Full speed ahead for River Valley Agronomy Center
Efficiencies highlighted during open house for legislators, leaders
Time can’t be bought, but it can be saved. And when farmers are under pressure to get their crops fertilized and sprayed, that time is precious.
That’s why efficiency was the focus when planning and constructing MFA’s new River Valley Agronomy Center in Higginsville, Mo. The $6.5 million complex features upgraded facilities and equipment that translate to a dramatically faster loading, unloading and delivery time for fertilizer ingredients and blends. For example, a tractor-trailer of fertilizer can be off-loaded into the building in 5 to 7 minutes, compared to 30 minutes under the old system. Likewise, a 24-ton tender truck can be filled with a blended fertilizer order in 5 to 7 minutes instead of 45 minutes.
“It’s pretty awesome to think about the technology, the tools that we have in place, and some of the things that are going to help us become more efficient and more employee friendly while being able to provide higher-quality service for our member-owners,” MFA Vice President of Agri Services Jason Weirich said. “It’s important that we keep our core value of customer partnering in mind with new facilities and assets that we’re putting into play.”
River Valley’s bulk fertilizer plant—the largest in the MFA system and one of the largest in the state—is equipped with a fully automated, declining-weight system that generates highly accurate, multi-product blends. The plant has a 14,000-ton capacity, significantly larger than the previous facility, built in 1977, which held only 2,000 tons. In fact, the largest bay in the new building has room for 3,000 tons of product, 1.5 times the size of the old plant.
Steve Repphun scoops a load of ammonium sulfate from one of the fertilizer plant’s seven large bays, which hold a variety of plant food ingredients. The biggest bay has room for 3,000 tons of product, 1.5 times the size of the entire capacity of the old plant. There are also two smaller bays for micronutrients.
The plant is equipped with a fully automated, declining-weight blending system that can be run entirely from a mobile tablet, allowing the plant operator to efficiently multi-task duties. Seven 14-ton “charger” bins allow multiple plant food products to be blended to exact specifications for each customer.
Missouri Department of Agriculture Director Chris Chinn was among guest speakers at River Valley’s open house on June 28.
Also speaking at the event was Rep. Mark Alford, left, who serves Missouri’s District 4 in Congress. Here, he chats with MFA Vice President of Supply Operations Don Houston, right, and state Rep. Kurtis Gregory, who serves Johnson, Pettis and Saline counties and raises row crops and hogs on his family farm in Marshall, Mo.
The facility’s upgraded equipment translates to a dramatically faster loading and unloading time. A tractor-trailer of fertilizer can be off-loaded into the building in 5 to 7 minutes, compared to 30 minutes under the old system.
The center will serve as a hub for row-crop producers in about a 70-mile radius, Weirich explained, consolidating smaller MFA fertilizer facilities into the larger, more modern operation.
“Most of the old green fertilizer plants you see scattered across the state were built in the ’60s and ’70s, and they’re coming to the end of their lives,” he said. “Stewardship is one of MFA’s core values, and when it comes to promoting safety and efficiency, being environmentally friendly and reducing waste and labor, this is the type of facility we need.”
An open house at the new agronomy center on June 28 gave legislators, state agriculture officials, media and special guests a chance to tour the state-of-the-art facility and learn more about its features. Along with Weirich, the event’s speakers included Missouri Department of Agriculture Director Chris Chinn and Congressman Mark Alford.
“This is going to have an impact not only on the Higginsville community but also this entire region,” Director Chinn said. “The dollars spent here are going to turn over time and time again, and that can help keep our young people coming back home to these rural areas, which is so vitally important. MFA is setting itself up to support Missouri farmers and ranchers well into the future.”
Alford, who represents Missouri’s District 4 in Congress, commented on the potential of technological advancements, such as those in the new agronomy center, to help transform agriculture and the U.S. economy.
“This is a historic moment for this town and for MFA, and I’m excited to be here in this new River Valley Agronomy Center,” Alford said. “It’s people from the heart of America—people like yourselves—who are responsible for the turnaround in the economy and the growth we’re seeing in productivity.”
Acknowledging the significance of the capital outlay, MFA Chief Executive Officer Ernie Verslues asserted that it’s the people in place who are ultimately responsible for the success of this investment.
“It’s not really about the cost. It’s about the team we have in place who can serve the producers in this area,” he said. “And I’ll tell you, the crew here is outstanding. And we have outstanding individuals across the state of Missouri and the other territories that we cover. People—that’s what makes a facility like this work.”
In addition to the fertilizer plant, MFA also built a new 2,640-square-foot operations center to house offices for MFA key account managers and precision agronomy personnel. The new location uses AgSync, a high-tech electronic logistics system that provides a comprehensive and interactive suite of scheduling, ordering and dispatch software for custom application services. AgSync helps streamline and organize daily operations and flow of information, from the moment a customer places an order to completion of the application in the field.
“This facility gives us the ability to capitalize on technology and gives this group the tools they need to move producers in this area forward,” Verslues said. “We have both speed and space here. These things also allow us to be better stewards in terms of providing the right product, the right time, the right place and the right amount.”
During a tour of the buildings, Ryun Morris, River Valley Agronomy Center manager, described AgSync as a “game-changer” and told guests that some 60% to 70% of the customers they serve are enrolled in MFA’s precision agriculture programs. He also said he considers the first spring of operation to be a success, allowing employees meet their customers’ needs while working fewer hours than they normally would during the hectic planting season.
“It’s all about being more efficient and getting across more acres in a shorter window of time,” Morris said. “This new facility will help us get more done in a day, and that helps farmers get more done in a day.”
CLICK HERE to read more articles from this August/September 2023 issue of Today's Farmer Magazine.
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