Feature

Out of the depths

Soybeans should be growing here.

Instead, Matt Stock stands in a giant crater of quicksand created after a levee breach sent the Missouri River gushing through his family’s farm in Levasy, Mo.

When the water surged, Matt and his family had just finished moving corn out of a grain bin near their barn and shop in the river bottom. There was no time to move their 46 head of cattle out of the feedlot, which sat on higher ground.

“We went from minimal water to waist-high in about two hours,” Stock said. “Water was 3 to 4 feet deep here, and it stayed over the road for about three weeks. We took a boat or waded in to feed the cattle and check on things.”

Most of the farms and much of the town of Levasy, including MFA’s Agri Services location, were swamped by the early June floods. Matt’s father, Tom, and uncle, Dan, would normally grow about 350 acres of corn and soybeans in these highly productive, river-bottom fields. This year, they only have about 20 acres that will be harvested here. 

“When you farm in the bottoms, you’re used to water; this was just a big one,” said Matt, MFA agronomy specialist. “But you just have to deal with it. You can’t do anything about it. You just clean up and go again.”

Unfortunately, the Stocks are just one of many farm families affected by this spring’s unrelenting floods. Some areas in MFA terri­tory experienced high-water levels that came close to or even exceeded “The Great Flood of 1993,” the most damaging in recent memory and the largest economic disaster in Missouri history. The jury is still out on how 2019 will rank.

The duration is what sets this year’s flood apart. The troubles began in March as win­ter precipitation rapidly melted throughout the upper Midwest. Runoff from heavy and frequent rains in April and May continued to cause the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and their tributaries to overflow well into summer. This was Missouri’s wettest May since records began in 1895.

At press time in late July, many farms were still trying to dry out and assess the damage left behind—from sand deposits and extreme erosion to debris piles and weed invasions. Officials expect the flood fight to continue throughout the summer and into the fall. Re­covery will take much longer.

“We can’t do anything until we’re sure we can get in the fields, and it’s nasty out there,” Stock said. “We need to spray to get the weeds under control. There’s a lot of driftwood and trash and silt. Some areas are scoured clean; some spots look like sand dunes. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”

Loss estimates are yet to be determined, and so is the impact on MFA and its customers. Planting progress for corn and soybeans was historically behind schedule, and USDA ex­pects prevented planting crop insurance claims to surpass $1 billion nationwide, the highest since 2015. Undoubtedly, corn and soybean acres will be down in MFA territory, but the amount is hard to pinpoint given the ex­treme delays in planting. In fact, after its June acreage report was released, USDA announced intentions to resurvey farmers in advance of the August Crop Production report to get more accurate numbers.

USDA reports also indicate crop conditions are the worst since 2012, a year of extreme drought. Corn plantings this past April and the first half of May were detrimentally impacted by frequent heavy rains, and the majority of Missouri’s soybean crop was planted more than a month past the optimum planting date. For MFA, that not only affects input sales but will have a ripple effect with lower grain yields at harvest.

“We face daunting challenges along with many of our customers,” CEO Ernie Verslues said. “There are events that have occurred over the last year that we can’t change—drought, rains, floods, trade issues with our largest trading partners and others. But, I also know that our attitudes will determine how we work through these challenges—not only for MFA, but just as important, for our producers.”

Across MFA territory, employees and cus­tomers volunteered side-by-side to clear out fa­cilities and homes, relocate grain and fertilizer, fill and stack sandbags and move equipment and animals out of harm’s way. When the Lex­ington public water supply was in danger of being compromised by floodwaters, MFA sent trucks to pick up bottled water for patrons.

“In situations like these, MFA teamwork really comes to play,” said Craig Childs, vice president of Agri Services. “We had employ­ees come from other locations to help move product out at night and over weekends—all without complaint. The focus was on how we can take care of our customers and help our teammates. Efforts of everyone involved are very much appreciated.”

Along with the Levasy location, several other MFA facilities were affected by flooding along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. When MFA Agri Services in Jefferson City was forced to evacuate in late May, customers sprang to action and helped move products and equip­ment. Many of them offered their farms and trailers as temporary storage, said Location Manager Loren Luebbert.

