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Farm management: Improving your farm’s income

It’s easy to talk about making money on a farm; many ‘millions’ have been ‘made’ using a piece of paper, a pen and a calculator. The reality is very different. Here are some practical issues to consider.

Every farmer wants to maximise his earnings from his farm. This is not only sensible but also necessary, from a business point of view. Challenged by many farming costs going through the roof, a farmer has to find ways to survive. What are some of the things he can do? Let’s look at a few of them.


It is always a good idea to start by looking at what you’ve got before you consider other options. What can be done to improve current production off the land that is being used? Of course, these are seldom “quick fix” solutions, as Nature does not operate that way. The ideas outlined here are slower, but important all the same.


  • Start by looking at your fertiliser/feeding programmes.
  • Perhaps you should take soil samples again, just to make sure.
  • Are you using the right quantities of the right fertiliser, at the right time?
  • Are you doing so correctly, either by hand or machine?
  • Call in your extension officer or fertiliser consultant.
  • Talk to knowledgeable people who can offer practical advice.
  • If you get your fertiliser programme right, you will save money and boost yields.


  • If you are growing vegetables you should look closely at the varieties.
  • Seed companies and seedling nurseries offer a wide selection of varieties of any crop to suit different circumstances.
  • Some are better suited to colder times than others, while some prefer the summer months. Some are more drought resistant, others grow more vigorously, yet others have resistance to certain diseases and pests.
  • The key for a farmer is to select the right variety for his circumstances and the time of year.
  • And don’t forget what the market does and does not like.


  • Many farmers make the mistake of over-watering their crops, which affects quality and yield.
  • Professional farmers use different methods to measure when and how much water to give their crops.
  • If you don’t have these instruments, watch the plants closely.
  • When the colour of the leaves starts turning a darker shade, it could be a sign that they need water.
  • If the leaves start curling up, you’ve left it too long.
  • The point about watering is that you don’t want the plants to be stressed because they have had too little water.
  • You don’t want to give them too much water either.
  • Finding the balance is the key; if you do, the plant will respond well.


Always go for good quality. This will bring you a better income and there is also the hidden benefit of lower production costs.

It works like this:

  • If you produce 10 000 units (boxes, bags, pockets or heads of cabbage, for instance) it makes sense if the majority is Class 1 quality, which will always fetch a higher price.
  • If you are producing more Class 2 or even Class 3 than Class 1, your cost per unit goes up because the price you get will be lower.
  • It costs you the same to produce those 10 000 units, whatever the quality, so you might as well try to get as much Class 1 out of them as possible.
  • All these issues take time and should be part of your management plan anyway.
  • They are things you look at all the time so you can improve your farming operations wherever you can.

Any farmer who is honest with himself will admit that there is always room for improvement. Get those improvements in place before you try anything else.


Increase area under production. This might seem logical but it is not that simple.

First of all you have to ask yourself: Am I maximising what I am currently farming? If you do not have your existing production area working to its full potential, it doesn’t make sense to go bigger.

Many farmers make the mistake of thinking that by going bigger they will make more money, but they forget about the increased costs, and do not consider whether they can maintain the standard of quality in order to get the highest prices.

In the end you could end up with plenty of headaches and little else. So, if you are planning to expand production, first make sure you really need to do so because your existing production is at its maximum. Then make sure you have the finance, equipment, labour, infrastructure, management time and market to take on the expansion.


  • This can be a good option as long as you’ve done all the things discussed above.
  • You also need to consider carefully what new crop or crops you plan to grow.
  • Or perhaps you want to go into farming chickens or pigs.
  • No matter what you have in mind, always ask yourself first:
  • Do I know enough about this kind of farming?
  • Is there is a good market for the product?
  • Is it suited to my area?
  • What are the production requirements?
  • Do I have the infrastructure?
  • Will I be able to handle the demands of a new enterprise as well as existing farming?
  • What are the marketing requirements?

Diversifying needs careful planning and consideration. And remember that it is usually a good idea in farming to have more than one income-producing option – just in case!

Farmers are natural optimists, which is a wonderful thing. But be careful that your optimism doesn’t start to lead you away from your core business. In sport they talk about “sticking to the basics”. Farming is no different.

Also read: Farm management: Learn more about planning and money matters

  • This article was written by Michael Cordes and first appeared in Farming SA.

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