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Partnerships that pay

MFA helps farmers take advantage of incentives available for climate-smart practices

With USDA’s Climate Smart Commodities program investing more than $3.1 billion for 140 projects with many different partners in multiple states, it can be hard to follow the money to opportunities that fit farms in MFA territory.

Here’s a good place to start—the Missouri Climate-Resilient Crop and Livestock (CRCL) Project—which offers eight incentive payment programs for implementing environmentally friendly practices on both row-crop and livestock farms. MFA is one of the key partners in this multifaceted initiative, which is being spearheaded by the University of Missouri’s Center for Regenerative Agriculture.

“USDA asked for proposals that spanned the breadth of American agriculture—not just row crops but also livestock and forestry and small farms,” said the center’s director, Rob Myers. “We really tried to touch on all those things with a program that would be relevant for the many different types of farms and ranches we have here in Missouri.”
The CRCL project received $25 million in Climate Smart Commodities funding, the largest federal grant in MU’s history. Project partners quickly rolled out four cover crop programs, with “interest exceeding expectations,” Myers said. Some 440 farmers are participating in this initial funding pool, which closed in August but will reopen in June 2024.

Four other programs opened in November and will accept applications through January:
• Nutrient Management and 4R Approach — $20 per acre (up to 500 acres) for corn producers to implement precision nutrient management practices that include the use of split-nitrogen applications and the 4R principles of right source, right rate, right time and right place.
• Regenerative Grazing — $50 per acre to implement practices such as planting biodiverse forage species, managing intensive grazing, and using low-cost watering and fencing approaches.
• Silvopasture — $250 per acre for livestock producers to plant trees on pastures to expand Missouri woodland area and provide shade for livestock.

“These are all great programs for growers to get involved in, but one of the biggest opportunities is the $20-an-acre payment for split application of nitrogen,” said Emily Beck, MFA natural resources conservation specialist. “It’s using 4R stewardship ideas that MFA already implements, and it can either introduce growers to this practice or help them extend it to additional acres.”

Specifically, this program is focused on improving nutrient use efficiency in corn, which is a nitrogen-needy crop. For 2024, only growers in certain counties in the central and northeastern regions of Missouri are eligible for this incentive, but plans are to expand to other areas in subsequent years.
“We’re excited about the nutrient management program,” Myers said. “It’s taking the idea of the 4R approach that’s been promoted nationally and trying to implement it more fully in Missouri. This year, we’re focusing on a two-pass nitrogen application system, but we’ll have a component later where they’ll be able to do precision manure management as well.”

To participate in the Nutrient Management and 4R Approach program, producers will need to work with a 4R-certified retailer/advisor, a designation managed by the Missouri Fertilizer Control Board. MFA locations within the eligible counties have completed this certification, which involves training customers and staff in the 4R approach, documenting soil sampling results, developing yield goals that are reviewed by a certified professional, implementing science-based fertility recommendations, and applying nutrients in the most effective and efficient manner for the specific crop and field.

“What that would mean is that growers might adjust the timing of their applications and the formulations they’re using to get the maximum efficiency out of those fertilizers,” Myers explained. “This not only helps give them better economic return on their input investment but also helps prevent runoff, leaching and other losses.”
Producers will also need to make nutrient management plans based on soil sampling for the acres they will enroll in the CRCL program, and they will be expected to participate in educational programs on 4R Nutrient Stewardship. This entails watching four short videos that explain both the principles and practices to improve nitrogen fertilizer use efficiency for corn production.

“This program focuses heavily on soil nutrient stewardship, and that’s something MFA promotes through our Nutri-Track program and other precision services,” Beck said.

“MFA knows the 4R approach well, so by working with us, we can help growers be successful when implementing these practices.”
The principles outlined in CRCL’s Regenerative Grazing program also complement MFA’s approach to forage management, Beck added. To receive the $50-per-acre payment, participants must work with technical service providers—a certification that several dozen MFA employees hold—to develop and implement an intensive-grazing management plan. The program also includes an educational component, requiring producers to attend an approved grazing school, workshop or training program.

“This is one of our larger programs, with about $5 million eventually going into supporting these practices across the state,” Myers said. “It’s open through the end of January to any Missouri farmer who’s interested.”

A related program focuses on silvopasture, the deliberate integration of trees and grazing livestock operations on the same land. Because of the substantial cost of planting and maintaining wooded areas, this program offers a larger payment of $250 per acre, Myers said.

“This incentive is for those who are interested in getting additional shade in their pastures by planting native hardwoods or other tree species,” he said. “We expect most farmers to only enroll a small percentage of their pastures, maybe just the edges near existing woods. And it’s not just for shade. Research has shown when you get trees established in pastures, you get a little better forage productivity, especially in early spring.”

