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New era in service

The Four Rivers Agronomy Center complex consists of, clockwise from left, seed/crop protection warehouse, fertilizer plant and office building.

Automation, speed and precision bring unmatched efficiencies to MFA’s Four Rivers Agronomy Center

The recently constructed Four Rivers Agronomy Center in Ravenwood, Mo., is bringing a new era in service to farmers in MFA’s northwest trade territory.

Located about 10 miles east of Maryville, the complex consists of a high-speed 6,500-ton fertilizer plant, crop protection warehouse, centralized seed treatment system and office building. The center is the service hub for MFA customers in a 30-mile radius and beyond, consolidating smaller fertilizer and chemical facilities into the larger, more modern operation.

“We’re covering pretty much all of Nodaway and Worth counties and the northwest corner of Gentry in Missouri and Ringgold and Taylor counties in Iowa,” General Manager Craig Wilmes said. “This was a big overlap territory among MFA’s Conception Junction, Maryville, Sheridan and Guilford locations, and we’re seeing huge improvements in efficiencies.”

The fertilizer plant, which began operating this past spring, is a high-volume throughput system with a modular declining-weight blender. Operations Manager Justin Seipel said its six bins will typically accommodate three phosphates, ammonium sulfate, potash and SuperU nitrogen plus two micronutrient bins. The building features three bays that can hold 1,000 tons of dry product, three that hold 500 tons and two with a 200-ton capacity.

“In and out, we can load a 24-ton tender in about 8 minutes. Before, it would take at least 45 minutes, and that’s if you had somebody else to help with mixing,” he said. “The difference is unbelievable.”

Similar efficiencies are realized at Ravenwood’s crop protection warehouse, which became fully operational in July. With a dozen 6,100-gallon bulk tanks and a racking system for another 16 intermediate bulk containers, known more commonly as “totes,” the facility can accommodate 28 different chemicals and adjuvants. It also has the capability to repack the portable bulk containers with chemicals for customers and other MFA locations.

The automated precision system quickly and safely mixes and loads products for MFA custom applicators as well as growers. A semi-tanker can be loaded in less than 30 minutes—without anyone having to handle the chemicals—whereas it would have taken 45 minutes to an hour under the old system.
Even with an abbreviated spraying season, the efficiencies allowed the Four Rivers network to reduce their sprayer fleet from six machines to four this summer, Wilmes said. The convenience, speed and safety also benefit farmers such as Larry Roberts of Hopkins, Mo., who spray their own fields.

“We used to buy the chemicals from MFA and mix them ourselves, which meant we had to haul them around with the water tanks and everything,” said Roberts, who raises soybeans and corn. “When they built this, we bought a tanker, so we just pull in here, they load it and we go. Saves a lot of time and confusion. We started doing that this summer, and it worked slick.”

Whether delivering crop protection or fertilizer services, all of the equipment is monitored under the AgSync precision logistics program, which helps ensure efficient flow of trucks and sprayers to and from customers’ fields.

“We’re not necessarily getting more acres done through the machines, but we’re getting more acres done in the day because they’re not sitting and waiting,” Seipel said. “It all comes down to logistics.”

The facility’s state-of-the-art, automated seed-treating system for soybeans is also speeding up operations, Wilmes said.
“It’s definitely an improvement,” he said. “It only takes about a quarter of the time to treat seed than it did before. We have four tanks here to house bulk seed, which eliminates the need to take up a lot of warehouse space.”

Admittedly, Wilmes said, centralizing operations in a new way of doing business has meant change for employees and customers, but he’s optimistic about the progress so far and where it’s headed in the future.

“MFA has never done anything like this, but I don’t think it could have gone any better than what it did,” Wilmes said. “We’ve become a lot more efficient in a very short amount of time, and I think it will only get better as we go along. We’re going to figure out that there’s many more things that we can do to make it even more effective.”

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