Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Inches, Not Just Acres

By Nichole Gouldie, Communications Specialist

For many producers, farming is measured in inches, not just acres. As Darcy Nickel and hundreds of other farmers begin preparing the soil or planting their crops each year, an increasing number are turning to the technology in precision agriculture to optimize their crop.

In fact, precision agriculture is becoming more of a regular practice that many farmers have integrated into their operation without considering it a form of precision agriculture anymore. With nearly every tractor, sprayer and combine utilizing GPS auto-steer systems and various monitors, precision agriculture is being implemented on more and more farms every day.

The changes in technology are exciting for Nickel, beginning his fifth year using
Benisch reviews field data with
Goessel area producer,  Darcy Nickel.
precision agriculture. Nickel is the first to point out that each field of his is different but with a number of services MKC offers for precision agriculture through the Optimal Acre Program, Ross Benisch, MKC precision agriculture specialist, and he can customize a plan for each field.


Precision agriculture uses technology to compile data for farmers so they can operate more efficiently, thus better managing production costs, increasing production and increasing profits. Essentially, it is a practice that uses detailed, site-specific information to accurately control and manage inputs, Benisch says.

Benisch said farmers traditionally spread uniform rates of fertilizers, seed and irrigation across their farms. One field may have several different soil types and fertilizer needs, he said, and the amount of bushels it would grow can vary significantly from acre to acre.

"Through the MKC Optimal Acre Program, precision agriculture uses technology and data the farmer owns to increase input efficiency and bushels per acre," Benisch says. "The goal is to help producers place their inputs for optimum return on investment."

Ten years ago, the market was focused heavily on GPS guidance for machinery because of the instant results the growers saw with improved in-field productivity, reduced operator fatigue and the ability to operate machinery for longer hours. "After GPS, it moved toward more site specific agriculture like the creating of variable rate prescriptions for inputs such as crop nutrients, lime, seed and irrigation water," he says.

"We take a practical approach to our precision ag," says Nickel, who grows corn, soybeans and wheat. "We use it as an overall management tool where it makes sense instead of using it on every acre."

Costs are a determining factor when choosing whether or not to use precision agriculture, but Benisch says farmers are quickly finding they can be profitable using the data that is collected. While there is cost involved to get started to gather the field data to make the variable rate prescriptions, the data can be used for several years before testing is needed again.

"Often, the increase in input efficiencies results in the data paying for itself," Nickel says. "With the help of MKC, our farm looks at the precision ag data we collect as an investment rather than an expense because of the many benefits we have seen on our own operation."

As for the precision ag services currently offered by MKC, Benisch says they like to start with grid sampling because it tests for many key factors including soil nutrients and pH which are vital for every crop grown. "With the grid sample results, we can then variable apply many products to increase application accuracy," he says. "MKC has the equipment to variable apply lime and crop nutrients so the farmer doesn’t have to own any extra equipment to take advantage of what grid sampling can offer."

As farmers keep records of this information year after year, patterns begin to emerge and the information gained from GPS technology becomes a valuable reference upon which to base vital management decisions.

Nickels says one of the most important purposes of the Optimal Acre Program is it gives them the opportunity to optimize their yield potential and effectively use crop inputs year after year after year.

"The more data a farmer collects the more we can customize each field to achieve maximum profitability over time," Benisch says. He recognizes not everyone has the same goals in mind so it makes sense to start with the important base layers of information and expand in the other services MKC offers. He also notes over time, the information that is valued for a particular field will most likely be collected and acted on, while other fields may not need the same layers of information to make good management decisions for the upcoming year.

"Each field is unique. The more pieces of data we have to help solve the yield puzzle, the more accurate we are going to be with our vrt prescriptions and the producer will have a greater return on investment," Benisch says. MKC uses the information the grower has and combines it with the field data collected to put together a customized program that best fits the growers operation, he says.

"It is often hard to tell people about our appreciation for precision agriculture," Nickels says. "I would encourage anyone who is interested in learning more to ask MKC."

