Building toward the future
Vandalia MFA Agri Services, located at the east end of Audrain County, Mo., serves one of the top crop-growing regions of MFA’s trade territory. The retail location’s manager, Doug Wood, says that along with productive farmland comes the kind of farmers who know how to get the best out of their land.
“If you ask me to describe my customer base, I would say that they are a progressive group of farmers. It’s a competitive area. We try to make the service and the assets MFA can bring to the market meet our farmers’ needs,” he said.
Irrigation came early in this region, with its productive but sometimes shallow soils. In a normal season, center pivots on the area’s claypan provide a profitable boost over dryland crops. But the pivots didn’t run much this year. When we visited Vandalia, it was the morning after a 2.5-inch rain. Fields along Highways 19 and 54, didn’t look like they should in early July. With one of the wettest springs on record, a third of the fields remained unplanted, and would for the full growing season. In fact, from May 7 to July 9 a local farmer measured 32.5 inches of rain, basically a full year’s worth.
“That will be our challenge for the rest of the year,” said Wood. “We won’t have the kind of grain bushels at harvest that we usually do in this area.”
Grain storage is something the Vandalia MFA Agri Services has focused on in recent years. As the business grew over time, it acquired several grain facilities spread throughout town, but decentralized and aging storage began to show its inefficiency. In 2005, modernization of grain handling facilities began at Vandalia Agri Services with construction of a 160,000-bushel bin and high-speed grain leg at what Vandalia employees call the west facility—a plot on the west side of Vandalia with room to grow and no real neighbors. In 2013, nineteen 10,000-bushel bins at the west facility were torn down to make room for additional expansion. Where the outdated bins stood, there is now a highly efficient and sizable grain storage facility. Aside from the original 160,000-bushel bin, the capacity improvements have included an additional two 237,000-bushel bins and a 414,000-bushel bin.
“This facility is a real asset,” Wood said. “It’s a 20,000-bushel-per-hour leg. We can unload a semi-truck in about three minutes, and we can load a rail car in about 10 minutes. The old set up took 25 minutes to unload a semi, and at the downtown location it could take two hours to load a grain rail car. The efficiency that’s been gained for producers and MFA employees with the new grain system is a great improvement.”
Variable-rate on the grow
Aside from new business from the grain facility, Wood said that MFA Vandalia Agri Services has seen growth in variable-rate application of crop nutrients.
“That’s something that really proves itself,” he said. “If you try it once, you’ll discover that it puts the right amount of fertilizer in the right spots in the field. The fertilizer bill might actually go down and you still hit your yield goals. From what I’ve seen, if a farmer tries a few acres, pretty soon, the whole farm is signed up.”
Wood went on to say growth in variable-rate application in Vandalia exemplifies the teamwork that MFA counts on between its retail locations. “Scott Wilburn, our group agronomist, has been a great help with getting variable-rate programs started on farms in our area. He has the expertise to set up the programs. We work with Laddonia to cover our custom application acres. It’s a good arrangement. They have top-notch equipment and operators. They do a good job for our customers. It works for growers in both locations.”
Wood said that in a competitive agricultural retail world, service is a critical part of a successful business formula. Good service begins with good employees. “We’re fortunate to have good employees, and we keep them around,” he said. “They work long hours. Sometimes at the end of a very long day at planting or harvest, I think about the hours they put in. I’m impressed by their loyalty.”
Some of that employee loyalty is generated by example. Wood started work at Vandalia MFA Agri Services in his school days. His mother was a bookkeeper there. He rode the school bus to the store after school, where he would linger and buy a soda. The manager at the time, Leon Dempsey, said that if he was hanging around, he might as well be working. Thus, Wood’s first job at MFA was filling the soda machine and sweeping floors. In the 42 years since, he has worked every position at Vandalia—and plenty of long hours.
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