The early bird catches the worm is a saying that also applies to farming. Farmers often miss great opportunities to save costs or to seize the moment and achieve good profits.
Sometimes farmers experience great losses in terms of damage to natural resources, such as soil erosion during a heavy rainstorm, because they forgot the important principle that prevention is better than cure.
Being proactive means planning ahead and performing certain activities well in advance of one or more main events. In grain production, this is a crucially important aspect of management.
The cropping calendar on your farm should dictate all the activities of your enterprise. The ideal planting date, a main event on your farm, might be on 1 May, if you plan to plant wheat or on 1 November in the case of a summer crop. Most of your planning and preparation in the months before planting will revolve around these dates. Always thinking ahead is the name of the game.
CHECKLIST: WHAT TO DO WELL IN ADVANCE OF THE PLANTING DATE
1. Continuous observation and scouting
- This ongoing activity is essential to enable the farmer to act in advance.
- Observations made during the current season can help a great deal in preventing mistakes and making better decisions for the following season.
- For example, weeds identified during the current growing season will determine the type of herbicide to be used next time around.
- If you fail to detect problems during the present period, they may be worse next time.
2. Plan or re-plan the production system
- Reassess the production potential of the soil and decide how many hectares you want to plant.
- Explore the market and select profitable crops based on reliable market information.
- Draw up a budget and prepare a production plan on paper as accurately as possible.
3. Exploit the best market opportunities
- It is important to sign a contract with a reliable marketing agency.
- A contract will protect you against commodity price fluctuations.
- Secure a contract for each crop at the best price possible.
4. Obtain a production loan
- You will have to apply for a production loan if you want to plant more hectares than are allowed for by the amount of money at your disposal.
- Do not delay: approach a financial institution as soon as you have drawn up your production plan.
- The process of approving a production loan always takes time.
5. Arrange a contract with a reliable contractor
If you are not in a position to do your own tillage and planting, sign a contract with a service provider well in advance.
Make sure that the ploughing units you need will be available at the time you plan to plant your crop.
Before you sign the contract, make a special effort to investigate the condition of the contractor’s equipment.
Remember: any breakdown during soil preparation or at planting, will be to the farmer’s disadvantage.
6. Maintain implements and machinery
- The best time to take care of your implements is right at the end of the planting season.
- If this task is neglected the farmer runs the risk of not only having to repair the equipment – probably at a high cost – but also of losing valuable time, resulting in a late planting date.
- Before storing implements, make sure they are cleaned thoroughly, given a proper service and are protected against rust.
- That way, much less time will be needed to prepare the equipment for the planting season.
7. Soil conservation tasks
- Inspect all existing structures such as contours and watercourses.
- Make the time to maintain or repair these structures to avoid damage to your valuable topsoil during the next rainy season.
- If new structures need to be established, you should start as soon as possible.
- Soil conservation measures need thorough planning and enough time to implement.
8. Purchase inputs
- Shopping time should be well spent.
- Compare input products and negotiate for the best price in order to keep the cost per hectare as low as possible.
- Make your own observations during the growing season to enable you to select the best product, such as a variety that performs well, or replace a product that did not perform as expected.
- Do not hesitate to put pressure on the provider to ensure that the products you order are correct and available on time.
Remember: there are many specialists and experts who would like to help you with all these activities. Don’t run to them at the eleventh hour. Plan ahead and call them TODAY!
- This article was written by Phonnie du Toit and first appeared in Farming SA.