“Farmers flocked in to help us haul things out, and some of them still have our inventory sitting on their farms,” Luebbert said. “We couldn’t have gotten out that quickly without them.”

The Jefferson City facility was immersed in several feet of water, and damage was extensive. The showroom had to be gutted, and employees are running the business out of a mobile office unit.

“It was pretty ugly in here,” said Lucas Schulte, counter salesman. “The water sat in the building for two and a half weeks without ventilation in the heat and humidity. We’ve had floods before, but never this much damage. If the water had come and went out in a week, it wouldn’t have been nearly this bad.”

MFA Agri Services at Norborne and Gallatin also were evacuated before they took on water. Several other MFA fertilizer plants and anhydrous fa­cilities were emptied and prepared for flooding. River levels hindered plant food transportation at barge-unloading sites such as MFA’s Palmyra terminal.

For weeks, Agri Services of Brunswick was an island only accessible by boat. Even though a levee was built around the facility after the flood of 1993, there were gaps at the entrance and dock. Employees worked fever­ishly—and successfully—to keep the water out with sandbags, concrete blocks and plywood barriers. None of the buildings or product got wet.

“It was pretty intense for a while,” said ASB Manager Kevin Holcer, who, along with several other staff members, even spent the night at the facility at the height of the flood. “We boated in about 25 employees every day to help sandbag and do maintenance. Now that the water is going down, we’re looking at what we can do proactively to keep this from happening again.”

MFA’s Canton Agri Services facility, situated only a few hundred feet from the Mississippi River, was evacuated at the end of May as a precaution, but the L-shaped levee that guards the town held true—barely.

“Water got within 18 inches of topping the levee but never did,” said Canton Location Manager Tony Chancellor. “It got so close that we moved out our chemicals, seed and fertilizer to be safe. We had 72 National Guard members here to help sandbag, and people brought about 50 ATVs to help move and pack them on the levee. The town really came together.”

Just down the road, however, customers such as Bill Lloyd weren’t so lucky. The 86-year-old producer and others who farm in the risky but rich river bottoms still had hundreds of cropland acres underwater in mid-June.

“This would have all been corn,” Lloyd said, looking out over his saturated fields just beyond the Canton city limits. “At one point, we had 500 acres flooded by backwater. Our corn acreage is going to be about a third of what we would normally grow, and the rest will be prevent plant. We’ll get some beans in, but they’re going to be planted a lot later than we’d like.”

Lloyd, who farms with his grandson, Dan McCutchen, said this year’s flood was the third-highest—behind 1993 and 2008—since his family moved to the area in 1935.

“This is excellent ground but not as good as it used to be because of the floods,” Lloyd said. “We have water every spring, and you expect that when you farm in the river bottoms. But these major floods seem to be happening a lot more often than they used to be.”

Levee breaches also inundated the Boonville bottoms, where MFA’s Train­ing Camp research plots are located. The fields remained under floodwaters for several weeks in late May and June, forcing agronomy personnel to can­cel the Training Camp field day for the first time since it began in 2012.

When the waters retreated in early July, they revealed a barren, cracked moonscape. However, MFA Director of Agronomy Jason Weirich said the fields weren’t severely damaged, and plans are to continue with research at the site again next spring—if weather and levees cooperate.

“There’s no Training Camp this year, but that’s small potatoes compared to what everyone else is going through,” Weirich said. “Luckily, we did have a second site on hill ground outside Columbia where we are able to do some corn and soybean research this year and set up smaller-scale tours.”

In a prediction no one wants to hear, Midwest flooding may be far from over, according to Tom Waters, a seventh-gener­ation farmer from Orrick, Mo. As chairman of the Missouri Levee and Drainage District Association, which formed after the 1993 flood, Waters testified about this most re­cent Missouri River flooding before the U.S. House subcommittee on July 10.

“We know it’s going to be high—above flood stage—probably through the rest of this summer, fall and into winter,” Waters told the Congressional leaders. “With over 100 levees breached along the Missouri River, flooding is going to continue to be a problem. It’s going to take a long time to recover these levees.”

