ReachOut: Farm Planning – The What, Why, and Who

ReachOut: Farm Planning – The What, Why, and Who from United Farmers Cooperative on Vimeo.

Mike Zwingman

Mike Zwingman

In last week’s article, I introduced farm planning as a vital activity to your operation.  This week, I’m hoping to 1) continue to convince you that such planning is worth your time, and 2) give you some practical advice for starting a farm plan that will provide the benefits and future guidance that it should.

As I said last week, all growers engage in some level of farm planning.  Ours is not an easy trade and planning is always necessary.  And for many, if not all of you, your farm and your life are one and the same, so any life planning = farm planning.  Whether we want it to be or not.

The kind of planning I’m encouraging you to engage in though is planning in overdrive.  It’s planning on a grand scale indeed.  It’s a Farm Plan (note the caps): a living document, a master plan, a mission objective.  It’s treating your farm as a battlefield or empire or corporation—choose the metaphor that suits your taste.  The Farm Plan is a highly refined plan of goals and action that reflects your values, drives toward maximum yield and profit, and puts you in the seat of general/king/queen/CEO.

What exactly is it though, in practical terms?  A Farm Plan is a written, highly specific, and useable document that details your current situation, your goals, and your plan to get from A to B (like products, application methods, and timing).  Importantly, a Farm Plan includes information about each specific field that you farm.  Understanding the current status of each of your fields and setting goals for them individually will ensure that the actions you take and the decisions you make to advance them toward your goals are suitable, necessary, and efficient.  Breaking your fields into categories will help you effectively manage their cultivation and treatment.  There are no rules about how to categorize your fields—do it however will help you best—but categorizing according to yield potential is usually a good place to start.  Categorizing by challenges can be helpful as well.


Consider that Warren Buffett has not successfully helmed Berkshire Hathaway (and become one of the wealthiest men in the world) by treating its holdings the same.  Dairy Queen gets a different treatment than BNSF than GEICO than Helzberg’s Diamonds.  This level of specificity allows Berkshire Hathaway’s leadership team to effectively address weaknesses and cultivate strengths particular to each company, and to efficiently allocate resources according to what each needs.

Header1The efficient allocation of resources is one of the major whys of a Farm Plan.  Knowing what each field is and where it needs to go prevents you from wasting resources on fields that don’t need them or won’t respond to them. Ultimately, this saves you money and time and grants you flexibility in the event that some piece of your plan requires tweaking.  Knowing where you stand will truly help you to address decisions easier because the information and goals will already be in front of you as you come under the pressure of having to choose one course or another.

And when you are ready for action, having a Farm Plan will help you manage logistics.  You will know what you need, and when, and where.  Sharing your Farm Plan with your friendly partners at UFC will let us know, too, what you need, and when, and where so that we can anticipate your need for service and better serve you when you most need our help.

Which lastly, friends, brings me to the who of your Farm Plan.  Like any general/king/queen/CEO, you are never alone as you develop and execute plans.  Your FSA, lender, grain marketer, hired man and crop scout are all members of a team that supports you in your efforts to make your plan a reality.

The goal of a farm plan is, quite simply, a better farm.  One that better fits your desires, whether they be increased profitability or sustainability, or less stress, or better stewardship of your land.  Meeting these whole farm goals though requires situational problem solving, which is why the specificity of your plan is so vital to your success.

As you survey your fields this evening, take a moment to imagine what you want them to be.  And next time you find yourself waiting for dinner to cook, or sitting at the dentist’s, or bored with a rerun, put a pen to paper and start formalizing those wishes into a plan to unlock the grand potential of your fields.