|For What It's Worth|
|Reflecting Upon the Past, Getting “Lean” for the Future|
As we prepare to enter into a new year, it is a good idea to reflect upon the past and see what can be learned from it. Just about the time we think we have things figured out, our world seems to go crazy and throw surprises upon us. This last year we have seen fuel prices hit all time highs, then turn around and drop to more reasonable levels. Commodity prices for soybeans and corn have done the same. The stock market seems to have bottomed out only to turn around and set new records for trading highs. Fundamental industries like banks and insurance companies have folded due to bad business practices only to have the federal government jump in and bail them out. But enough about world crisis, let’s focus on farming. Talk about a crazy world, what about the cost of inputs like fuel, fertilizer and feed!
Due to record high operating costs and modest commodity prices, farming has become a serious business. As farm managers, it has become more important than ever we "tighten our belts," "trim the fat" and streamline our operations. For example, less time spent on a tractor, means less diesel fuel purchased; while more efficient use of legumes minimizes the need for fertilizer. Operating expenses affect all farms, whether they belong to large-scale producers or someone who "does it on the side" because they enjoy farming. All of us need to evaluate what is practical and efficient, adapt and implement, and continue to identify strategies to improve our operations and finances. In simple terms this is called "pondering and doing." Many farmers are good about such things, they stand there and stare at a field or their animals for the longest time, and just about the time you think they’ve "lost it," they come up with a profound idea. Or, they do it at local eating establishments where their fellow farmers congregate for breakfast or lunch. This is where they sit around a table, talk about situations or problems (while they eat), discuss how to resolve these predicaments, and then return back to their farms and get it done. In academic and business settings this same thing is often done during conference and meetings. But whether they accomplish anything is questionable; after all, insuring job security is essential.
During a recent conference, in which I was privileged to participate, Dr. Walt Prevatt (agriculture economist for Auburn University) shared some good ideas that can benefit any farming situations, but particularly livestock productions. He talked about high input and operating costs, the need for farmers to evaluate each component, prioritize their utility and then implement more efficient uses and practices. He called this "Farm Management Prioritization." Based upon my recollection, some of the concepts he shared included: (1) Establish goals and objectives. In other words, ask yourself what you want to accomplish on your farm and how you plan to do it. (2) Develop a fundamental record-keeping system for each enterprise that will allow you to track and evaluate expenses and yields, thereby putting you in a better situation to recognize opportunities for improvements and desirable production efficiencies. (3) Become a better manager of forages. Soil test annually to determine specific types and quantities of nutrients (N, P, K and lime) needed to improve soil conditions, thereby insuring they produce higher quantities and quality forages. (4) Learn to utilize legumes and lime for effective and efficient conditioning of soils which results in higher quality and quantities of forages. Legumes "fix" nitrogen in soil thereby reducing the need for purchasing nitrogen in commercial fertilizer. Lime "sweetens" the soil allowing forages to better "draw" nutrients, minerals and vitamins from their environment. (5) Implement and utilize rotational grazing. It encourages animals to graze upon the best quality forages and, in turn, the animals show their appreciation by evenly distributing free, quality fertilizer across all areas. (6) Herd management: a) select the most efficient animals for replacements (moderate frame and muscling, good genetic pedigree/performance of dam, acceptable reproduction measures, etc.) and b) cull the inefficient animals (not bred or breeding too late in the season, low production in relation to maintenance costs, defects, bad disposition, etc.). As Dr. Darrel Rankins (Animal Nutritionist for Extension) said, "Your animals need to be working for you. Any animals that do not meet production standards should leave the farm." Record keeping will allow you to set standards and verify quality versus substandard production.
The other idea Dr. Prevatt shared was encouraging farmers to sell unused farm equipment, especially farm equipment that is basically scrap metal. Scrap metal is bringing good prices at salvage businesses, and the monies received can be used to adapt and implement more efficient farm production practices.
Now is the time of year to reflect upon the past and look to the future as opportunities to make improvements. Don’t do like me and wait until the end of the year (tax time) to realize the amount of money spent on hay and feed. Due to the drought in 2007 and the first half of 2008, it was almost more economically feasible to feed grain feed to livestock rather than hay. Things changed during the summer of 2008; grains become more expensive and hay became more readily available (thanks to sufficient amounts of rain).
So, what did we learn? (1) We must continually evaluate our resources and make adjustments for more efficient inputs. (2) The reality is pastures for grazing are the most efficient source of nutrition and a balanced diet for livestock.
I hope this article provided you an opportunity to reflect and improve upon your farming situation. Thank you to my supporters over the past year and Happy New Year to all!!
Robert Spencer is a contributing writer from Florence.