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MFA is More than Meets the Eye

MFA Flags in Higgingsville

MFA’s work behind the scenes improves yields for local producers.

MFA Incorporated has come a long way since its founding in 1914 when William Hirth started a farm club that saved its original seven members $400 on an order of 1,150 pounds of baler twine and several other transactions. 

Headquartered in Columbia, the company is best known to some locals for the former MFA tower on Paris Road – a large concrete silo with an MFA emblem – built in the 1960s. As Columbia grew, that facility, originally built on the outskirts of town, became less accessible to large trucks and equipment, and MFA moved those operations to other locations. The facility was sold and the tower was torn down in July 2019.

Even without the visual reminder of MFA’s presence in Columbia, the company continues to make an impact on the agricultural landscape across its trade territory, evidenced by approximately $1 billion in total gross sales. 

While MFA has grown and changed over the years, at its core, the agricultural marketing and supply cooperative is still true to its origins of serving as a whole farm solution for member-owners. MFA Oil, established in 1929 as a supply cooperative for oil and fuel, is also headquartered in Columbia. It amicably separated from MFA Incorporated in 1985 to become its own cooperative. 

From the home office in Columbia, MFA supports 126 company-owned locations throughout Missouri, southern Iowa, southwest Kansas, and northeast Arkansas, and 18 affiliate members and other cooperatives that also use the MFA name.

“We manufacture our own branded feed and distribute it through our system and we provide animal health products like medicines and treatments, mainly for cattle but also for hogs and equine,” says Steve Fairchild, MFA’s director of communications. “On the agronomy side, we are a provider of plant foods, seed — both nationally branded and proprietary — and crop protection inputs, all of which we distribute through our retail system.” 

As a cooperative, MFA is owned by the people who do business with the company. Fairchild says the organization serves 45,000 active farmers and ranchers.

“Five thousand dollars worth of business with us in a year makes them a member,” he adds.

A Complete Resource for Farmers

MFA brings in fertilizers through ports in southern Missouri, northeastern Missouri, and Oklahoma, which are then distributed through its various locations, Fairchild says. The River Valley Agronomy Center in Higginsville, Missouri was completed in February 2023 and is now the largest fertilizer facility in MFA’s system.

“A lot of MFA’s existing retail locations were established in the 1940s, 1950s, and maybe even earlier in some cases, sometimes downtown in a small town,” Fairchild says. “As the town grows, and as equipment has increased in size, you can’t service the modern customers from a storefront from the 1940s that is in the middle of a downtown small community.” He says the River Valley Agronomy Center serves as a bulk plant to service the farmers from a hub. 

Plant foods and seed also come into the MFA system by barge, rail, and truck. Feed is produced in seven mills with a combined production capacity of 424,000 tons per year. 

The company sells nationally branded seed as well as a proprietary seed called More Corn and More Soy. When it comes to seed, MFA puts in work behind the scenes to make sure its product will perform once it is planted in fields spanning different areas. 

“We buy base genetics and test them in our territories, then fine-tune those seeds to fit our customer’s needs,” Fairchild explains. “Plants have different attributes that make them more productive in different environments, so we narrow it down so we have a good product that delivers to our customer.” 

MFA’s grain division markets grain on behalf of customers. 

“We have storage facilities that accept grain and store it, or we can enter into contracts with customers, which can allow them to lock in commodity values and hedge against risk,” he notes. 

In 2017, MFA, in collaboration with MFA Oil, built Northwest Missouri Grain LLC in Hamilton, Missouri. MFA assumed full ownership of the facility, a 110-car shuttle rail, in 2022. 

“One hundred ten rail cars is called a unit train, and it has a lot of efficiencies,” Fairchild says. “We can pull it off the main line, park it on a loop and load it from there, and it allows us to reach export markets, send grain into poultry markets, or even take it into Mexico.” 

Although volume varies by year, in 2022, MFA sold 12.8 million bushels of grain. 

MFA is also a full-service crop protection supplier, providing more than 850 products for row crops, aquatic areas, ranges/pastures, stored grain, vineyards, and lawns and gardens.

Evolving With Time

As MFA has grown and changed with time, it continues to be a leader in technology, and the company is continuously expanding its products and services to meet the needs of farmers and producers.

“In today’s world we have a strong precision agriculture program, where we find solutions that fit a specific farm,” Fairchild says. “For a farmer that has a crop plan with us, we would look at what level of fertility they need, what pest problems and weed problems they may have, then work to build a big picture solution to help them do the best they can on the acres they have.” 

Crop-Track is a system that studies soil through grid soil sampling. By pulling multiple soil samples per acre, farmers are able to understand the nutrient levels of their soil. Yield monitors provide a site-specific understanding of the yields from across a field. When that is matched with soil samples, farmers have a better idea of nutrient deficiencies on their acreage. 

“When you take grain off a field, it pulls nutrients from the ground that need to be replaced,” Fairchild says. “The technology is good from an environmental perspective because you’re not putting too much back, and it is also good for the farmer because he isn’t paying to put too much back. Efficiency in today’s world is often tied to environmental stewardship, getting just the right amount, no more or no less, as you apply things in the field.”

Crop-Trak is another program that MFA offers clients to help them thrive. With Crop-Trak, MFA places a scout in the field who looks for pests that can reduce yield in a crop.

“From a stewardship perspective, we don’t just treat pests for the sake of treating them if they might be sub-economic in damage,” he explains.

Nutri-Track N is another MFA program that helps customers manage costs and be responsible environmental stewards. All plants require nitrogen, but Fairchild says it should be used at the right place and at the right time. Through tools like drones and nitrogen models, the Nutri-Track N program helps farmers add nitrogen applications to the right places and in the right amounts. 

A Strong Community Partner

The MFA Foundation, comprised of both MFA Oil and MFA Incorporated, and local affiliates of both companies, has awarded 245 graduating high school seniors with $2,000 scholarships annually. The scholarship recipients are from MFA and MFA Oil Company member families. 

The MFA Incorporated Charitable Foundation has fully endowed the MFA Chair in Agribusiness at the University of Missouri and has supported MU’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR), the local farmers market, and community improvement projects throughout its trade territory. 

The foundation also helped to fund the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network, a suicide prevention program offered through MU Extension.

“The program gets staffing to rural areas to provide mental health and first aid care, as well as a place for referrals,” Fairchild says. “It is a stop-gap, a way to get some resources into the hands of rural people, farmers, and ranchers that might not have immediate access to mental health care.”

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