Don't Paralyze Your Farm Management With Too Much Caution

Husker Home Place

Management paralysis is an affliction that hits many farmers when we just don't know how to proceed.

Published on: April 1, 2013

Last summer, my wife and I were forced to sell off most of our cowherd. Granted, our herd wasn’t anything special. It wasn’t very large by most Sandhills ranch standards. However, we had spent much of our married lives working to improve our genetics, disposition standards and health of the cows and their potential offspring. It was a labor of love, and many of those cows were very important to us personally, and financially.

Because of my attachment to the herd, and because I just didn’t know what to do in the face of such extreme drought conditions, I waited to sell the cows. My caution, in hopes of the coming of a mythical “saving rain,” lost us a bucket load of money in the long run. I sold my cows precisely when everyone else was selling their herds off. The cow price was at least $150 per head less than it had been a month earlier. I pulled the trigger too late.

SELLING OFF THE GOOD ONES: It was tough to sell off some of these cows last summer, but I would have made more by pulling the trigger sooner.
SELLING OFF THE GOOD ONES: It was tough to sell off some of these cows last summer, but I would have made more by pulling the trigger sooner.

Hindsight is pretty clear, and we can always second-guess ourselves, but this example is a glowing instance when “management paralysis” caused us to lose potential income. I can think of hundreds of instances when grain prices have spiked up, and, in hopes of garnering even greater profits, I refused to sell a single bushel. Then, I wound up taking much less as the prices dipped back down again, and I watched them fall without making a sale. I know that I’m not alone out there.

Grazing specialist, Pat Reece, talked about management paralysis last fall when he was talking with farmers and ranchers about their grazing plans for late fall and winter under extreme drought conditions. He made the point that sometimes, because we don’t know what to do, we allow ourselves to be paralyzed, not making decisions in a timely fashion and not taking the bull by the horns, so to speak, to help our operations.

Looking back, in more recent years with grain sales, I have marketed incrementally, taking advantage of rising prices on the way up. I never hit the peak, but I usually do better than when I waited for the top price for the whole works. I should have taken this approach with the cows last summer, selling off culls earlier, and holding my best cows. The outcome would have been the same, but I would have made more on those early sales, and it would have allowed me time to get used to the idea of selling them.

Here is this week’s multiple choice discussion question for you. When faced with the toughest challenges and decisions on the farm, how do you handle it? Let us know what you think works best for you and why.

1) Make a decision and never look back. Move on.

2) Explore my options, gather as much information as I can, talk it over with my wife and partners, and choose the best option available.

3) Do whatever my neighbor does.

4) Find out what my neighbor is doing, and do the opposite.

5) Fret about the decision, delay it as long as possible. Take action too late and second-guess the outcome. (What I did last summer.)

6) A combination of the above.

Be sure to watch Nebraska Farmer online and read our upcoming April print issue of Nebraska Farmer for news, information and tips on meeting the challenges of drought. Your best online resource for drought information is the Farm Progress drought site at Dateline Drought. And watch this blog the last Friday of the month for my new “Field Editor’s Report” featuring the positive stories about the families who raise our food. Pass it on!