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Start anew in 2013 with New Year's resolutions aimed at improving your farm.
It’s that time again. With the new year comes a chance to start out fresh and renew your commitment to your health, your homestead and your farm. If the thought of another failed resolution to lose weight, eat better or exerce more makes you cringe, set your sights on improving your farming method. Farmers can resolve to avoid poor management practices or implement better production techniques in 2013. Need some ideas to start your hobby farm on the right track in the new year? Try implementing some of these resolutions from Purdue University crop, livestock and agricultural-economics specialists.
1. Resolve to spend more time in the fields with your crops.
"This will help you better identify the yield-influencing factors most important to your farming operation,” says Bob Nielson, extension corn specialist. Then you can begin developing strategies to manage those factors, which include planting date, weather, tillage method and soil amendments.
2. Resolve to improve the efficiency of your nitrogen-management program.
"Take steps to reduce the risks of nitrogen loss, such as leaching, denitrification and volatilization,” Neilson says.
3. Resolve to read the seed-variety tag.
"Seed size varies from year to year,” says Shaun Casteel, extension small-grain specialist. "The drought conditions—timing and duration—have impacted seed size (small and large), germination and vigor. Your planter settings and seeding rates need to be adjusted accordingly."
4. Resolve to take stand counts for field crops.
"Early-season stand counts provide the opportunity to verify your seeding rates and emergence potential,” Casteel says. "You will also be scouting the field for pressures of weeds and pests."
5. Resolve to sample soils for nutrient levels.
"Follow through with the addition of limestone and fertilizer recommended by the test,” recommends Keith Johnson, extension forage specialist. "The application of a blended fertilizer, like 12-12-12, and calling this your fertilizer program is not a wise decision."
6. Resolve to scout fields.
"Do this weekly to determine the well-being of the growing forages,” Johnson says. "Evaluate grazing pressure, presence of pests—weeds, insects and disease—and possible nutrient-deficiency symptoms."
7. Resolve to consider grazing corn residues in the early fall.
"This can reduce feed cost substantially for beef and sheep producers," Johnson says.
8. Resolve to have livestock feed samples analyzed for nutrient content.
"Work with a nutritionist to formulate rations that will minimize cost and optimize performance," says Ron Lemenager, extension beef specialist.
9. Resolve to closely monitor your feeding program.
Often, livestock feed rations can be altered to compensate for cold stress and to minimize losses in weight and body condition. "For each 10-degree drop in windchill factor below 30 degrees F, the maintenance-energy requirements increase by 13 percent for cows in moderate body condition with a dry, winter hair coat and 30 percent for thin cows or cows with a wet or summer hair coat," Lemenager says.
With other animals, such as pigs or hogs, feed can comprise up to 70 percent of your costs, so you can take steps to maximize your expenditures. "This includes sticking to your feed budgets, being vigilant in your feeder adjustments, monitoring your feed-particle size and analyzing your feed ingredient,” says Brian Richert, extension swine specialist. "Analyzing your feed ingredients is critical when you feed more byproducts with their increased variability, and with a bad growing season this year, even our corn and soybean meal needs to be analyzed."
10. Resolve to re-evaluate livestock vaccination and medication plans.
"Meet with your [livestock] veterinarian to ensure they are meeting your herd's health needs," Richert says.
11. Resolve to never say, "It can't happen to me."
"The 2012 drought was a stark reminder that bad outcomes can come to our farms and businesses,” says Chris Hurt, extension agricultural economist. "Evaluate and use the tools to help reduce the terrible financial consequences that can come from bad outcomes."
12. Resolve to review your family's succession plan and update your estate plan.
"Even if you have a great plan, remember the laws are changing,” Hurt says. "At the very least, learn about those changes and how they affect your plan. If you don't have a plan, the new laws will give you a great reason to get started."
13. Resolve to make 2013 a learning year.
"New technology is coming at us quickly,” Hurt says. "There will be a new Farm Bill to learn about. Tax laws will likely change. New farm products are emerging. Brand-new opportunities will be presenting themselves. Be sure to commit time to increasing your knowledge and to the improvement of your decision-making skills."