which several soil cores are taken for analysis. The soil-test results guide MFA’s precision agronomy staff in building fertility recom­mendations based on the producer’s goals.

“We pull the soil samples on 2.5-acre grids to get a good representation of the field and find out what’s going on in the soil,” Harding explained. “Then we can sit down with the grower and go over all the spots in the field that are showing high, optimum or low soil-test values. Then we start addressing those areas with variable-rate fertilizer application from our MFA locations.”

Correcting soil pH with precision lime applications is typically the first priority, he added, because pH plays such a critical role in availability of nutrients and overall performance of the forage crop. Addressing phosphorus and potassium fertility is also important in maintaining quality pastures.

“Nitrogen is important and does increase grass yield, but if phosphorus and potas­sium are ignored too long, you will see diminishing returns,” Harding said. “If the soil is low in these nutrients, your pasture will never reach full yield potential regard­less of how much nitrogen is applied.”

The grid-sampling process is repeated every four years to evaluate the progress, determine if any other deficiencies or excesses need to be addressed and adjust recommendations accordingly. Unlike row-crop growers, forage producers don’t have the benefit of yield monitors to precisely measure harvest.

“With grasses, we have to make an educated guess about much fertility we’re removing that season, so we like to revisit yield goals every year, making sure we’re not overshooting or under-producing,” Harding said. “Then every four years, we want to sample again, get another picture of what’s going on and see if there’s some­thing we need to improve. If producers are following recommendations, the low-test­ing spots four years ago are going to rise, and spots that were high four years ago are going to drop.”

That’s exactly the trend Borey has seen since joining the Nutri-Track program, and the benefits are not just agronomic and economic but also environmental. Preci­sion fertility management helps reduce nutrient loss and waste by targeting inputs to specific areas, and Borey said such stewardship is important to the future of the farm, which has been in his wife’s family for generations.

“You want to invest your money in something that will give you a return, and there are so many ways Nutri-Track is paying off,” Borey said. “As much time as you put into farming, you want to do what’s best for it. We feel that by using the Nutri-Track system, we’re doing what’s best for the land and what’s best for our cows.”

For more information, visit mfa-inc.com/PrecisionAg/Nutri_Track and click on “Contact” to find the precision specialist nearest you. You can also watch Nutri-Track in action on Chuck Borey’s farm at mfa.ag/nutri-trackpasture.

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MFA and partner organizations announce new carbon and water-quality pilot

MFA INCORPORATED IS PARTNERING with the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council, the Missouri Corn Mer­chandising Council and the Ecosystem Services Market Consortium (ESMC) to launch a pilot program focused on exploring carbon and water-quality markets.

MFA and its partner organizations are enrolling a limited number of corn and soybean acres into the pilot. The aim is to help farmers generate certified ecosystem credits that can be sold once verified by ESMC, a nonprofit member-based organization. The two-year pilot program is now under way and will conclude in December 2022.

“As grower partners, we have a role to play in these markets,” said Adam Jones, MFA Incorporated conservation specialist. “There are good agronomic reasons to adopt the practices these ecosystem or carbon markets require to par­ticipate. MFA’s participation is a natural extension of what we currently do with our precision services.”

Eligible growers will implement conservation farming practices such as planting cover crops, applying fertilizer more efficiently or moving away from conventional tillage. There is no cost for farmers to participate. Soil sampling is required but will be made possible by the corn and soy­bean checkoff programs and MFA. Soil data results will also be made available to participants.

“I think it’s important from an MFA standpoint to stay current with some of the new things that are happening for our producers and bring those services and verification to them,” said Dr. Jason Weirich, MFA Incorporated vice president of Agri Services. “We want to give our farmers every opportunity possible to stay competitive in the mar­ketplace.”

In addition to providing the soil-sampling services re­quired to measure outcomes of the eligible practices, MFA will assist with data collection and provide guidance to growers throughout the process.

“There’s a lot of data that goes along with these pro­grams, so we need to be able to prove the practice change and the management that happens over the course of the program,” Jones said. “We have the ability to enter all the planting passes, tillage passes, yield data—everything that’s necessary for verification and ensuring growers are meet­ing the deadlines and requirements that go along with a carbon-credit program.”

MFA’s statewide network of field staff and precision agronomy services will fill a key role and help ensure success in meeting pilot goals, according to Darrick Steen, director of environmental programs for Missouri Corn and Missouri Soybean associations. He said the partnering organizations all share a common commitment to the state’s farmers.

“Missouri farmers have lots of questions about emerging agricultural carbon markets,” Steen said. “This pilot and partnership with ESMC will answer some of those questions and help farmers tap into the full benefits of the stored carbon that their hard work and soil investments are generating. Our goal is to pro­vide farmers a chance to better understand this voluntary agriculture carbon market space.”

Talk surrounding carbon and emissions has ramped up in recent years, and industrial man­ufacturers may need to purchase carbon credits to stay in line with certain environmental standards. Through the practices ESMC has set forth in this pilot program, farmers may be able to create these credits for companies to buy.

ESMC has established pilot programs across the nation and plans to launch a fully functioning national-scale ecosystem services market designed to sell both carbon and water-qual­ity credits for the agricultural sector by 2022. The Missouri program is one of more than 10 pilots ESMC is launching this year. Growers who enroll acreage during the pilot phase will have the opportunity to gain advanced entry into the full market once launched.

“A lot of players have entered this carbon market space,” Jones said. “Some of these companies are aggregators, profiting both off of the data collected through the verification process and the sale of the credit itself. Because ESMC is a nonprofit, they recover costs to the point of covering their own expenses, and that’s all they’re looking to do.”

Farmers who enroll in the pilot phase will have the oppor­tunity to test new innovations in quantifying these carbon and water-quality benefits to help guide ESMC’s program develop­ment. There are no minimum or maximum acreage limits to enroll, and farmers don’t have to enroll all of their acreage to participate. In the pilot phase, contracts are annual, and there is no penalty for dropping out of the program. This provides more flexibility and decreases risk for participants.

Conceptually, there is the potential for farmers to stack multiple ecosystem credits, including those related to soil carbon and greenhouse gas as well as water quality and quanti­ty. That idea makes working with ESMC an attractive option for many farmers, Jones said.

“We’re looking for people who want to learn with us about these markets,” he said. “The ESMC program is outcomes driven, so there’s no carrot or promises up front other than the creation of these credits. I think this is a good opportunity to see how this type of program will fit our geography and man­agement practices on Missouri farms.”

For more information on the program or to express interest in participating, visit www.mocarbonpilot.com.

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