Doing More with the Right Amount

Farmer Iron

Judging equipment needs is no easy task, but four 'non-normal' years have probably helped force you in new directions.

Published on: July 18, 2011

It's hard to pile up the weather like we've seen in farm country over the past four years - and this is on a national basis. From monsoon-like rains to desert heat and dryness - farmers have proven they can produce no matter what Nature throws at 'em. And that may also challenge your equipment ownership strategy.

The current rule of thumb is enough planting power to get a crop in the ground in about four weeks in a 'normal' year (defined as standard rain timings, etc.). And for harvest, the rule is two months (same 'normal' rules apply). If you're equipment allows you to beat those numbers you may be "over-machined." Not able to do that when everything goes right, and it may be time to consider some upgrades.

These rules of thumb are great ways to benchmark your operation. If you're hitting the target - on average - you're in good shape. If not, whether over or under, re-evaluating your equipment needs can make you money. The challenge is that whole non-normal thing.

The experts know you only get one payday as a cash grain farmer - harvest time. But to get that payday you need to be sure spring goes right. It isn't easy when Nature decides to hammer you with her worst.

However, the non-normal years are great ways to evaluate needs too. As July progresses - and you catch up on herbicide and fungicide applications (I'm still seeing a lot of weedy fields even at this late date); you can also start thinking about how planting really went. And that may mean thinking out of the box.

For example, was there a tillage pass you didn't make? Evaluate that field this fall to see if you really needed the pass.

Just couldn't cover the acres you needed to daily when the weather was great? Perhaps it's time to move up from that 12-row planter to 16 or even 24.

These are capital purchase decisions that aren't easy to make. Yet continuous self-evaluation of your farm's management and processes can help you keep improving. You only get 40, or so, times to get this right. Constant improvement is part of the game.

And as you evaluate equipment, consider your agronomy practices too. Do you need to rip in the fall? Would a strip-till approach in the fall followed by planting in spring be better? What about cover crops? As silt moves from farm to river there's going to be more pressure on farmers to keep soil on their land. I know heavy rains at the worst possible time can make everyone look bad - and that happened this year. But consider your topsoil management strategy too.

I had the pleasure to conduct some informal farm tours lately, where I often learn as much about issues from a consumer's perspective as I do from the farmer's. One factor that jumped out on all the tours was interest in the equipment you use - it's the tangible, touchable part of your business.

And there was some surprise at the cost of the equipment, you have a lot invested here. Machinery assets are going to be an increasingly hot topic. Yet you still have to produce a crop in an efficient and timely manner - and the newest tools make that possible.

This crop season has been more of a roller coaster ride with more downs than ups, but as harvest approaches the genetics and your management expertise is likely to shine through - if you got the rain you needed. It'll be time to evaluate that harvest process and keep thinking about the best way to move a crop from seed to harvest in your business.

And consider that new technology is on the way - we've started hearing about plenty - that you'll see more of starting this fall. Stay tuned.