Winter farm planning guide: plan for success next season during winter
Wednesday, December 1, 2021
If we were asked to describe farming, then predictable and stable would be the last words to use, rather volatile would be the adjective.
Farming as a business has many external factors that are out of the farmer’s control span — the weather conditions, environmental impact, market prices, product supplier offering as well as regulations and inspections.
These factors are to blame not only for adding the unpredictability in farming but also for the fact that farmers quite often hate the word “planning”. How often do you think that “how am I supposed to plan, let alone stick to the plan when all these factors will make changes anyways”?
A good plan is work half done, as the saying goes. Even though it might seem pointless to plan the season, tasks, and products, it is indeed important to do so. The plans will surely be altered but having a plan in place will make it easier to make smarter decisions once the change needs to be done. Also, the more things get planned in the low season, the more gets done in the high-season.
Farm Planning Guide During Winter
In this winter farm planning guide, we explain why it is essential for farmers to plant their crops, tasks, and financials. This guide will also give more insight on why it is important to have an effective system for recording the farm data. After reading this farm planning guide you should have a clearer view of why the concept of planning in farming is not one to loathe and fear.
Assessing the current state of the farm
Before diving into the planning section of this farm planning guide for the winter, you should first assess the current resources of your farm. This way whatever your plan for the future, it will be based on the real situation on the farm instead of guesswork.
Before any planning is done, assessing your natural, labour, technical, and financial resources is a must. When it comes to natural resources, you should assess your fields — what is the state of the soil in each field, what were the crops growing there the previous season, what was the yield, and what is needed to make the soil healthier.
You should review your workforce and determine how efficiently they have been working in the past and what their actual capabilities are, both time and money-wise. Further, you must look at your machinery — is it in a good working state, can you work your fields with the machinery you have, and what kind of problems might arise.
Finally, you should also consider your financials — what are your financial obligations, and how much income you should generate to cover your expenses and generate profit and reinvest in the farm.
This evaluation will help you to determine the weaknesses and strengths of your farm. You might discover some troubling things, but it is better to do it before the season starts and hedge the potential risks in advance. This might sound like a difficult process, but it is worth the effort. After all, it is just like any other business — trying to achieve the maximum results with limited resources.
It is essential to allocate the resources wisely and analyse your previous results, which, in turn, will make you learn from your mistakes and improve every year. Once you are done with assessing the current state of the farm, let’s dive into the actual planning part.
Farm planning is a real art. You have to be able to juggle between crops, field needs, market conditions, your labour and capital, as well as financial situation.
Crop planning is at the core of your business
A crop plan is one of the essentials in farming. Not only does it help with planning the season but also can be used as a tool for hedging and eliminating risks, improving logistics, and making sure the farm has resources for executing the crop plan efficiently. A crop plan also makes decision-making easier which can ultimately lead to improved productivity. Of course, the crop plan will be changed and adjusted as the seasons go but having it in place will remove a great amount of stress and chaos.
A crop plan should start with knowing what crops have been on the fields for at least five seasons prior. This is where a good system of farm data collection is essential. By knowing the previous crops, one can already determine the agronomical needs and work towards developing an agronomically sustainable crop rotation.
Crop rotation as a practice is as old as farming itself and is a major part of a crop plan yet often gets overlooked because of short term good. In the long term, a good crop rotation plan will not only improve your soil and increase yield but also help you hedge the risks and, of course, ease the decision making.
When making a crop plan and assigning crops to fields, do take into account logistics. If you plan your crops smart enough, then you can save loads of money on machinery and labour costs.
For example, if you can spray or harvest a certain number of hectares per day, then it makes sense to plan your crops so that the same crops are in field blocks close to each other. Then the worker does not have to spend time driving from one field to the next that is a long distance away.
Some grant rules or other regulations as for having a specific percentage of one crop family on the fields every year which can also be accounted for in the crop plan. When it comes to altering crop plans, you should also consider various external factors, for example, market needs and weather conditions. Other alterations might be caused by some internal factors that appear during task planning.
Action plan: Gather information about all your fields – what crops have been growing there for the past 5 years. Then start planning the crop rotation and assigning crops to fields, taking into account the status of the soil.
Planning tasks ahead creates direction when mapping goals
Task planning goes hand-in-hand with crop planning. It is essentially your action plan for making your crop plan come true. Once you have set the crops for the year, you should start planning the tasks that you will need to do, to accommodate the needs of the crops.
What kind of materials and products I am sure I will need during the season? What are the cultivation and nutritional needs of the soil for my planned crops to be successful? Do I have enough manpower to execute my plan? Do I have the machinery to finish all the work on time? Will I have enough drying facilities or storage space to successfully deal with the planned production?
There are two types of tasks to plan. First you need know the tasks that are done every year on every field. Then there are also running tasks that come up during the season and cannot be predicted, like, crop protection.
When making the task plan, it is impossible to plan to the minute, but some tasks can be planned with no specific date. For example, if you have made the crop plan and also have the soil sample analysis, you can plan the sowing tasks and fertilisation. You also definitely know that the crops will need to be harvested at some point. You also know when the monitoring will be done.
