"The goal of the agriculture tour," Blunt said, "has always been to get people to think about agriculture who would not think about it every day."
Guests on the two-day tour, riding in two buses, included a university president, water quality experts, Chamber of Commerce representatives and other business people. Blunt said he wanted them to see the significance of agriculture and its importance in southwest Missouri.
Blunt said that in the 13 years of hosting the ag tour, he has never stopped at the same place twice. Stops this year in Monett illustrated different industrial roles built around agriculture.
DFA plant visit
In the current economy, the significance of agriculture as a job creator was underlined by a visit to the 61-year-old Dairy Farmers of America milk processing plant in Monett. Before the plant was built, local dairy farmers had to haul their milk to Springfield every day. The plant in Monett made greater dairy production possible, since farmers were no longer spending a significant portion of their day on the road.
Plant Manager Mickey Durbin explained to the tour group that the plant gets 80 percent of its milk from local dairies, up to 2 million gallons a day. More than 80 people work in the processing facility.
The plant produces 50 million pounds of plain white cheddar cheese a year. Tour guides explained that it takes 10 pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese. Most of the cheese goes directly to Schreiber Foods, which shares space in the western half of the plant, where the cheese is further processed into various blends, commonly used in fast food restaurants.
"If you eat a burger in this part of the country, the cheese on it was likely made in this plant," said Durbin.
Those on the tour donned hairnets and walked through three sections of the plant. Plant personnel explained that 95 percent of milk coming into the Monett plant is grade A. Bottlers give priority access to milk from local dairy farms. Once deposited into one of the eight silos, which will hold 3,000,000 gallons total, the milk is committed for making cheese.
Processing first runs the milk through serpentine tubes for 18 seconds to heat it for pasteurization. From there the milk goes into the double O room. Ten vats, able to hold 45,000 pounds of milk each, are used to heat, cook and separate the milk. Cultures are added to begin the cheese conversion. The process runs for two hours and 40 minutes to make cheese.
The new cheese is pumped to the upstairs level and spread out on finishing tables, where sanitary rakes stir the mixture for another two hours and 20 minutes to finish making the cheese. From this point the milk processing is done and the cheese is deposited into the Schreiber Foods operation.
Tour members walking through the plant felt the heat in the plant, as each operation is carefully controlled for temperature. Mats with disinfectant were strategically placed in doorways to keep the rooms sanitary.
"The cheese plant is still doing its job," Blunt said, demonstrating how a simple farm-produced food turns into employment and marketable products.
Tour moves on to Tyson plant
The tour also stopped at the new wastewater pre-treatment facility at Monett's Tyson Foods plant.
"At Tyson, they spent $4.8 million to put a product back into the water system to minimize its impact on the city," Blunt said.
Becky Thomas, supervisor of Tyson's pre-treatment facility, explained how the effluent is processed before release into the city system. Water from the plant is run through a 50,000-gallon mixing pit where chemicals are added, then sent to a 900,000-gallon flow equalization basin where it is infused with air for 10 hours.
From there, the effluent goes back into the main building for a second run through the mixing pit, where solids are removed.
Plant Manager David Young said that because of the extra processing, the sludge left over from the effluent is so pure that it is high in protein and poultry fat. Instead of being left with a waste product, Tyson can sell the sludge for the manufacture of animal feed and fertilizer.
Visit to LC poultry farm
On the way to Monett, the tour stopped at Jim and Sharon Shepherd's poultry farm between Aurora and Marionville. The Shepherds are contracted to grow chickens for Tyson and have 90,000 chickens in four chicken houses. The Shepherds have had their farm for 20 years and had the large chicken houses for 10 years.
Over time, more people have moved into the area. Odor from the poultry has become more of an issue. To alleviate such problems, Skip Mourglia, a forester with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, explained how she has planted rows of trees to absorb the smell.
Mourglia pointed out trees such as Leland cypress, Lablolly pines, willow oaks, eastern white pines and native shrubs that have been planted outside the poultry houses at specific distances. With a scentometer, Mourglia said she has measured a distinct reduction in the range of the odor coming from the poultry houses.
Planting trees to limit odor is an experimental approach. Mourglia is overseeing a similar effort in two farms in northwest Lawrence County and has trees in place at farms in seven different counties.
"We can achieve lots of things in an area like ours," Blunt told the tour group. "We can see the benefit of growth. The challenge is, with people moving in, how to share when the farm was not designed for them initially."
Blunt's tour also stopped at Crowder College's veterinary program, two wineries north of Springfield, two dairy farms, two beef ranches, a horse farm and the Franklin Technology Center in Joplin.