Set goals, try small changes for your operation

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cows on pasture , dairy, farm bill,

How do you measure success? One definition of success is “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.”

Reflecting on your operation last year, how well did you meet your goals? If you did not have defined goals for you farm last year, I challenge you to set them this year.

A common goal would be to increase profit. Increasing profit is not the same as increasing yields or higher finish weights. High yields and high finish weights sound impressive, but you can go broke chasing them.

An operation may appear to be successful if you are gauging by gross profit, but it is important to look into other statistics like net profit or return on investment. The inputs to an operation matter. With the costs of fertilizer, feed and really everything rising, finding ways to adapt will be the key to success.

Record keeping

I want to make clear that I am, by no measure, a financial expert. I imagine many of you reading this aren’t either. But even from setting up a personal budget, or my work in water sampling, I have learned that record keeping is important.

I can’t know where to make budget cuts if I don’t know how much I spend in each category. I also can’t learn anything from water samples if I don’t record information, enter it into spreadsheets and evaluate it. I can’t know anything about my financial state if I don’t record, track and evaluate my spending and income. I find that I struggle with this.

I continually work at it, but I realize the importance of these tasks. I have had the privilege of working with several producers that have impeccable record keeping skills. I have no doubt that if I asked, they could easily tell me the net profit on each field. These records drive their management.

I have watched over the past few years the changes each one has made to their operations. They don’t seem to be afraid to make changes. I also see them experimenting on small scales and if successful, they make the changes on the whole operation. I have really admired the work and dedication that these producers put into their work.

Conservation practices

Something else I have noticed about these producers is that they are adopting conservation practices. Now, I realize that this is a biased observation, since I know these producers through my job at a soil and water conservation district and, therefore, because of their conservation practices. But I think they recognize something important.

Conservation practices can reduce inputs and improve the farm long term (long term investment). Rotational grazing, no-till and cover crops all improve soil health and fertility.

If we are talking about grazing or crops, the first place to start is a soil test. How do you know what your soil needs if you don’t soil test? If you don’t soil test, you are probably either wasting money or not maximizing productivity.

Weeds and locked up nutrients are all issues of pH. So don’t guess, soil test.

Cover crops can reduce your fertilizer costs. Planting no-till can reduce your passes on a field, reducing fuel costs and wear and tear on equipment. Rotational grazing can increase the amount of forage. The long and the short of it is this: If you work with the environment instead of against it, you will save money.

The catch

There is a catch. The keys to implementing conservation practices are change, time, patience and determination. I don’t know about you, but I can struggle with all four.

Change can be hard. If you have done something one way for years, it can be hard to realize you need to change, let alone actually do it. More intensive management may take more time and planning — heavy on the planning.

Patience and determination kind of go together. You may not always see the benefits of a change right away. Things like building organic matter take time, and sometimes there are kinks in the system to work out.

You need patience to see results and dedication to not throw in the towel if there are hiccups or you aren’t seeing result right away. I have found that if I truly believe in and want something, I find the time, I have the patience and determination, and I make the change.

As you reflect on last year, I challenge you to set goals for your operation this year and consider conservation practices. You don’t have to drastically change your operation overnight — unless you want to and are able. You can start with small changes, experiments if you will.

I have only just touched on the benefits of conservation practices; I encourage you into researching ways conservation can help your bottom line. New management practices may be exactly what you need to increase your profit and can be part of the success of your operation.

If you find yourself with questions or wanting to speak with other producers who are doing a particular practice, reach out to your local soil and water district. They will be able to connect you with vast resources and support you if you decide to make a change or try something new.

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Kristy Dickey is the Watershed Specialist for Harrison and Carroll Soil and Water Districts. She has a bachelor in Conservation Biology from Kent State University. She can be reached at either 740-942-8837 or 330-627-9852, or by email at kdickey@harrisoncountyohio.org.

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