Task planning is also important because in this way you can spot flaws in your crop plan. For example, you might discover, that with your machinery resources, there is no way to finish harvesting on time if you have the planned amount of one type of crop. When planning your crops, you should be aware of the harvest windows, dryer capacity, and storage space. Another benefit of timely planning is that during the offseason, you can order many products and seeding material for lower prices.
Action plan: Start by making some blueprint of the tasks that you know for sure will be done and adjust as you go.
Smart budgeting decisions sets you up for profitability
Before we talk about financial planning, let us remind you about the very first step of this winter farm planning guide — current situation assessment. Any plan starts with assessing what is the state at this very moment. From there, it is possible to determine probable scenarios and opportunities to develop.
The main decisions in the farm are made by analysing the past season. And a good foundation for a successful financial year is a stress-tolerant budget plan. In farming, the budget is ideally based on the harvest year — from the moment the first crops are sown until they are harvested. The budget should include all the financial flows, from planned costs to planned incomes.
The costs often are tied to the crop and task plans. For example, once you have the crop plan ready, you know how much seed will be needed, what might be the fertiliser needs to reach the planned yield, and thus can calculate the costs.
Similarly, by multiplying the planned yield by expected grain price (or the fixed price), you can arrive at the planned revenue. Various positions of the budget plan can be forecasted before the season starts. Hence, you can make better decisions along the way.
Producing your budget will show you whether the harvest year is to be profitable or not and will assist you when making adjustments to your crop plan to reach the optimal result and long-term sustainability.
A detailed budget gives you more control over you farm financial situation. It also allows to follow through the season to reach the highest efficiency when planning resources — from seeds and materials to labour and financial obligation payments.
Furthermore, having a solid budget is well-liked by the banks. It provides an important part of the financial detail required when applying for a loan and generally makes the whole process of negotiating with banks run smoother, with a higher likelihood of getting your application accepted on acceptable terms.
Action plan: Start with a crop plan and note down the expected yield. Later, move on to estimating your income and costs that would occur when executing the crop plan. Do not be afraid to make changes in your existing crop and task plans. Only by playing around with various scenarios, you will arrive to the best fit to your farm.
Measure efficiency and progress by tracking farm information
Recoding the farm data is essential for various reasons. Not only will it help with making the reports for government but it will also make your planning easier, provide you with possibility to analyse your data, and make better decisions that are based on the real situation in your farm and can be justified with your data.
A field map overview is useful when analysing historical field data for farm management.
Keeping farm records is an essential part of an organised business. It saves time, reduces uncertainty and prevents mistakes. Farmers have a variety of choices on what to use as their data collection method — from paper notebooks and electronic spreadsheets to advanced computer software.
Data recording is an essential part at any time of the season for you to be a successful farmer. There must be well-maintained farm records that in the long run will bring profit and ensure the development of your farm.
First of all, some data recording is required by the law, like field diary and fertilisation plan. By recording the tasks done on the field, product application rates and other information, the field diary will take almost no time to complete. Unexpected inspections will be much less stressful, and you will always be ready to report to the controlling institution.
Second, you need to have some farm data recorded to assess your current state and plan for the future. Only with real data can you do some reasonable and accurate forecasting. It is also a good way to learn from your past mistakes and successes by analysing the data — comparing the yield of different fields, the effectiveness of different products etc.
Third, when it comes to financials, it is important to keep track of all incoming and outgoing transactions. This is so that at any stage, you can precisely tell what is or is not possible financially.
Finally, the more data you have at hand, the better plans and decisions you can make. However, for it to be possible, you must do it effectively. Large amounts of disorganised information will make more noise than provide actual help, therefore, it is understandable that you have not started doing it if all information is scattered around paper notes and multiple folders in your computer’s hard drive.
Stay on top of your farm by planning and assessing during the slow winter months. Start planning in the winter in 5 steps:
Review the current state of your farm – look into the current natural, labour, technical, and financial resources to get a grasp of your baseline status.
Devise a crop plan – take stock of previous crops and the fields they were cultivated in.
Manage tasks with a plan – Anticipate how the season progresses by managing responsibilities needed for your goals from the get-go.
Budget allocation – A financial plan should include all the financial flows, from planned costs to planned incomes.
Collect and analyse farm data – Consult your farm records. Learn from your past oversights and accomplishments to make forecasting more accurate and reliable.
About the authors
Simon Boughton, Agronomical advisor at eAgronom
Agronomist with more than 40 years of experience. Has consulted and managed farms in the UK, Ukraine, Russia, Hungary and Estonia. Currently working as an agronomical advisor for eAgronom clients.
Stephen Walker, Agronomical advisor at eAgronom
Agronomist with more than 30 years of experience. Has consulted and managed farms in the UK, Ukraine and Russia. Currently working as an agronomical advisor for eAgronom clients.
Guntis Trupavnieks, Agronomist and eAgronom sales representative
A farmer in five generations. Has studied Agricultural Economics in Denmark, later worked as manager-agronomist in both conventional and organic farms in Latvia. Has gained experience as seed production manager in Lithuania. Currently working as a sales representative for eAgronom.
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