Visit with an MKC location for more details on the Optimal Acre program and see how precision agriculture can benefit your operation.

Monday, January 19, 2015

His Passion Knows No Age

By Nichole Gouldie, Communications Specialist

William "Bill" Taylor loves to work on the land. He awakes early every morning to continue his passion of farming that started when he was a young boy in the 1930’s.

Taylor, now 93, has lived near Manhattan his entire life besides the three years he served in World War II until he was honorably discharged from the military in December of 1945.

Taylor drove a halftrack (a vehicle with wheels in front for steering and tracks in the back) and saw many battles first hand during World War II including D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge. Taylor was deeply moved by his war experience, but does not talk about his combat experiences much.

Born in Manhattan in 1921 and raised near Wamego, Taylor described his childhood as typical of that of a Depression-era family. "My parents did a little farming but it was tough," Taylor says.

As hard as his rural life might have been, he enjoyed it enough to pursue a career of farming and raising cattle. "I love the cattle," Taylor says. "Always have and always will."

Taylor says one of the best parts about his chosen livelihood is that he is his own boss and noted the weather and government regulations have been the most difficult to work with.

After returning from the war, Taylor met Lorna, a farm girl from Wheaton, Kansas. They married in 1948 and are still together today. The Taylor’s have one son, two grandsons and five great-grandchildren.

Returning to the Farm
 
After returning home from the war in 1945, the G.I. Bill provided Taylor with a loan to start a farm of his own. But Taylor couldn’t find an inch of farm ground. He did the next best and got a job at the Kansas State University Agronomy Farm. It was there Taylor learned a lot about farming. "I read whatever I could get my hands on to learn," he says.

After discovering he could draw funds from the G.I. Bill for four more years if he was actively engaged in farming, he contacted the farmer he worked for in high school. "The gentlemen sold me half of his cowherd and some machinery on a note," Taylor said. "After four years, I was eager to find more land. I ended my ties with my boss and was out on my own."

In 1949, Taylor became a member of the Farmers Union Cooperative. "Our landlords were members, so [we] became members too," he says. Taylor recalls the local service station in Manhattan with the Farmers Union Co-op grain elevator beside it. "We picked up our feed there, got our flat tires fixed and delivered grain," he says. "It was similar to what we see today, just quite a bit smaller."

On the Land Today
 
A co-op member for 65 years, Taylor and Lorna recalled memories of attending the cooperative’s annual meetings in Manhattan.

To Taylor, the co-op has always been there. "It has been about convenience and good service," he says. "I grew up in the system so I guess you could say I don’t know any better."

As a long-time co-op member, Taylor was eager to attend the informational meetings prior to the merger of Farmers Cooperative Association and MKC. "At my old age I have seen many things change," Taylor said. "The merger and the co-op’s growth is a good change."

Farming alongside his grandson, Taylor says it takes a lot of time and resources to keep their operation running today. Taylor added he appreciates the expertise they receive from MKC.

When talking about the future, Taylor looks forward to getting ready to plant next year’s corn and soybean crops and watching his cattle finish out. "I have no plans to retire until I am called away," he says.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Connecting Youth to Agriculture

By Nichole Gouldie, Communications Specialist

While farm fields are common sights around the predominately rural state we live, many students today aren’t attuned to agriculture. Although no one can discount the thousands of hours and hundreds of people who work diligently to spread the positive message about agriculture, there are still many young minds to educate.

At Grammy’s Pumpkin Patch, straw hats and chickens are common sites seen by
second grade students that visit Johnstown Farm.

For the fourth year, second grade students from McPherson elementary schools participated in Grammy’s Pumpkin Patch "In the Class and On the Farm" agricultural education program.

"For so long, I was taking our family’s farmstead south of Lindsborg for granted," says Laura Mourn, education coordinator at Grammy’s Pumpkin Patch. "Educators at heart, my mom, sister and I made it our mission to come up with a fun way to connect students with the farm."