While the river levee system is a shared responsibility among federal, state and local control, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provides rehabilitation assistance in repair­ing breached and damaged barriers. Waters noted the Corps is projecting it will take two years or more to fix the levees, but he thinks it will more like three to five years.

“This thing is going to drag on a long time, and it just trickles through the econ­omy of the state,” he said. “When you put Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska in there—the whole Midwest—it really will affect food production through the U.S. economy.”

Flood-weary farmers such as Wayne Smith of Waverly, Mo., would like to see immediate action taken to prevent future disasters. In late July, his farm and home were still submerged in Missouri River backwater, and he and his wife, Annette, had been living with their daughter’s family in nearby Marshall for two months.

Smith, who helps manage the Sugar Tree Levee District, said excessive releases from upstream reservoirs are exacerbating the problem. At the encouragement of Waters, he even wrote to the Corps of Engineers, expressing his concern.

“What I told them was, ‘We’re drowning here,’” Smith said. “We’ve got to have some relief. In my opinion, they’ve got too much water coming downstream. We need a chance to get rid of what’s stockpiled on all this farmland, and there’s nowhere for it to go because the river is staying too high.”

The 250 acres he owns and another 640 he farms were all flooded this spring. There will be no crops this year for Smith, a customer of Central Missouri Agri Services. He’s not sure there will be next year either.

“If we get to winter before the levees are fixed and the ground freezes, we’ll be in trouble again next spring,” Smith said. “If there is a hole in the levee, that land is not insurable. This year, I took prevented planting on it, which benefited me greatly, but next year, I will be planting at a huge risk of losing everything with no return. And I’m just one farmer. Everybody in these river bottoms is in the same shape.”

When he talked with Today’s Farmer on July 24, Smith and his wife were waiting until the river dropped enough that they could get back to their house and start the arduous cleanup process. He’s seen the predictions that water levels will remain high until fall and into the winter, and Smith said his heart sinks at the thought.

“I’m ready to move on,” he said. “I’ve appreciated the chance to stay with our grandkids while we’ve been flooded out, but there’s no place like home.”

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Completely on track

Recently, brothers Jordan and Josh Bright started splitting their time between their family farm near Paris, Mo., and a farm they now rent south of Jonesboro, Ark. The distance between the two is a little over 350 miles—a six-hour drive. More hours on the road mean fewer hours on the farm.

When MFA launched the Crop-Trak Complete program in 2018, the brothers saw an opportunity to save time while increasing efficiencies on both operations. The program combines the benefits of MFA’s Nutri-Track preci­sion program with its Crop-Trak scouting services.

“We began working with Kyle [Besgrove, Crop-Trak area sales manager] a few years ago,” Jordon said. “When this program was introduced, he presented us with this idea, and we tried it on our corn acres primarily. We saw an add­ed benefit and did a better job overall with the corn, so we signed up all of our acres.”

The Brights grow corn, soybeans and wheat and recently added rice with their Arkansas operation. Jordon began farming in 2008 with his father, George, after college. Josh, who is three years younger, joined his father and brother soon after he finished school. They met Kyle in 2010 when he started as a precision specialist for MFA’s Centralia Group and began grid-sampling a couple of the Brights’ fields through Nutri-Track.

Even though the brothers were initially reluctant to add Crop-Trak scouting services, too, they soon saw the benefits of having someone in the field weekly.

“Kyle fills in where we feel like our weak point is,” Jordon said. “Don’t get me wrong—we like walking fields, but now we don’t have to spend as much time out there. We can dedicate more of our time to running the day-to-day operations. Truth be told, I get home earlier at night.”

And, to the husband and fairly recent father, family time is im­portant. The Brights said they also appreciate the added knowledge and resources they have access to through MFA. If Kyle doesn’t know the answer, he can consult with someone who does.

“We’ve been farming together for 10 years,” Josh said. “But there are so many diseases and bugs out there now. Kyle probably knows 100 times more than we do in that respect, and ultimately, it helps us learn.”

Farming new geography in Arkansas presents new chal­lenges, the Brights said. They also rely on Kyle’s Crop-Trak counterpart, Jesse Surface, in that region to service their acreage south of Jonesboro.

