The month of December is a great time to plan. We have the opportunity to make changes to the 2010 year and plan for 2011. When I think of 2010, two things come to mind for me. First, what worked and what went wrong? Next, is there anything that can be done to improve the operation for this year? What worked and what went wrong?
For many of us, forages were a mixture of boom and bust this year. The first part of the growing season was ideal. Ample moisture in the spring allowed for ideal growth, hay yield was good and for some, quality was there.
Once we got into July, the spigot turned off for many. In Morgan County, areas received less then 2 inches of rain from July through October, depleting pastures, water supplies and forcing the use of hay before expected.
Now is time to assess your stored feed supplies for the winter to determine if you will have enough. If you do not, what are your options? Are there any standing forages that can still be grazed without damaging the soil? Is there any harvested forage residue such as corn stalks that can still be grazed?
If feed supplies will still be short, what can you do? Are there some animals that are not as productive that can be culled? If feed needs to be purchased, compare feed on an equal footing.
For example, a pound of corn has twice the energy as common hay and can replace a portion of a diet of a ruminant animal. Even at $5.50 a bushel, corn is a viable option. For many without adequate ground water or public water, the long dry period was a challenge.
For many in rolling Appalachian foothills, springs have been the primary source of water. Over the past 50 years, these springs have been developed and many farms have no more to tap.
After a dry year like this, we need to be prepared for more seasons like we had. Are there any options? On my farm, the last option I have is to develop a pond and have a water tank available for livestock as all of my springs have been developed.
Is there anything we can do for this year? This is where we need to check finances and our inventory. We still have time to affect our bottom line for 2010.
Is there any equipment that needs to be purchased or replaced? Tax laws are favorable for depreciating equipment this year and there may be some great deals purchasing now versus next spring or summer. Can you prepay for some inputs this year such as fertilizer or seed? Are there some unproductive animals that may be sold to generate additional income if needed?
Now is the time to set goals for 2011. As I mentioned in an article last year, goals are set each year to provide a benchmark for measuring your success. They are SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, rewarding and timed.
If you identified goals for 2010, now is a great time to see if they were achieved. I did achieve goals of putting up more hay (and I am glad I did as the dry weather forced me to feed hay earlier than planned and pastures did not stockpile very well this fall), and helping my sons with their 4-H projects. I did not achieve a goal of adding another paddock.
If goals were not achieved this year, why? Can they be modified and accomplished next year? If you have some time, consider what some the longer term objectives for your family and operation. This will help you identify some goals for 2011 to achieve those plans.
For example, if you have been considering an estate plan for your farm, make it a goal for next year. Several years ago, this became a goal for me and my wife and we identified what we had in mind then picked a time to see an attorney, then followed through. Now it is complete (it still may need to be revised as conditions change).
Some other goals could be reseeding a field, adding paddocks, improving genetics of the herd or flock, developing new marketing strategies or taking a trip with the family (take your Farm & Dairy and take a picture!)
If you set your goals now, you can have a more focused plan for what you want to achieve in the next year. Don’t forget to receive input from family members and employees so everyone is on the same page.
Finally, when I set my goals, I try to divide them into no cost, low cost and high cost; and how much time they will take. This seems to help in the process of prioritizing goals.
(Chris Penrose is an OSU Extension Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources and 4-H Youth Development in Morgan County. Questions or comments can be sent in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem OH 44460.)