Started in 2011, the family spearheaded the addition of the classroom element to their already two and a half acre pumpkin patch that welcomed visitors to the farm each fall.

The program is two-fold, Mourn says. The first part brings sisters and coordinators Angie Flippo and Mourn into the second grade classrooms. "These hands-on lessons are a basic introduction of the "what" and "why" of Kansas agriculture," she says.

In the classroom setting, students learn an age appropriate definition of agriculture. The definition all classes learn and recite is "agriculture is the process of preparing the soil to grow crops and livestock." The traditional classroom lesson prepares students to visit the farm.

"Most of the students don’t realize how agriculture affects them in their everyday life," Mourn explained. "We start with what the students ate that morning for breakfast or how they got to school, and almost always we can relate it back to agriculture."

Mourn added the second part of the program is a day at Johnstown Farm where students experience lessons in the core content areas taught through the lens of agriculture.

"Our lessons are in math, language arts, science and other basics, using curriculum emerged in agriculture," Mourn commented. "As an educator, I love the hands-on, real-life experience for the students."

For example, a lesson in math is taught talking about how a farmer isn’t going to count the number of seeds they will plant, instead they will estimate.

Mourn says because of sponsored support from MKC and other organizations, Grammy’s Pumpkin Patch was able to welcome nine second grade classes to the farm. In 2014, Grammy’s Pumpkin Patch reached 191 second graders.

"No matter the agricultural learning experience, hopefully the students will talk about the field trip at home, and that will in turn interest their parents and siblings," Mourn says.

All efforts made to educate youth help re-establish connections which once existed because farming was in everyone’s close family. Today that is not the case, making the need to teach about where food really comes from an increasingly important part of education.

MKC believes it is important, if not critical, for people to continue to have an idea about where their food comes from. "It is not a good thing if people believe milk comes from a carton," says Jeff Jones, MKC location manager at Haven. "Not recognizing a cow is ultimately responsible for milk production is not completely uncommon when we visit schools."

That is where MKC’s "Ag Everyday" presentation derived from. The presentation, developed for fourth grade students, discusses what grain is, what major grains are grown in Kansas, where the grain goes and what the grain is used for. To wrap up the presentation, MKC employees put together a "felt pizza" with the students and discuss where the ingredients come from. After putting together the "pretend" pizza, students get to enjoy a real slice of pizza.

"For kids, pizza is often a preferred food. And within a pizza, much of what farming supplies can be seen," Jones says. "The simple pizza in many ways encapsulates the variety of agricultural and food production into something all students can relate to."

Like many employees, Jones enjoys seeing the excitement in the classroom when the students make those real connections to agriculture. More than 75 presentations have been made by MKC employees since the program began in the fall 2012 by Shane Eck, MKC location manager at Lindsborg.

Grammy’s Pumpkin Patch and "felt pizzas" are certainly efforts which are on the right track to spread the positive message about agriculture.
 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Young Leaders Attend CHS New Leader Forum

By Nichole Gouldie, Communications Specialist

Twelve representatives from MKC attended the 2014 CHS New leader Forum, a program that builds next the generation's leaders for agriculture and rural America.

Those attending from MKC were Andy and Michelle Herman of Wheaton; Curtis and Betsy Patrick of Lindsborg; Hilary Worcester of Manhattan; Jameson Eichman of Wamego; Lucas Hamm of Salina; Nichole Gouldie of Inman; Nick Mazouch of Marquette; Russell and Tiffany Rezac of Onaga; and Thayne Rawson of Lindsborg.  

They were among 300 young producers from across the U.S. participating in the program December 3 - 5 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in conjunction with the CHS annual meeting.

During the three-day forum, participants heard from leading experts on agriculture, leadership, cooperatives and risk management. Speakers included Carl Casale, president and CEO, CHS Inc.; Mark Mayfield, speaker author and ag ambassador; Dr. Greg McKee, director, Quentin Burdick Center for Cooperatives; and Terry McClure, board members, Nationwide and president, McClure Farms, LLC.