With Crop-Trak Complete, growers have access to Nu­tri-Track’s intensive soil-sampling and nitrogen-modeling programs, Crop-Trak’s weekly field visits, detailed scouting reports, and in-season pest control and fertility recom­mendations along with their choice of two other premium services. Those extra options include planting prescriptions based on normalized yield data, multi-year yield analysis zones, or Veris advanced electro-conductivity and organic matter sam­pling. Other services are being evaluated and may be added to the program in the future.

But, according to the Brights, one of the biggest benefits is that they just have to make one call.

“It just streamlines everything,” Jordon said. “Before, we had three or four different people we’d have to go through to get answers. Whenever Kyle came along, it gave us a direct line to one answer. It takes the guesswork out of it.”

The Brights have precision technology installed on their equipment, and they variable-rate spread their own fertilizer and spray their own fields. With so many moving parts to their operation, Jordon and Josh sit down with Kyle two to three times a year to go over plans for the upcoming season. These plans include nutri­ent levels, soil property data from grid-sampling and seed selection recommendations.

“We also lay out what our game plan is going to be for fall fertilizer and what we need to carry over into the springtime,” Jordon said. “At that time, we’ll work on planting plans and placement of varieties.”

Communication is essential to this partnership, Kyle said. Because he scouts the property weekly, he knows what’s happening on the operation at any given time.

“We usually talk about three times a week,” Kyle said. “It makes it a lot easier when we have continual communication. For instance, I know he sprayed one of his fields on Saturday. I scout on Monday or Tuesday, typically, so I know that field isn’t going to show full herbicide activity, but those weeds are probably going to die. Knowing what each other is doing is definitely helpful for all parties involved.”

The benefits go beyond just having a single point of contact. All Crop-Trak employees are independent consultants, and it’s their job to provide unbiased recommendations based on sound agronomics.

“You know you’re not talking to someone worried about making a sale,” Jordon said. “Where a salesman might say, ‘You need to spray this,’ Kyle might say, ‘You don’t need to spray this yet; let’s wait a little bit’ and the same goes for applying fertilizer or topdressing fields. With Kyle, we’re getting actual good advice that has our best interest in mind.”

And with a year like this one, farmers have had to make a lot of tricky decisions. 

“Some of the Brights’ fields have been planted three times this year,” Kyle said. “They’re so flat and have just held water. We can provide a third-party perspec­tive when it comes to tough decisions like replant. As a farmer, knowing you’ve already planted that field twice, you don’t want to tell yourself it has to be plant­ed again. It’s my job to act as a coach sometimes. We’ll go back to the plan and their goals to figure out how to accomplish what we set out to do.”

Moreover, the brothers said Crop-Trak Complete helps maximize their yields, which is the ultimate goal. They still anticipate 200-bushels-per-acre corn this year.

“If you’re not going to push yields, and you’re fine with the status quo, then there’s no point in doing all of this,” Kyle said.

“And we’re not getting crazy,” Josh added. “We’re just trying to set new plateaus that are attainable, and this program helps keep us accountable to those goals.”

According to the Brights, that’s the true value of Crop-Trak Complete.

“I would highly recommend this program, especially with our margins getting as tight as they are,” Jordon said. “There’s literally no room for error anymore.”

For more information on Crop-Trak Complete, contact your nearby MFA or AGChoice location, or call 573-876-5246.

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Pond puzzled?

As summer sets in, landscapes across the Midwest come alive. Lightning bugs flicker across the fields in harmony with the crickets’ song. Sitting on the banks of any lake or pond with a fishing pole in hand becomes a favorite pastime. It’s a living ecosystem doing its summer thing.

Flash forward a few weeks. The air is sticky, stagnant. The algae, duckweed and unwanted vegetation are now vying for total control of that once-beautiful basin. It’s still an ecosystem brimming with life, but perhaps green pond scum isn’t the vision for your own aquatic reprieve.

Bruce Kuda and his wife, Gina, would agree. They own 75 acres near Russellville, Mo., where they raise registered Limousin cattle. They purchased the farm nearly six years ago and use the one-acre pond on the property primarily for recreational fishing.

