We’re coming into the lull—that time between last year’s harvest and this year’s planting, where many farmers are thrilled to have a little breathing room, but are already chomping at the bit to get rolling again. So, while it’s still too cold to get out in the fields, what should you be doing right now to plan well for next season?
Here are a few ideas for how to spend the winter months preparing for next season:
Crunch the old numbers.
Take some time to look over, and really understand, your numbers from last year. Make note of the areas where you spent money that increased yield, and where you spent money that didn’t. Knowing your budget on a field-by-field basis can help you make better decisions for the upcoming season.
Make the new budget.
Once you have a handle on where your wins were last year (and why), you can pull together your budget for next season. Seed, ag chem, and fertilizer will be major players, and crop insurance, land payments and equipment costs should all get a line as well. But don’t forget to include the potential spends you’re thinking about, but haven’t settled on, such as a late-season fungicide shot, or an emergency insecticide pass.
Consider what will it take to maximize profits and yields. Don’t get hung up on how to put in the cheapest crop.
Lay out your grain marketing strategy.
Budgeting and marketing are two sides of the same coin. Once you’ve established a budget, you have a baseline for how you should approach marketing your crop. Consider all your possible delivery points and contract options. Take advantage of your on-farm storage capabilities, if you have them, to get the best prices outside the harvest delivery window.
Check the equipment.
Since it’s probably been a full season since you used it, now would be an excellent time to give your planting equipment a good once-over. Think back to any issues or breakdowns you had last year, and make sure they’re resolved before your planter hits the field. Calibrate your meters to ensure proper singulation and plant spacing. Almost all of what you can control about yield happens before the planter leaves the field, so give yourself every opportunity for success.
Make a rough schedule for the full crop-production year.
Consider all your factors, estimate the time you will need to tackle them, and when you want to start and complete them. From reviewing equipment capacity, field locations, hybrid and variety maturities, to buying chemicals, applying a starter fertilizer, scouting and spraying, and more. Make a rough, season-long schedule that allows you to maximize your planting, in-season and harvest windows.
Remember to be flexible.
At the end of the day, farming happens outdoors, and we can’t control environmental conditions. While having a precise plan is essential to having a successful season, we never know when Mother Nature may have something else in mind. Start the season with best-made-plans, but expect to pivot when necessary; being prepared to make changes can help you manage through a whirlwind season.