The New Leader Forum also featured a networking event with the CHS board of directors and participating in the 2014 CHS Annual Meeting, including workshops and the annual meeting business session.

CHS Inc. is a leading global agribusiness owned by farmers, ranchers and cooperatives across the United States, diversified in energy, grains, and foods.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Getting the Grain on the Train

By Erik Lange, Vice President of Southern Operations

The 109-car train sits on the rail loop at the
Canton Rail Terminal.
On Sunday, December 28, MKC loaded our first shuttle at our Canton Grain Terminal.  The morning was sure a great morning to load our first shuttle as the temperature was slightly below freezing, the sun was shining and the winds were calm.

The 109-car train to be loaded pulled into our facility early Sunday morning as scheduled. The on-premise loop track has room for up to 120 boxcars at a time to carry grains farmers deliver to MKC to facilities in the Gulf Coast, Pacific Northwest and more. After BASF left the train, it was up to MKC to coordinate the whole train-loading process. When the empty shuttle train pulls into MKC’s rail loop, the locomotive is left there with the train.

Seven MKC employees and three employees from the Kansas Grain Inspection Service (KGIS) met onsite at 6 a.m. and held a 15-minute safety meeting to go over the plans for the day. After the safety meeting the group was out of the office on the chilly morning and undertook the first task of sealing the bottom hoppers of the 109 rail cars in our shuttle.  Because we want to guarantee the quality of our product and avoid losses of the grain in route to its final destination, we used numbered zip tie style seals and secured each hopper from tampering.  Each car has three hoppers so we used three seals on the bottom of each car. 

After just under an hour of sealing the bottoms of the cars, we maneuvered the train into position for loading the first car.  At approximately 8:15 a.m., we loaded our first draft into the first rail car. By 8:19 a.m. the first car, roughly 4,000 bushels of grain, was loaded.  This is where we hit our biggest glitch of our inaugural shuttle load.  When we went to advance to the next car, our software program had some settings that were not quite right.  But in under five minutes our computer software vendor had dialed into our system, changed the settings, and we were loading our next car.  After that, we loaded 108 more cars pretty much non-stop. Just shortly after 4 p.m. all 109 cars were completely loaded.

While this process sounds pretty simple so far, there is a lot more going on behind the scenes to get the cars filled.  The first part to a successful shuttle is knowing what you have where in your elevator.  As we filled the elevator with sorghum (milo) earlier this fall, every load was carefully graded for quality.  Specifically, different moisture and test weights were divided into different bins.  Additionally, any other factors that would result in less than a #2 sorghum was isolated into a blending bin separate from the ordinary sorghum. 

The next step in successfully loading the shuttle was to know exactly what the end customer is wanting.  Once you know what you have and what the customer wants, you have to figure out how to blend the commodity out of your facility.  In the case of this specific shuttle, we had seventeen different bins of sorghum to choose from to meet our customer’s needs.  When you are moving grain at over 60,000 bushels per hour into the rail cars, a small misjudgment of a blend can result in a big mess in a big hurry! (For example, if we would run grain for just one minute at the wrong blend we would have over 1,000 bushels of grain, slightly more than a standard semi-truck load of grain that does not meet the customer’s specification!) 

During the entire shuttle loading process, one employee is dedicated to running the elevator and adjusting the blend to make sure the grain stays on specification.  This employee is responsible for communicating with the employees from KGIS as well.  At our Canton Rail Terminal, this employee can control the blending at one of three places through our state of the art automation system used to control the facility - the main office, the truck unload control area/KGIS grading room, and the rail load-out control room.  This allows the employee to move throughout the facility and do their job and other tasks throughout the entire shuttle.  Primarily, this employee works from the truck unload control area as it makes communication with KGIS easy.