It’s an old pond, built nearly 40 years ago, Kuda estimates, and it’s stocked with largemouth bass, flathead catfish, crappie and hybrid bluegill. Fully fenced, the pond sits away from Kuda’s rotationally grazed pastures, allowing him to keep both cattle and the nutrients that come with raising livestock away from its banks.

In mid-July, the pond was crystalline, sun sparkling off its surface, but it took a lot of work to get it that way, Kuda explained.

“Last year we had problems with American lotus,” he said, describing the roots of the seemingly floating flower as “branching out like a strawberry plant.”

The native lotus can rapidly take over a pond. To manage the issue, Kuda began working with Missouri Department of Conservation Fisheries Management Biologist Scott Williams. Spreading through thick rhizomes that grow along the pond bottom, American lotus can grow in up to 12 feet of water, Williams said. Kuda had this unde­sirable plant in depths of at least 8 feet, and Williams recommended treating the pond with GlyphoMate 41 due to its efficacy and ease of use.

“It definitely got rid of the lotus last year,” Kuda said. “But this year the filamentous algae took over.”

Each year has different contributing factors when it comes to what aquatic life will manifest. Other common problems include chara, pondweeds, watermeal, water shield and cattails to name a few. According to Williams, Kuda’s experience is typical—especially in older ponds.

“There are nutrients in aquatic environments just like the soil,” Williams said. “As soil from the surrounding land contin­ues to slowly wash in over time, more nutrients accumulate.”

When one plant using those nutrients is eliminated, another plant, often filamentous algae, fills the void, he continued.

“Algae is an interesting plant in that it produces oxygen in the presence of sunlight [photosynthesis],” Williams said. “Fila­mentous algae, which grows in mats, is not as high of a risk, but planktonic algae, the kind that turns the water green, is a bit higher risk. The danger comes at night when photosynthesis stops and algae takes oxygen out of the water through respira­tion. That’s when we start seeing stressed fish and fish kills in the morning.”

Additionally, Williams added, if a pond gets a large bloom of algae, it may only take a couple of cloudy days for that algae to begin dying back and start to decay. The bacteria responsible for decay use oxygen, causing potential fish kills as well.

“This pond typically stays pretty clear,” Kuda said. “There are times when it’s so clear we can almost see to the bottom, but I think that helped things grow this spring. The sun could really get in and give the algae the light it needed. This pond is close to an acre, and at one point a third of it was covered.”

So Kuda called upon Williams again and worked with his local MFA affiliate in Lohman to find products to manage the ever-growing mass of filamentous algae. He and his son, Jake, spent hours in a boat raking the pond as the mass moved from one end of the pond to the other, depending on wind direction. They then treated the water with copper sulfate and a product called Crystal Blue. And they raked some more.

“I know some people who broadcast the crystals,” Kuda said. “I didn’t. I mixed it in a sprayer and applied it directly on the algae mats. Then I sprayed it around the perimeter of the pond, and we started to see a difference in a couple of days. I did that twice, and it’s pretty clear now.”

While some tiny pockets of algae still exist on the periphery of the pond, it’s important to remember that plants should be managed, not eradicated, Williams emphasized.

“Aquatic plants are a necessary component if you want to raise a healthy fish population, because those plants are the base of the food chain,” he said. “It’s food for aquatic inverte­brates like bugs, which is then food for your fish. Having some aquatic plants is not a terrible thing. Without them, it would be like raising cattle on bare ground. Keeping it in control is the key.”

The Missouri Department of Conservation has several resources on managing aquat­ic plants, fishing populations and ponds in general. For more information, contact MFA’s natural resources conservation spe­cialist, Adam Jones, at 573-876-5246 or visit www.mdc.mo.gov

Planning for a pond?

Whether you’re planning a pond for cattle or recreation, there are things you can do up front to mitigate future issues.

If you’re building a pond from scratch, management may be easier in the long run depending on its purpose. Missouri Department of Conservation Fisheries Management Biologist Scott Williams shares these tips.

When using a pond for cattle, Williams recom­mends adding a spillway pipe and a frost-free hydrant for watering.

“Anyone I talk to who is thinking of building a pond, I suggest adding a hydrant below it and fencing the source because cattle break down a pond so fast,” Williams said. “They collapse the banks, soil washes in and nutrient levels become more intense, which contributes to some of these other issues.”

