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Class XII Curriculum

Oklahoma Ag Leadership Program

Seminar XI

Northwest Oklahoma Agriculture and Industry

Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Scribe: Mike Schulte

Curtis Liles introduced Pam Snelson, Class VIII, from Northeast Oklahoma. Pam assumed leadership responsibility for organizing Wednesday’s activities. Our seminar started with a tour of Woolaroc Musuem and Wildlife Preserve, former vacation home of the famous Oklahoma oilman Frank Phillips. The morning tour at Woolaroc allowed class members to have an opportunity to see unique displays of Western art and artifacts. The collection is considered to be one of the most outstanding Western art collections in the world that represents the life of people who lived in the American West. Lunch at Woolaroc Museum was courtesy of Arvest Bank. Class XII listened to a brief presentation by Woolaroc board member Dick Miller.

We later departed for a tour of the Hughes Ranch, which at one time was part of Woolaroc. John Hughes welcomed us to his ranch and allowed us to see his government wild horse herd, which is housed at the Hughes Ranch. The opportunity to house wild horses was made possible to agricultural producers after the Wild Horse Burro Act was passed by Congress in 1971. Mr. Hughes has a family ranch operation with his sons. He discussed the benefits of being a forage producer, and how being able to house the wild horses has been beneficial to their operation. The Hughes Ranch applied for grants through the Bureau of Land Management in order to house and save the wild horses. Mr. Hughes is also a cow-calf producer. He explained how important it was for him in the beginning to see the benefits of spraying and maintaining grassland for the increased forage. Our class was able to observe the impact of his work in clearing land and maintaining native and fescue grasses.

We next toured Keepsake Candle Factory and Red Dirt Soap Company housed in Bartlesville. Owner of Keepsake Candles Alice Ririe gave us a tour of her shop and showed the class the different castings and color dyes used to create different assortments of candle types. Alice discussed the different marketing techniques used to market her candles with trade shows, fundraising events, and in the candle market. We then toured Red Dirt Soap Company and were able to see the different varieties of Oklahoma Soap that Connie Freebern has been marketing through her company.

The class departed for dinner, hosted by ConocoPhillips, and was able to learn about the different production techniques that ConocoPhillips is using to move their company forward in the 21st century. Discussions of the use of alternative fuels took place with General Manager of Global Services Integration, Beth Heaton. Also presenting information about the ConocoPhillips Company was Tracy Harlow, Director of GSS Communications.


Thursday, November 17
Scribe: Brent Rendel

Tar Creek Superfund Site Tour - John Sparkman, Tar Creek Basin Steering Committee member and Picher Housing Authority Director

Mr. Sparkman presented a brief timeline history of the Tar Creek EPA-designated Superfund site. With a strong mining heritage, Picher, OK stands today with only a remaining population of around 1800 and is surrounded by over 45 million tons of lead and zinc mine tailing piles called “chat piles”. The ground below has over 300 miles of tunnels and is spread over a 45 square mile area. Sparkman pointed out that the area was listed at the top of the EPA clean-up list since the very beginning of the Superfund program in 1979. Initial efforts concentrated on water quality management efforts to divert contaminated mine water out of existing streams and rivers. That effort failed in all respects. In the mid-1980’s, a medical study began to reveal highly elevated lead levels in area school children. In response to that revelation, the EPA began a process to remediate yards and playgrounds to remove the lead contained in the soil, spending between $20,000 and $70,000 per yard. Their efforts did not address any solution for the lead exposure due to blowing dust off the numerous chat piles within the community. Since the initial Superfund designation, over 250 different studies have been conducted in the area and over $150 million has been spent on federal clean-up efforts. Current action at the state level has resulted in a buy-out program that successfully removed 55 families with young children from the area with a total cost of under $3 million.

Following a lively Q&A session, Mr. Sparkman lead the class on a tour to the top of one of the area chat piles located only 4 blocks from City Hall. The view from that pile presented a startling reality to everyone. Finally, we toured the Picher Mining Field Museum to grasp the full history of the Picher area.

Tour of J-M Farms - Virgil Jurgensmeyer, Terry Jurgensmeyer (Class X), Pat Jurgensmeyer (Class XI), and Scott Engelbrecht (Class XII)

The group was welcomed to J-M Farms founder Virgil Jurgensmeyer. Mr. Jurgensmeyer began his life with mushrooms as the head of Ralston Purina’s eastern U.S. fresh mushroom production division. Seeing a unique market opportunity and an ideal geographic location in northeast Oklahoma, he risked everything he owned to begin J-M Farms in 1979. From an initial target production of 2 million pounds per year of fresh mushrooms, the company has now grown to produce 25 million pounds per year! OALP Alums Terry (President) and Pat (Vice-President) Jurgensmeyer and current class member Scott Engelbrecht lead the group on a comprehensive tour of the farm complex. The tour showcased the complex process to turn other farmers by-products (wheat straw, cottonseed, and poultry litter to name a few) into rich compost that is the key to success in growing mushrooms. We saw all aspects of the growing process from composting and growing tray preparation, to planting the seed (spawning) all the way through to growing and harvesting. We also were shown the sophisticated identification system that allowed each box of mushrooms to be traced all the way back to the person who harvested them and from what room they were grown. Throughout the tour, the “out-of-the-box” attitude of the Jurgensmeyer’s could be seen and felt.

