ReachOut: Farm Planning – Getting Started

ReachOut: Farm Planning – Getting Started from United Farmers Cooperative on Vimeo.

Mike Zwingman

Mike Zwingman

Let me set the scene: it’s a sunny late-September morning, and you don’t even mind having to get up.  You get yourself a cup of coffee, let the dog out, and head to the garage, to tinker on the combine before harvest hits full swing.  You turn on the radio—it’s set to ESPN—and catch the end of a story: last night, the Rangers beat the Phillies 15 to 4.

If you’re wondering how this happened—how, exactly, the Rangers whooped the Phillies so thoroughly—then you, my friend, should read on.

Did the Rangers take an early lead and just pound it home through the night?  Did they rally late and shock the fans?  Did the Phillies defense fall asleep?  Did the closer choke?

The fact of this scenario is that the Rangers won.  The thing that will matter next year, and the next, and into the future, though, is how.

We’re back onto Farm Planning, friends.

Imagine for a moment that you’re the manager of that Rangers team.  When you’re facing the Phillies again next season, you’ll want to remember well what you did to thump them so awesomely last season, because you’ll want a repeat performance.  Or if you’re the Phillies manager facing the Rangers, you’ll also want to remember well what not to do this time around.  The outcome of the last meeting is of course important, but it’s the how-did-I-get-here that matters practically to victory or defeat.

Farm planning involves extensive record keeping that will answer that “how did I get here?” question for you.  In the immediate future (as in next season) your farm plan will illuminate the narrative of your fields, showing you exactly how you achieved the outcome you did and allowing you to repeat (also improve) a good performance and correct more efficiently a poorer one.  In the long term, your farm plan establishes a metric for your fields, allowing you to measure, and so manage, your success.


I realize that no one reading here is probably fist pumping over the prospect of record keeping.  Maybe it sounds abstract, even dull.  The actual act is probably less painful than you’re anticipating though, and the payoff for a little accounting now will be happiness later instead of simple satisfaction.

Keeping a chart to organize important information is an easy and user-friendly method of record keeping.  To get started, simply list each of your fields by name.  You may remember from my previous post on farm planning, that specificity is key to a useful plan.  For each field, you’ll then want to record an array of information for your reference not and later.  Include for each field:

  • yield potential
  • challenges—for example, compaction, distance from home base, resistant weed populations
  • previous crop
  • intended crop
  • specific goal—this could be something like a yield goal or profit margin, or a soil rehab goal like alleviating compaction
  • whether you own or rent the field, and the type of agreement—having this information front and center will give context to your decision making as profit margins tighten and to the field’s place in your long term strategy
  • tillage history—so that you know what you’ve done to the field
  • questions

In addition to this chart, gathering maps, including FSA maps, VRT maps, and yield maps for each field, will build your paper database and round out the information and details you’ve collected.  Any scouting notes should be included in your farm plan, as should any of your personal notes.  (If you’re not already carrying a notebook in your combine, it’s not too late to start…)

Now, what to do with this information?  As I’ve said, it will assist you in the near and far flung future, but it is also immediately relevant right now.  Armed with this information, you can begin placing hybrids for next season.  Moving field by field, consider soil type, challenges, and goals to select hybrids.  Matching your hybrid selection to the greatest challenge for each field will tackle that issue head on and give you the winter to plan how to manage to that hybrid.

Header1Another thing to do with this information: share it.  Examining the details of each field will generate questions, and you should ask them.  Selecting hybrids carefully is a tough and serious discussion that doesn’t need to be had alone.  And if you’re hesitant to share your questions and concerns with UFC because you don’t buy your seed corn from us, don’t be.  We like our corn, but we like you more, and a successful season for everyone is always our goal.

Starting a record of information on your fields will equip you now and in the future with a narrative and collection of details that illuminate the how of your outcomes, which is the information most vital to repeating and improving outcomes next season and in the future.  A little record keeping today is a first step toward entering next spring confident in your plans and decisions.