With the cost of fuel and commodity prices rising, farmers must look at all aspects of their farm to minimize costs and maximize their bottom line. What better place to start than with the things that you can control? Making small, low- cost adjustments to your farming operation could result in more efficiency and profitability. Potential changes might be enhancing your current grazing system, direct marketing your farm products or putting together a business plan for your operation.
For those farmers that are using pasture fields, I ask you, “Are you maximizing the full potential of your pastures?” For many, I would probably say, no. With continuous grazing, a common practice in Fulton County, livestock have access to one large pasture field, which overtime, usually results in a vegetative cover of less-desirable species. When livestock graze without restrictions, they eat the most palatable forage first. Less desirable plants that are not eaten mature and go to seed and as a result, undesirable plants increase and desirable plants are eliminated, reducing the quality and quantity of available forage.
Pasture fields can be a farmer’s best friend in reducing forage and commodity costs, but only if they are maintained and managed well. Rotational grazing establishes a sequence of paddocks. A paddock is grazed and then rested as livestock are moved to a different paddock. This rest period allows plants to recover before they are grazed again. It is quite possible to double the forage productivity on a given acreage with a change from continuous grazing to a managed rotational grazing system. There is considerable profit potential for producers willing to commit to an initial capital investment and increased management time.
Another way to increase an operation’s bottom line is through direct marketing of farm products. Direct marketing has the obvious advantage in that you can increase the value of your product by eliminating or taking over common “ middle man” services. There are several approaches to direct farm marketing. Participating in farmers markets is one alternative. Farmers markets are appealing in that each grower can specialize in a particular product and not be as involved in marketing activities as other direct marketing alternatives. A farmers market emulates many of the characteristics of a competitive market with numerous buyers and sellers gathered at a central location. Prices must be competitive with what other growers are offering, but are still generally above wholesale prices. Another alternative, “Upick,” has an advantage in that you do not have to pay a large crew of seasonal workers to harvest your crop and you can generally receive a price that is above what brokers will pay. With direct farm marketing, it is clear that any farmer, if they are willing to put forth the time and effort, could increase the farm’s bottom line dramatically.
These ideas are great and could improve the profitability and productivity of your operation, but before you go too far, you should consider developing a business plan for your operation. Why, you ask? A business plan is a blueprint for your operation. You would not just start nailing boards together if you wanted to build a house, so why would you do the same with your business? It is a good idea to put everything down on paper and work through your ideas and thoughts. A business plan for any business will change over time as the business develops, and a business may have multiple business plans as its objectives change. Here are four good reasons to develop a business plan for your operation:
To test the feasibility of your business idea.
To give your business the best possible chance of success.
To secure funding, such as bank loans.
To make business planning manageable and effective.
To learn more about rotational grazing, direct farm marketing and farm business plans, join in on Friday, June 17, from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Lance and Carri Younker’s Dairy Farm, located at 829 Barnetts Run Road, Warfordsburg, Pa. Please RSVP to the Fulton County Conservation District by June 10 by calling, 717-485-3547, Extension 116 or visit the district’s Web site, fultoncountyconservationdistrict.org to register. Lunch will be provided. Other potential topics to be discussed may include drill calibration and the importance of soil and manure testing.