When the employee running the blend starts the grain stream, it flows out of the bins into a mixture of four possible grain legs elevating the grain into what is called the top garner.  If all four legs were utilized at 100 percent, the grain could flow as quickly as 100,000 bushels per hour into the top garner.  The top garner is roughly a 7,000 bushel bin that holds the grain until it can be weighed in the scale.  At this point, the employee responsible for loading the cars controls the entire process.  This employee sits in the rail loading control room and through the automation system has access to the scale controls and the elevator controls. This person also has radio communication with the person operating the train engine and the employees opening and closing the car lids.  Based upon this employee’s judgment, the entire process starts and stops.  This person works with the person operating the locomotive and instructs them on how far forwards or backwards to position each specific car.

As each specific car is pulled into place, a radio frequency identification (RFID) card on the specific rail car is read by the automation system.  This RFID card identifies the rail car to the terminal’s computer and pre-loads the net allowable weight of the specific car into the scaling system.  This allows the operator of the loading system to not have to enter any information about the car or the weights and saves a significant amount of time scaling the car. Once the car is in the correct place under the load out spout, the process of weighing six independent drafts of grain to fill the car begins. 

Kansas Grain Inspection Service staff are
onsite the duration of loading the shuttle.
The draft process is a very fast way of continually flowing grain into each rail car without having to shut the grain off in the elevator.  As the grain flows into the top garner bin from the legs, a hydraulic gate separates the grain in the top garner from the scale.  When the draft starts, the hydraulic gate opens and allows grain from the top garner to flow into the scale at over 10,000 pounds per second.  At approximately 30,000 pounds, the hydraulic gate begins to close automatically and once the scale has stabilized the draft is weighed.  Once the weight is recorded, a gate on the bottom of the scale opens automatically and the grain leaves the scale at over 10,000 pounds per second into the bottom garner.  Next the weighing process begins again.  Between the scale and the bottom garner there is also an automatic sampler set on a timer which is evenly pulling a representative sample at predetermined intervals.  These samples are then pneumatically conveyed to the KGIS lab for official grading. 

MKC employee  John Gagebein and Tracy
Spencer oversee the loading of milo atop of
the cars fastened to safety equipment
The bottom garner is the last step before the grain leaves the elevator through the rail loading spout into the rail car.  The bottom garner can hold two drafts.  If two drafts are in the bottom garner, the automation system will weigh a third draft and hold it until the bottom garner has enough room to hold the next draft.  If for some reason the car cannot be loaded for some time, there are sensors in the top garner that will automatically shut grown flow from the elevator off if a certain level is reached.  The elevator operator and the rail loader operator can both slow down or shut of the grain flow manually using the automation system.

At the bottom of the bottom garner is one last hydraulic gate manually controlled by the rail loader operator and can be opened or closed at any time to evenly fill the car as it is pulled through by the locomotive.  If all goes right, this process takes three to four minutes.  In those three to four minutes, 4,000 bushels of grain or about 224,000 pounds of grain has been moved from the elevator onto a rail car!

Gagebein closes the lids and attachees seals to
provide security for the cars being shipped.
As each independent car is pulled through, a MKC employee opens the lids of the cars as they approach the load out spout.  On the back side of the load out spout is a second employee closing the lids and attaching another three seals to provide security to the grain that has been loaded.  These two jobs are probably the most physically challenging as well as the most dangerous in the whole operation.  Both of these employees are tied off from above to the fall protection equipment to protect them from falling off the railcars.  These jobs are made more challenging as the train typically does not stop moving throughout the loading process so they are often working from a surface that starts and stops continuously.

The last employee on the crew is the locomotive operator.  This person has a critically important job of listening closely to commands from the rail loader operator and the rest of the crew to steadily move the locomotive while at the same time not being able to see what is happening at almost a mile behind them. 