He also advises adding a drain into the plans for any new pond.

“A lot of people think, ‘Why would I possibly want to drain a pond?’ but 20 years down the road when aquatic plants are starting to become a problem, the ability to fluctuate a water level can go a long way,” Williams explained.

And if someone wants the best of both worlds, he has solutions for that, too.

“It really comes down to what someone is looking for with a pond—what they need and what they want,” Williams said. “If they’re not in­terested in fishing or recreation, that’s different, but if they’re wanting a multi-use recreational pond that can also provide livestock water, there are definitely ways to do that.”

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Cattleman in command

A Carhartt-clad Mike Parson is crouched under his John Deere baler, attempting to unsnarl tangled net wrap with help from two of his security detail officers. The governor only has a few precious hours before his next official appearance, and he is trying to get a field of hay baled this July afternoon on his Bolivar, Mo., farm.

“Some people will think you staged these photos,” said Kevin Spauld­ing, Parson’s southwest regional office director, who was on hand to chaperon our Today’s Farmer interview. “But this is who our governor is. What you see is what you get with Mike Parson.”

What Missouri gets with Parson is third-generation farmer, Army vet­eran and former sheriff and state legislator. He once owned and operated a gas station. He’s a proud member of the First Baptist Church. He’s a grandfather of five, father of two and husband to Teresa for 34 years. He’s a friend to agriculture. And he unabashedly adores the Show-Me State.

“It’s an honor, coming from where I come from, to be the governor of Missouri,” Parson said. “The love I have for this state and its people make me want to work hard for them every day. And my Christian beliefs and faith guide me in trying to do the right thing.”

When he’s not running Missouri’s executive office, Parson is running his red Angus-based cow/calf operation, not far from where he was raised in Wheatland, Mo. In fact, he loves telling that he was sorting cat­tle at his farm last year when he got the call notifying him he would soon become Missouri’s 57th governor. Serving as lieutenant governor at the time, Parson assumed the top job a few days later on June 1, 2018, after months of scandal and criminal charges forced Eric Greitens to resign.

The new governor’s first job was to establish order out of the chaos.

“One of the biggest challenges was the way everything took place going into office,” Parson said. “Most gover­nors have 60 days to prepare and put a team together. We had 60 hours. Making sure to get the right people in the right place was important to me. Needless to say, it was overwhelming, but I’m really proud of the people who are serving in those capacities. They’re all very qualified, and they’re all hardworking.”

In his first year as governor, Parson made 185 appoint­ments, issued nine executive orders and worked to change criminal justice reform, infrastructure and workforce development. Among the legislation he recently signed are several initiatives that will benefit farmers, including a $5 million appropriation for the newly created Rural Broad­band Development Fund to expand access to high-speed internet across the state. It’s a much-needed measure, Par­son said. As recently as last year, Missouri was ranked 42nd in the nation in broadband connectivity.

“Farmers, agribusinesses and ag tourism operations must have communications capability, and that takes broadband internet,” Parson said. “Lack of access is a huge issue for our state.”

The governor also signed into law Senate Bill 391 that prohibits county commissions and health departments from passing regulations on confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, that are stricter than any state regu­lations. Many agriculture organizations supported the bill’s passage, although opponents argued the bill thwarts local government’s authority to meet the needs of their commu­nities.

“The CAFO bill protects our farmers and makes sure they can operate,” Parson said. “I think it’s a good piece of legislation that encourages investment in our rural commu­nities.”

Parson also has championed workforce development from Day 1 as a key priority of his administration. He said education is the answer. He wants to establish addition­al trade schools, especially in rural areas, to give young people the skills they need to succeed in today’s high-tech workplace. He supported and signed the bill creating Mis­souri’s new Fast-Track Workforce Initiative Grant Program, which is aimed at giving Missourians 25 and older ad­vanced training for jobs that are in high demand.

“After meeting with mayors across the state, both urban and rural, the biggest thing we heard was workforce devel­opment,” he said. “There are so many opportunities in this state, but we need to make sure young people have the standard of education they need and the skills to truly meet the demands out there. That’s really important to me.”

