Walking to the bed of his farm truck and grabbing a bag of minerals, Bruce Mershon talks about the rising input costs in beef production. The cows gather as his calm voice leads them to the feeder. He empties the bag and shares how cow-calf producers have finally gotten ahead on price so that expenses cut into profitability.
From the outside, this balanced approach to the livestock industry would never imply that Mershon is actually a risk taker. The new president of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association has spent his entire career dealing with what he calls the “uncontrollable” as a commodities trader.
When he retired in 2018, most in the company were relaxing and avoiding risky opportunities. But the Jackson County farmer loves farming, so his retirement plan is to raise and finish cattle in Missouri.
Take the time to cultivate
Mershon still farms the family land outside of Buckner. As a commodity trader for nearly three decades in nearby Kansas City, Missouri, the proximity allowed him to return to the farm, work and plan for the future.
“We realized the one thing that probably won’t change in Missouri is that we will always have fescue somewhere in the state and in abundance,” he says. “So we decided to expand our herd of cows.”
Mershon started with around 150 Angus-based commercial cows mated to Hereford, Simmental and Charolais bulls. Today, he and his wife, Tracey, have 2,000 mother cows, but they’re not all in one place.
The couple have cows scattered in 13 counties along much of the western region of the state, from Gentry County in the north to Dade County in the south. It’s part of a unique business approach to raising cattle that he calls “Pasture Partners.”
They first got into this aspect of paying to place cows on other farms in 2001 because they didn’t have the forage or the land space to augment the cow herd on the family farm. But the business has grown rapidly and currently has 15 grazing partners.
Farmer demographics vary across the program. “We have a retired gentleman who just takes care of the heifers,” Mershon explains. “He wants to race them in the winter because he cuts the fescue seeds in the summer.”
His voice quickens as he talks about the opportunities for the next generation. “We have young producers starting out. They work off the farm but want to raise cows, but they have bought a farm or rented a farm. Usually they get money for cows or land, but they can’t get both. Pasture Partners allows them to not need capital for the cows. »
Mershon says working with these young producers is rewarding. “I really like developing these relationships. As they continue to grow, we grow with them.
Grass management also differs from farm to farm. Mershon encourages rotational grazing or intensive grass management because “our cattle perform better.” However, this is not a requirement.
“We have partners who have two or three pastures, and that’s how it is,” he says. Ultimately, Mershon seeks grazing partners who provide quality forage and care for her livestock. The goal is to provide healthy calves for the family’s feedlot.
Feed the calves
In 2016, Mershon built a hoop structure with the goal of buying high-risk calves from the sales barn and finishing them. However, that opportunity never turned out the way he wanted, so he switched gears, and now the building is used to calve heifers.
The cows calve in the fall and spring as Mershon tries to take advantage of all the equipment twice a year and all the bulls twice a year. “Missouri is great because it allows us to do that,” he says.
He finishes all home-raised calves in free-range dry feedlots, but still buys calves from Missouri sale barns to fill lots. The farm also has a backgrounding operation where approximately 4,000 storekeepers are fed each year.
Most finished calves head to Iowa, Nebraska or Kansas for harvest. However, Mershon hopes that will change with the construction by American Food Groups of a processing plant in the east of the state. “I could see us finishing cattle in Missouri and shipping there, absolutely,” he notes.
“The storage part and the food part are a margin business,” Mershon explains. “If we can make margins there, then we can focus on cows and growing a herd with superior commercial genetics. We are not trying to have just cows. We try to have very, very good cows.
Room to expand
“I think our Pasture Partners model will grow,” he says. “I think people are going to adopt this model, because why can’t I have 10,000 cows or 20,000 cows with the right genetics? »
His goal is to find the right cross to make a cow that adapts to fescue, breeds successfully, and efficiently produces calves that produce a choice or premium carcass. It’s a daunting task, but Mershon is up for it.
“I haven’t farmed for 33 years,” Mershon says. “I’m just excited to take on the challenge to see what I can accomplish. I guess that’s the entrepreneur and risk taker in me.
Bruce Mershon outlines some of his priorities for this year as the new president of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association.
Education. “What I’m focusing on is how can we make our Missouri producers better cattle producers,” he says. “How can we educate them about better soil and pasture health? Our producers could raise twice as many cows in the state of Missouri, with better pasture management.
Mershon says cattle farmers need more education like pasture schools, information on capturing carbon credits and how to use cost-sharing programs. “Those who take advantage of these types of opportunities can contribute to productivity,” he notes. “They are the ones who will survive in the business.”
Emerging Leaders. Mershon’s personal goal is to develop new leadership for the association. This includes training newly elected officials for leadership positions and encouraging the next generation of cattlemen to engage with the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association.
“If I did my job well, MCA will be better off after I leave,” he explains. “I want the next leaders to be even more successful. The goal is to continue to develop these new leaders, and we will all prosper later.