An additional incentive opportunity, Climate-Smart Fieldscapes, is open for enrollment until Jan. 14. This program is targeted to small and underserved farmers to implement at least three stacked climate-smart practices that will serve as demonstration sites. It pays $10,000 across a three-year contract.

“Keep in mind, this CRCL project is not just offering incentive payments,” Myers added. “There will also be educational workshops, field days and publications as well as some marketing support to help producers gain access to new markets related to climate-smart practices. We hired several new staff to help with these programs, with a dedicated person for each of these areas. We have great support from our 25 partner organizations, which includes MFA as well as several of the commodity groups in Missouri, other farm organizations like Farm Bureau, state agencies and private companies. It’s very much a collaborative effort.”

Producers interested in participating in the Missouri CRCL programs will use a web-based platform, FarmRaise, to create an account and apply for the program. The service is free for applicants, and a paid membership is not required. Visit to see the list of open programs, access the application system or get more information.

“I know farmers are busy, so the initial enrollment process is very easy,” Myers said. “It only takes five to 10 minutes for the first step. They can do it on their phone, tablet or desktop computer—you don’t have to go to an office anywhere.”

While the CRCL project is the only one available exclusively in Missouri, there are many other programs receiving Partnerships for Climate Smart Commodities funding that include the state’s farmers. The good news, Myers said, is that some of these may be “stacked,” allowing participants to benefit from multiple incentive payments. MU’s Center for Regenerative Agriculture will serve as a resource to help farmers navigate the numerous options.

“We’re doing our best to inform farmers about all the different programs, not just this CRCL project,” he said. “Later this winter, we’ll have some fact sheets and more details about which programs might be available to Missouri producers, but we’re still compiling that information. Some of these other projects are just getting underway or haven’t announced guidelines yet.”

As for the Missouri Climate-Resilient Crop and Livestock Project, Myers said he expects to reach somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 farms and up to a half-million acres of Missouri farmland over the five-year life of the grant.

“I’m especially excited that the money is directly aimed at helping farmers instead of something like lab research that may or may not make a difference 20 years from now,” he said. “It’s a very practical type of project that will go a long way toward developing more resilient farms and food systems.”

Read More of the December 2023 / January 2024 Today's Farmer magazine Issue.


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Missouri takes center stage at National FFA Convention

Members, supporters awarded top honors at record-breaking event

From impressive participation to highest honors, Missouri FFA members and supporters took center stage at the 96th annual National FFA Convention and Expo, held Nov. 1-4 in Indianapolis. In total, a record number of nearly 73,000 members, advisors and guests were in attendance at the 2023 event.

Among Missourians recognized during the convention was MFA Incorporated CEO Ernie Verslues, who was presented with an Honorary American FFA Degree. Missouri Department of Agriculture Director Chris Chinn was also among the 213 individuals who received the highly regarded award this year along with eight others from the Show-Me State.

“To me, the most gratifying recognition is always when it is least expected. This has to top the list,” Verslues said. “I want to give a shout-out to the Missouri FFA delegation for the enthusiastic applause when I walked across the stage in Indianapolis. It was a special touch to a humbling award.”

FFAofficerGrant Norfleet of Mexico, Mo., second from left, was elected as secretary on the 2023-24 National FFA Officer Team and will spend the next year representing FFA in this role. Other officers are, from left, Amara Jackson, Michigan, president; Carter Howell, Florida, Southern Region vice president; Kanyon Huntington, Iowa, Central Region vice president; Morgan Anderson, Ohio, Eastern Region vice president; and Emily Gossett, New Mexico, Western Region vice president.Members of the National FFA Organization’s board of directors approve the nominations for the honorary degree, given to those who show extraordinary support and personal commitment to agricultural education and FFA.

“Providing further educational opportunities for today’s youth is something I believe in strongly. The agriculture industry has given me so much. This is my effort to give back,” Verslues added. “No other organization develops tomorrow’s leaders like FFA.”

Among those leaders is Missouri FFA member Grant Norfleet of Mexico, who was elected National FFA Secretary during the convention. He and five other FFA members were chosen from 35 candidates vying for the coveted position on the national officer team.

The process to become a national officer is arduous, with the candidates taking part in an extensive interview process with the National FFA Officer Nominating Committee leading up to the election. National officers commit to a year of service, during which they will interact with business and industry leaders, FFA members and leaders, corporate sponsors, government and education officials and the general public. The team will help set policies that will guide the future of FFA and the next generation of leaders.

Norfleet, who grew up on his family’s farm in Audrain County, has been active with Missouri FFA since he was in high school, serving as a state vice president during his freshman year and as the Missouri FFA Camp leadership director this past summer. He is currently a student at the University of Missouri in Columbia, studying agricultural education and leadership with a communications emphasis and minors in agribusiness and digital storytelling.

