Agribusiness Planning: Strategizing for Success in 2018

With each passing year, we have new experiences, incur a whole new set of challenges, and are taught a variety of lessons. The value in each of those lessons comes from our takeaways, then when we are faced with a similar set of circumstances the next time, how our approach changes.

As I’ve recently reflected on past experiences, I began thinking about some of the significant things I’ve learned and how those have helped me better adjust my approach. One of the leading themes I keep coming back to is the importance of planning.

With the ever-growing complicated nature of running an agribusiness, and the tight margins of time, money, and manpower, many may feel there’s no time to sit down, think ahead, and plan strategically – but the reality is planning is a must, especially with the knowledge, tools, and opportunities we now have available. Here are three key planning areas to review this year to help ensure your and your growers’ success.

Herbicide and Crop Planning

Resistant weeds are changing our approach when it comes to crop protection. As agronomists leverage all the tools for controlling them, including herbicides, cover crops, and crop rotation, the need for us to recall past experiences will continue to increase.

No matter which side of the dicamba fence you’re on, there’s no question that it has changed the game of soybean herbicide and trait selection. While new restrictions by the states have created very narrow windows for dicamba to be an option for in-season use, its ability to control some resistant weeds within that first application may be just enough to make it a first choice. However, it will require added planning on the part of, not just the agronomist, but applicators as well, to ensure they’re well-versed in everything from how it can affect neighboring fields to the limitations on the timing of its application in-season.

Challenges are not limited to using dicamba to control weeds in soybeans, either, just as the ability to select the right herbicide is not limited to a single growing season. As we scout the weed pressure for the upcoming season, it is important to recall that an application of a certain herbicide may make sense at the time to control a certain weed, but knowing next year’s (or even the following year’s) crop plan might require an adjustment to our original strategy.

For example, knowing an herbicide has an 18-month rotation to corn following an application in wheat, and that the application occurred October 18, can have a huge impact on corn planting date when the calendar rolls around to April, a year and a half later. Those type of decisions will lock a grower into a given crop rotation that may or may not be ideal for the business plan.

Pesticides used on certain crops can have lasting effects, but they are not the only game in town. Cover crops, too, are generating a lot of buzz thanks to their ability to suppress resistant weeds and provide fantastic soil health benefits like increases in organic matter and coverage to reduce water run-off. They require planning to ensure that the benefits are not lost due to poor management.

If a grower plans to plant cereal rye in the fall to control an herbicide-resistant weed species that will pop up in the spring, be prepared to have the conversation about termination strategies ahead of planting soybeans. The product being applied and the timing of its application can have a tremendous effect on the ability of the herbicide to control the cover crop. If a termination treatment is made early, herbicide rates can potentially be reduced, but at the expense of an increase in biomass that could aide in providing moisture containment. However, that increase in biomass may come at the expense of the herbicide’s effectiveness as the season progresses, or the ability of a planter to get the crop in the ground. Thus, cost might outweigh the benefit of your cover crop.

It might take several attempts to find the sweet spot that gives you the best of both worlds. It will take some prioritizing and planning to ensure that the strategy – whether chemical application or cover crop – best fits the grower’s goals.

Organizational Planning

Everything in the ecosystem of agriculture is connected and being able to stay on top of it all is quickly becoming harder with so many moving parts. However, a few simple organizational strategies can help.

One of the first steps to help a grower plan is to simply sit down and name all of the fixed and moving parts of the operation. This is typically done in the chosen GIS platform, though it can be done manually, and includes factors like the management tree (Grower, Farm, and Field), boundaries, and equipment.

Next, consistency is key when dealing with farm data. Naming hybrids, herbicides, and fertilizers in the chosen, farming software is often a task that is skipped, but it’s one that’s very important. Even something as simple as an extra space or hyphen in the wrong spot can limit the full capabilities of a grower dataset on a regional scale.

Every platform differs in how this is set up and there’s no right or wrong way to do it; the most important part is keeping it uniform. The John Deere Operations Center is one program that has a helpful tool to assist with this called the Product Manager. There are thousands of commonly used and regional products already set up that import to all of the applications within the platform, making it easy to ensure naming consistency.

Workflow Planning

When it comes to thinking spatially, any GIS platform can go a long way toward seeing the “big picture” of a business, and tailoring the experience for each grower’s individual operation. Different platforms have opportunities for trusted advisors to lay out, see, and better strategize workflow, all with the goal of ensuring resources are allocated properly and a day’s work able to get done.

There are also a few non-GIS programs that may be helpful tools to keep in the planning toolbox. Crop budgets from the local Extension office, a crop protection guide, and a spreadsheet for simple calculations can be of great value when planning.

Finally, try adding some as-applied dates into a digital calendar to note critical dates and rotational restrictions for growers. Little things like setting reminders for maintenance intervals, or to check on a field that may be nearing the end of a herbicide residual protection window will help to stay on track, especially when it’s easy to get caught up in the busy day-to-day of farming life.

These are just three of the key observations I’ve made as I’ve looked back to look ahead for next year. I know there are many more, so now, I’d like to put the question to you: What are some of the significant experiences or observations you’ve had recently? What have you done to record those or adjust your approach? Leave a comment below or tweet me @RDOJacobM.

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