Lunch at The Coleman Theater

Dr. Mark Osborne – Tar Creek Basin Steering Committee

Dr. Osborne talked with the group during lunch as a follow-up to the morning tour of the Tar Creek Superfund site. He has been at the forefront in fighting to address the medical issues prevalent throughout the Picher area and has been recognized for his outstanding leadership by the Oklahoma medical community. He presented some stark facts about the impact of lead exposure on children and detailed some of his efforts to address the problems in northeast Oklahoma. Dr. Osborne clearly showed how one man can make a difference.

Barbara Smith – Director, Friends of the Coleman

Mrs. Smith welcomed OALP Class XII to Miami and to the Coleman Theater. Opened in 1929 by a wealthy mine owner named George Coleman, the theater fell into a rundown condition by the early 1980’s. In 1990, the property was given to the city of Miami, OK and a citizen group called “Friends of the Coleman” was formed to coordinate restoration efforts. Many original artifacts were recovered including the Wurlitzer organ (found in Texas) and the chandelier (found in the back of a local stable barn) have been fully refurbished and now have resumed their place of honor. Sitting directly on historic Route 66, the theater has now become a significant attraction for tourists from around the world seeking a glimpse of life from yesteryear.

E.F.I. – Steve and Scott Engelbrecht

In an effort to raise both mushroom production and quality in a very competitive market, J-M Farms began a program of “satellite” production where the process begins at the main facility, but then the growing trays are shipped out to contract growers for carefully managed production and harvesting. E.F.I. is one of those facilities. E.F.I. is housed in a series of custom-designed “hoop houses”. Steve and Scott showed the class how they carefully manage the whole growing and harvesting process to generate quality and efficiency. They start with quality training for new employees along with bonuses for superior performance and then equip them with the tools they need to reach peak performance. Due to the unique challenges of the new satellite growing/harvesting process, Steve and Scott have teamed with their harvesters to invent and perfect new picking racks. Throughout the tour, Steve and Scott emphasized the unique nature of the partnership between their company and J-M Farms and how that team effort ensured success for everyone.

Green Country Soil – Mike Peters, Operations Manager

In yet another example of one man’s trash becoming another man’s treasure, Mr. Peters showed the class how Green Country Soil converts used mushroom compost into a rapidly expanding potting soil and garden mulch business. Began in the early 1990’s, the company’s first year resulted in the sale of 75 semi-truck loads of product. Currently, Green Country Soil ships out over 5,000 loads per year using 5 production lines running all year around. They bag landscape rocks, topsoil, potting soil mix, garden mulch and a wide variety of other products with a goal of having over 30,000 pallets of product ready for shipment when spring arrives. They will ship around 80 semi-truck loads during a typical spring day. Additional demand for their high-quality product has resulted in the opening of a new production facility in Kansas City, which should add another 3000 truckloads of sales in 2006. With all of the heavy production and unavoidable noise and odor, Green Country Soil takes a proactive role in reaching out to neighbors in order to avoid conflicts. Whether they know it or not, homeowners throughout the American heartland are growing their plants and shrubs in the wheat straw, cottonseed, and poultry litter of Oklahoma farmers with a few composted Oklahoma-grown mushrooms thrown in for good measure.

J-M Foods – Michele Schumaker, J-M Farms Director for Quality Assurance and Steve Wright, Plant Manager, J-M Foods

Michele and Steve lead the class on a tour of the J-M Foods facility. J-M Foods specializes in bagged sliced apples and ready-to-eat vegetable and fruit trays. The business developed from the needs of the J-M Farms customers for a source of quality fresh pre-cut vegetables to go with the well-respected J-M mushrooms. Under the banner J-M Fresh, J-M Foods originally provided precut cabbage, lettuce, carrots, and other fresh salad vegetables. When competition from vegetable growing regions grew, the J-M team re-evaluated their role and gradually shifted to the current products of vegetable trays and sliced apples. With an ever-present eye on their customers and the realities of a vibrant marketplace, J-M continues to look ahead at what the next unfilled need will be and then strives to meet it ahead of their competition.