Another Missourian, George Frees of the Cass Career Center FFA chapter in Harrisonville, earned the prestigious “American Star in Agriscience” award at the convention. He was among 16 American Star Award finalists from throughout the U.S. who were nominated and interviewed by a panel of judges. Four were named winners and received cash awards. American Star Awards are presented to FFA members who demonstrate outstanding skills and competencies through the completion of a supervised agricultural experience (SAE).

Frees found inspiration for his award-winning SAE project during a trip to a marine biology camp in Jamaica, where he learned about sugarcane cultivation from local growers. Back home, he decided to explore whether this typically tropical crop could be produced for ethanol in the Midwest. Specifically, he studied the effectiveness of treating sugarcane with gibberellic acid—a growth hormone applied to citrus fruits to promote cold tolerance—to increase the amount of ethanol biofuel that can be produced from the plant.

“Sugarcane is simply not a largely popularized crop in the United States because there’s a somewhat limited growing zone,” Frees said. “But from the standpoint of ethanol production, sugarcane is far superior in labor intensity and cost (compared to corn).”

Frees’ passion for crop science has continued into his college career at the University of Missouri, where he’s double-majoring in biochemistry and plant sciences and serves as the campus beekeeper. He plans to work in a field called “ethnobotany,” which looks at how native populations around the world use medicinal plants.

Other top winners from Missouri at the National FFA Convention included Nash McKenzie of Boonville FFA, who captured a national agricultural proficiency championship in Diversified Horticulture–Entrepreneurship/Placement. Agricultural proficiency awards honor FFA members who, through their SAE projects, develop specialized skills they can apply toward future careers. McKenzie built his own business, Home Exterior Services, in 2019, providing services that range from mulching and pulling weeds to yard design and installation.

Missouri had seven other national finalists in agricultural proficiency this year: Aiden Matthew Plenge, Clark County, Fiber and/or Oil Crop Proficiency; Kendra Zeilstra, Brunswick, Fruit Production; Baylor Russel Montgomery, Brookfield, Veterinary Science; Dane Christy, Atlanta, Poultry Production; Kaleb Peak, Wellsville-Middletown, Swine Placement; Carlee Long, Paris, Ag Sales—Entrepreneurship; and Ashley Sjostrand, Ashland, Diversified Livestock.

Ellie Samek of Bolivar FFA and Maddie Blankenship of Tuscumbia FFA were finalists in the National FFA Agriscience Fair, while Marshall FFA members Gentrie and Gage Davis took first place in the 2023 #SpeakAg Showcase, a new competition that encouraged participants to create digital promotions for their state’s agricultural industry. The Davis siblings spotlighted Missouri by creating a 2.5-minute video that featured interviews with area farmers along with footage and facts about the Show-Me State’s No. 1 industry.

This year’s Leadership Development Event Gold Emblem finalists from Missouri were California, Conduct of Chapter Meetings; North Shelby, second place in Parliamentary Procedure; and Wyatt Hendley of Bloomfield, third place in Extemporaneous Speaking.

In Career Development Event contests, Missouri’s Gold Emblem Finalists were North Shelby, third place in Agronomy; Neosho, fourth place in Poultry; Troy, fourth place in Ag Mechanics; Aurora, fourth place in Environmental and Natural Resources; Columbia, fifth place in Ag Sales; Skyline, fifth place in Nursery/Landscape; Elsberry, Floriculture; Palmyra, Food Science; Columbia, Meats Evaluation; and Fair Play, Milk Quality and Products.

The Aurora and Troy FFA chapters were also named Model of Excellence finalists based on innovative educational activities that emphasize growing leaders, building communities and strengthening agriculture. Only 10 high school chapters nationwide are recognized each year as earning the Model of Excellence designation.

Three Missouri chapters received the 2023 National Premier Chapter Award. This award is given to 10 chapters that go above and beyond in each of three areas: growing leaders, building communities and strengthening agriculture. Ashland FFA and Audrain Co. R-VI FFA were recognized in the “growing leaders” category, while Slater FFA was one of 10 honored for “strengthening agriculture.”

These three chapters also earned a 3-star rating—the highest rating they can receive—along with 22 other Missouri chapters.

During the convention, Missouri was recognized as having the highest number of American FFA Degrees by state, with 608 recipients earning the organization’s top individual honor. Less than one-half of 1% of FFA members earn this distinction.

Find more details on awards and the convention online at

Read the related editorial from Today's Farmer editor Allison Jenkin's about her first trip to an FFA convention.

Read More of the December 2023 / January 2024 Today's Farmer magazine Issue.

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