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Surviving Hard Times Part II
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Last week’s column addressed soil testing as a way to increase efficiency and optimize fertilizer input costs. This week will tackle other decisions producers make to wisely use inputs and manage the cost of inputs. Those not involved in production agriculture sometimes don’t really understand that as much time goes into planning, book and record keeping, and managing finances as goes into the actual production of crops.
• Crop Selection – This may seem obvious but it would be beneficial to examine the distribution of acreage based upon projected weather patterns, crop prices and input costs. It can be a bit like playing whack-a-mole at times but important in trying to maximize revenue and minimizing costs. Wheat is already in the ground but summer crops are yet to be determined. And there are market tools such as futures, calls, and puts that can help in this area.
• Input Costs – Currently prices of many fertilizers are well below last year’s highs. Once a producer has determined his crops, acreage, and realistic yield goals, he or she can determine the approximate amount of total nutrients needed for the crop. Then many fertilizers can be purchased now for much lower prices than when demand increases. The same can be done for herbicides if the price is attractive.  And if convinced fuel prices are about as low as they will go, the same can be done for fuel.
• Maintenance and Repairs – During winter, business at farm machinery business tends to slow down. As a result, specials and discounts are offered to repair and overhaul equipment. There are often price breaks for parts. As a result, many producers have maintenance and repairs performed for lower prices. The other advantage of having equipment in the best shape possible is minimizing downtime and maximizing the time in the field which translates into timely operations, less wasted time, and often improved yields.
• Crop Monitoring – After you have done all the previous items mentioned the last two weeks and the crop is in the ground, one of the best ways to increase efficiency and optimizing production is for regular crop monitoring for nutrient status, pest pressures, and other stresses such as soil moisture. This can be performed by the producer, a crop consultant, an agronomist for companies such as co-ops. Irrigation is expensive, even with lower energy prices. A good irrigation scheduling protocol optimizes water use, minimizes waste, and for certain operations actually increase yield by eliminating overwatering. Pests can significantly decrease yield and/or quality so regular scouting can prevent economic loss. Monitoring nutrient status is similar in that for many nutrients, not all, plant tissue sample can allow deficiencies to be addressed that will lower yields.
As always this column ends with the words, “Naturally there is more and this is just a partial list.”  We could have added new technologies and alternative markets to the list along with many other potential ways to increase efficiencies.