December 18, 2003: December, a month of check lists.
Sure. There are the shopping lists, the holiday gathering
lists, and the general “things to do to get ready"
lists. But December is also a time to make a list of all the
winterizing chores, gather together a winter projects list
(always longer than the winter), and formulate a list of decisions
that need to be made related to changes in your farming system.
One of the items that needs to be on the top of your list
is to get your seeds ordered early. This is especially true
if you need organic or untreated seed. Most suppliers need
to know how much seed to set aside from seed coat treatment
as soon as possible and usually there is limited supply. If
you plant specific varieties of hard to find items, this becomes
even more critical. While you may still be reeling from the
2003 growing season and the pain has not yet subsided, force
yourself to look at your plans for the 2004 season and place
the order. Then you can relax, knowing that at least the seed
for the future is on its way.
Next on the list is to get those certification records in
order. Now, while the past growing season is still fresh in
your mind, is the best time to organize all your information
and maybe fill in the blanks where something slipped through
the cracks during the rush of crop production. The better
organized you are now, the easier it will be when the certification
inspector stops by.
High on the list on this farm is the winterization of the
machinery and equipment. The irrigation system needs to be
drained down and protected from freeze damage. All the radiators
need to be checked in the trucks and tractors, the tanks on
the transplanter drained and checked – and the list
goes on. Here is a prefect example of how true the old saying
is, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
A little time spent going over the water and cooling systems
can save costly expenses in the future.
While you’re doing it, take an extra minute and start
that winter projects list. Look over the tractor or equipment
and write down anything that’s broken, worn, or needs
repair. This is the start of that never ending project list.
This winter I plan on rebuilding a small two row planter into
a four row no-till unit. We need to repair the disc, fix the
cultimulcher, service all the tractors, weld up the mower,
repair the hydraulics on the combine, put new sweeps on the
cultivator, and the list goes on and on. Just about everything
could use some attention.
Now comes the toughest list of all. How can we improve on
what we did last year? This list takes a lot more time and
thought. It’s probably good to involve all those who
have an interest in the success of your farm in this process.
From family members and ag advisors to bankers and sales folks,
there is a wealth of information out there to help steer your
operation. Take advantage of all the resources.
I know that, for myself, the items on this list come in different
sizes. For example, a small item on my list is to change my
soybean variety to take advantage of some new data that indicates
there are different responses between soybean varieties and
their ability to outperform weeds. While this may be a small
decision, the results could be large in terms of increased
yields and greater revenues. There are intermediate decisions,
like crop rotation changes or building modifications to ease
livestock management. And then there are some larger items
on the list, like adding new ventures, expanding to more acreage
or, for me, reevaluating the farm’s entire apple marketing
strategy to try and put that program in the black.
Here is a case for some outside support and advice. What
are those big changes you are contemplating? How will they
affect the existing farm structure? Any changes you plan to
make should be spelled out in your organic farm plan. If you
write these plans down you’ll be all set for filling
out your certification documents as well. Often it is difficult
to take an objective view of your own farm operation to see
what really is and isn’t working. What works great on
one farm doesn’t work at all on another. So, you really
need to take a hard look at what you are doing and why …
and some outside insight wouldn’t hurt.
Getting back to those apples: I’m leaning towards a
greater emphasis on the direct marketing end of things and
expanding our pick-your-own market. This really gets to the
heart of why we grow apples in the first place. It also saves
me the time of harvesting those apples, and fits well with
our other direct marketing plans. Oh well, this needs more
Now – What to put on that Christmas list?
From One Farm To Another ---- Have a Joyful Christmas Season