How Can You Farm Better Instead of Biggest?

Recently, I asked if farmland prices had surpassed the point of profitability.

The response was mixed — prices in some areas were listed as quite high, but often actual sales occurred at a lower, more manageable price. As balance, however, prices far beyond even the $15,000 an acre discussed have since been reported in areas of Ontario and the U.S. Midwest. Yes, it’s farmland, not development land. It’s enough to make your head whirl.

Which brings me to my next question: do you really need to expand your acres, or could you do a better job with what you’ve got?

There are such things as economies of scale, it’s true. That’s perhaps the first step in farming better, not biggest. While some expansion might need to happen to reach that sweet spot, continuing to add on to your land base without the man (or woman) power to cover it during the busy season is just going to set you back. There is such thing as spreading yourself too thin. Sure, you can hire help, but good help is hard to find and taking on employees or more employees always brings its own set of challenges.

There’s also the matter of timing. We often focus on the rush of seeding and harvest, but there are incremental gains to be made throughout the growing season that are highly dependent on timing. With a larger land base, can you get your pre-seed burn-off done in a timely fashion? Can you effectively scout establishment or early insect and disease threats? Are you hitting the ideal weed-free window? Missing it can cost you a bushel of corn a day, for example. What about fertility? If you top-dress N, can you get to the fields in time? Later in the season, are you missing the prime fungicide timing window by disease and crop? In short, if you’re farming more acres and pressed for time are you sacrificing yield potential?

I took to Twitter to ask the question: In light of high farmland values, what are you doing to farm better, not bigger? Here are some of the answers:

— Using precision ag
— Trimming debt
— More intensive land management, like tiling
— Incorporating fall seeded crops for time management
— Hiring custom operators and agronomists (it was noted that this doesn’t always work as they can also be very busy and pressed for time)

What would you add to the list?


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