MKC employee, Emily Jackson, was the conductor for the
inaugural load of grain shipped at our rail terminal in Canton.
When the team was all done loading the train, we parked the train as delivered and the railroad picked it up as they are able. Completed, MKC sent 400,000 bushels of sorghum to the Texas Gulf on our inaugural shuttle

While our first shuttle loading experience at MKC went very smooth and was completed in a very reasonable amount of time, there is always room for improvement.  Our goal is to make some small, easily controlled changes on the next shuttle, measure the effects, and then either adopt them or try additional changes with the final goal of any changes resulting in improving employee safety, improving employee efficiency, improving shuttle load time and providing additional profitability to our customer owners. The Canton Rail Terminal will continue to open up great opportunities and possibilities for MKC and our customers.


Friday, December 26, 2014

Helping Those in Need this Holiday Season

By Kerry Watson, Director of Communications

It's unfortunate to know there are people in our rural communities struggling to
meet the financial demands of day-to-day life. The unexpected need for a new coat or a parent's stress of wondering if their young child will get to experience the joy of opening a present at Christmas can be overwhelming.

Members of the MKC Community Involvement Committee helped eliminate some of this stress for nearly 400 families through their annual "Share the Warmth" and "Angel Tree" programs.

Started three years ago, the annual coat drive, "Share the Warmth", is held each October just as temperatures start to drop. Thanks to the generosity of employees, customers and community members, this year's coat drive netted 250 gently used and new coats. Caps, gloves and scarves were also collected.

MKC's Angel Tree program was also started three years ago. According to Kaila Armendariz, member of the Community Involvement Committee, 150 children ranging in age newborn to 14 years old were adopted by employees.

"The generosity of our customers and employees has been amazing," stated Armendariz. "It feels good to give back to our communities, helping those in need."

The Community Involvement Committee extends their appreciation to everyone who contributed to these projects.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Five Tips for Winterizing Heavy-Duty Diesel Engines

With cold weather upon us, learn what steps you should take to prepare your vehicles for winter.
 
Tip 1: Treat the fuel.
When preparing your fleet or ag equipment for winter, one of the most commonly overlooked items is the fuel itself. Fuel needs to be winterized, especially if the equipment will be used throughout the winter.
 
Paraffin wax is present in all diesel fuels as a natural lubricity agent. Like any wax, as the ambient temperature of the fuel drops, the wax begins to form large square-shaped structures. These can come out of suspension and cause fuel to gel, which clogs the fuel filter.
 
To prevent gelling, use a cold-flow improver (CFI) that includes de-icers and wax anti-settling agents, which extend the operability of the fuel. But don’t overtreat. Additional treatments of CFI are more likely to inhibit the fuel’s performance than help.
 
A second option is to use a diesel fuel specially formulated for low temperatures, such as Cenex winterized premium diesel fuels. Cold-flow improvers, de-icers and wax anti-settling agents are included in the additive packages for these fuels.
 
Tip 2: Drain the water separator and replace filters.
Water in the fuel system can reduce engine performance and damage components like fuel pumps and injectors. Avoid these issues by replacing water-absorbing filters and draining the water separator regularly. Fuel gelling can be an issue, but it’s water turning to ice in fuel storage tanks and filtration that typically plugs filters during the first couple of cold snaps.
 
Fill fuel and hydraulic oil tanks full to prevent condensation from forming during temperature and humidity changes.
 
Tip 3: Check the coolant system.
Regular preventive maintenance will reveal any issues before they become major problems. Check for radiator leaks, plugged or hardened hoses, and cracked belts. Tighten any loose hose clamps. Check coolant levels and antifreeze strength.
 
Tip 4: Prepare the Battery
Old Man Winter can drain batteries quickly. If a battery is close to the end of a typical 48- to 72-month cycle, replace it. Clean battery terminals and be sure connections are tight. If equipment will be stored over the winter, disconnect battery ground cables to prevent battery drain.
 
Tip 5: Clean and inspect the exterior.
Use a high-pressure washer to remove dirt, dust and residue, and grease unpainted metal parts to protect them from the elements. Then apply a wax to the surface, which will help repel snow, salt and road chemicals. Use a lanolin-based spray-on protectant to prevent rust and corrosion.