Agriculture is one of the fields that needs highly skilled work­ers, Parson added.

“Easily in 10 years’ time, you might not recognize agricul­ture,” he said. “It’s going to be an exciting arena in the future. Today’s young people, and their parents and grandparents, have to understand how much agriculture is going to change—and accept that change. We have to be able to meet the food de­mands of the world, and God’s not making more land. It’s going to be through technology.”

Parson, a former member of the state House and Senate, put that experience to use in pushing his agenda with lawmakers. In many cases, he said, not being elected governor had its advantages.

“Frankly, the way I came into office gave me some freedom,” Parson said. “I didn’t have any campaign promises to uphold. I just got to do what I believe the people in the state wanted, and I stayed focused on that.”

The governor said he considers his first year in office as a success, but it hasn’t been without its challenges—the first of which was helping Missourians get through one of the worst droughts in the state’s history in the summer of 2018. The cattleman personally knew how dire the situation was for farmers, recalling how he had to feed hay in August for the first time in his life. Right after taking office, Parson issued an executive order declaring a drought alert and reactivating the Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ Drought Assessment Committee. This coalition of state and federal partners worked together to provide struggling farmers unprecedented access to public lands for accessing water and harvesting hay.

“We had to get out in front of the disaster declarations because I knew the drought was going to affect farmers long term,” Parson said. “We had to think ahead, not just about the quality of the crops in July and August but also what cattle pro­ducers were going to feed in the winter. We had people on both sides of the aisle who reached out early on to help us through that situation.”

This year, the problem is just the opposite—too much water. In response to historic flooding this spring, Parson requested another federal disaster declaration and activated the Missouri National Guard to help fight rising water across the state. He acknowledges that having natural disasters two years in a row is devastating for some farmers.

“Mother Nature can outdo you in a heartbeat,” Parson said. “What our farmers are going through is difficult, but we all know those are challenges that come with agriculture. From my position as governor, I want to do everything I can to help them and give them the tools to succeed. The reality is, it’ll be a hard year, and there’s no way to sugarcoat that. But the one thing I know about Missouri farmers is that they’re made of tough character.”

Even though he has to balance both urban and rural inter­ests as governor, Parson said advancing agriculture—the state’s No. 1 industry—will remain among his top priorities. So far, his political career has proven that commitment. While in the Mis­souri legislature, Parson sponsored the Missouri Farming Rights Amendment, which changed the state constitution to guarantee all Missourians the right to farm and ranch. During his first year as lieutenant governor, his office launched the “Buy Missouri” initiative to actively promote products that are grown, manu­factured, processed and/or made in Missouri. Parson also was inducted into the Missouri Farmers Care Hall of Fame in 2018.

“We all have to remember how important agriculture is and how important rural Missouri is to making the state complete,” Parson said. “It’s a way of life and a heritage we need to protect. My son is farming with us now, and we have grandkids who are interested in the farming business, so I fully believe we’ll get to that fifth generation. I want to make sure other families have that same opportunity.”

For Parson, baling hay on a hot afternoon is a welcome respite from his official obligations. A member of local MFA affiliate Bolivar Farmers Exchange, the cattleman describes farming as his “getaway,” although he admits he and Teresa don’t get away to their rural home nearly enough these days.

“As governor, there are so many great things you get to do, but the downside is your time,” Parson said. “You’re driven by a schedule every day. It takes away from my family. It takes away from my farm. It’s demanding job if you’re going to do it right. And I only know one way, and that’s to go to work and give it my all.”

The farming governor is a favorite to run for a full term in 2020 and likely wouldn’t have opposition from within his Re­publican party. Constitutionally, he will be limited to one elect­ed term because Greitens had more than two years left when he resigned. Parson hasn’t formally announced his intentions, but his campaign accounts are actively collecting donations, and he hinted to Today’s Farmer that there would be a big announce­ment in “the next 30 to 60 days.”

“Let me just say that I feel really good right now about where we are and where we’re going,” Parson said. “I feel like we had a great year, and I have a lot of support across the state. It’s unbe­lievable how many people have reached out and encouraged me to run. That decision, that announcement, will be coming, but right now, I’m focused on Missouri.”

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