Dinner at the home of Pat (Class XI) and Tonya Jurgensmeyer

The day’s events concluded with a relaxing dinner in the splendid Jurgensmeyer home. After seeing the whole growing process, stuffed mushrooms anchored the charcoaled steak dinner cooked by a Miami men’s group appropriately called the A-Team.


Thursday, November 18
Scribe: Julia Laughlin

Our class visited the Bryan Poultry Farm. We were met by Steve Bryan, the owner of the farm and his son, Jason Bryan, who runs the farm with him. We were also met by Roy Ball, Craig Co. Extension agent and OALP Class VII member.

The Bryan’s are contract growers for the Tyson Corporation. They built their poultry facility, including heating, and provide the water and feed to the animals. They are also responsible for the litter. Tyson, as an integrator, supplies the chicks and the contract producer gets paid by the pound for the birds when they are harvested.

Tyson prefers that growers use “tunnel housing,” which is a new style of poultry housing that’s very damp and dark. The houses are cooled by exhausting all the air out of one end of the tunnel housing. Older facilities can be retrofitted.

Dead birds are composted with manure and straw, which heats to 170 degrees F. This compost can then be spread. The Bryans also spread the chicken litter on their pastures and are very happy with the results. Senate Bill regulates the use of litter as a fertilizer. Although “the jury is still out” regarding the tolerable soil Phosphorous rates related to poultry litter, Mr. Bryan believes that when properly managed, P is not an issue. He did state that large farms can cause a problem with P, but it could be worked out if litter could be moved to soil areas that need and use this much P. The problem is transportation. A new organization, “Poultry Partners,” which is made up primarily of poultry producers and agribusiness, are working to solve some of the problems associated with their industry.

The Bryan’s produce 5 and ½ flocks per year. This year Tyson raised their fuel allowance due to the increase in fuel costs associated with production.

Our next visit was to Johnston’s Port 33, a river business near the Port of Catoosa. We were met by the owners, Steve and Paul Johnston. The facility was originally used to transport coal, but after the 1980 coal strike a grain elevator was built for levy against the railroad systems. The Johnston’s leased the facility and then bought it in 1982.

The Core of Engineers made this channel and it includes 18 locks and dams and also allows “parking lots” for barges. It links the Mississippi river to the Port of Catoosa through the Arkansas and Verdigris rivers.

The port handles wheat, soybeans, grain sorghum, fertilizer, concrete clinkers, and petroleum “coke.” Grain is the only product they have ownership of. The grain is traded by factor, not grade. Their main grain customers are at least 100 miles away. They handle a maximum of 32 million bushels through the elevator in a year. Fifty percent of this is wheat.

The barges belong to different barge lines and the Johnston’s arrange freight payments with them. They do own their own line boats that service the barges. The barges are loaded to the 9 foot draft mark, which means they can sink 9 feet into the river when being loaded. They are loaded 1/3 on one end, then 1/3 in the middle, and the other 1/3 on the end to prevent folding.

Future plans are to deepen the river from 9 to 12 feet, which would allow more tonnage, and make Oklahoma more competitive with other states. This will be handled through the Core of Engineers and should begin soon.

We next traveled to the Tulsa Port of Catoosa where we were met by the Port Director, Mr. Bob Portiss. Mr. Portiss is involved in all aspects of the channel. He gave us a brief history of the Port.

In the 1940’s, after the Depression, the mid-west had a lot of heavy rainfall that caused flooding in NE Oklahoma. Our Senators asked Congress for 1.2 billion dollars to build dams and levies that would make the formerly landlocked Oklahoma connected with the waterways of the world. Other benefits of this program is that the state could harvest hydro-power, improved flood control and the creation of recreational water reservoirs, including Keystone and Eufala lakes.

They then formed a Tulsa area committee to research and commit to building a Port. They asked for and received 21 million dollars of state funding to accomplish this. This money was used to purchase 2000 acres of grazing land. The staff started out with 22 members, but is now down to 10.

The Board that directs the Port is made up of businessmen and now has 63 different industry facilities which employ more that 3600 people. Two million tons of cargo will pass through the Port per year. The facility has room to store 80K tons of dry bulk and 4.5 million bushels of grain storage.

Next we went to lunch at the Bailey Ranch Golf Course. The steak lunch was provided by the National Steak and Poultry Co. (NSP) and Tom Gardner of OALP Class X. During lunch we had a brief overview of the NSO. The company has been in service for 25 years, being in Owasso for the last 10. Their primary customer is the food service industry. They mainly provide sirloins that are between 4 oz. and 12 oz. Their steaks are hand cut, marinated in a vacuum tumbler and frozen. They have many types of marinades, including fajita. They buy their meat from packing houses and then process. They also do some fully cooked and other value added products.

Our class had a review and synthesis session and we adjourned shortly after 2 pm.