Forage quality starts with the planning process

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Last summer while making farm calls on some of the best farms with hay producers in my area, I decided to ask each farmer what was the most important thing or things that made them stand out. What made the difference for them compared to their friends and neighbors? While each of them humbly said they weren’t really qualified to answer, that was just the answer I expected since each of them are really good at what they do. They still didn’t have all the answers. They knew that there’s always something that can be done to improve their operation, no matter how good you are.

You might ask yourself the same question about what can be done to improve the quality of forages from your operation. The answer isn’t an either/or answer, but an overall attitude about the jobs that are done each and every day. For those producers that excel, the difference is the ability to pay attention to detail.

Paying attention to the details is essential in every part of the process to have the potential for high quality forages. It starts with good planning and follow-through for all phases of production. Stand establishment, good soil fertility, harvesting at the right time, correct storing of forage and proper feedout all need attention to detail. If poor planning and follow-through occurs at any of the stages, the result is often poor quality forage. Once the window of opportunity is past, you can’t go back and change the outcome.

To put this into perspective, let’s evaluate what it might mean in terms of income for an operation that pays attention to detail. The table below contains data taken from the Michigan State University Extension Michigan Cash Grain Farm Business Analysis Summary of net farm income per year from MSU’s Department of Agriculture, Food, and Resource Economics. You can see how management ties into the bottom line. The data was for all farm sizes.

Several example years from MSU Extension Michigan Cash Grain Farm Business Analysis Summary of net farm income $/year, Department of Ag Economics. Values in parentheses are negative farm income. High 25%, low 25% and average of all farms summarized are shown.

Net farm income $/year

Year

Ave. all farms

Low 25%

High 25%

1996

$7,292

$(102,384)

$120,444

2000

$19,003

$(80,687)

$112,085

2002

$(2,178)

$(125,218)

$103,622

2007

$164,776

$18,050

$279,390

2011

$185,650

$36,167

$238,220

Average

$74,909

$(50,815)

$170,753

The numbers point out the difference between the top 25 percent of farms compared to the bottom 25 percent of farms. While every year is different and the level of income can vary greatly, the cream rises to the top right along with incomes. How a producer manages farm assets can make a great difference in profit and loss.

My encouragement for all forage producers is to take the time to plan for the new crop year and list the top areas that need improvement. What changes can be made to make incremental changes? Write them down, keep them in front of you during the year and make a conscious effort to improve. Even small changes can have a dramatic effect on the bottom line.



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