A farmer's perspective on trying new things, thinking outside the box and sustainability.
There is a growing interest lately in what some may call alternative or non-conventional agricultural practices, and for good reason.
As profit margins grow thinner, farmers have begun to look seriously at ways to reduce costs and keep that red ink pen hidden away.
I also believe it is a responsibility of all farmers to continually search for a better way to operate during their tenure as a steward of the land. We should leave the land in better condition than when we received it. Agricultural practices are continuously evolving and, as farmers, so should our thought processes and actions.
Some farmers are more open minded than others. While in the company of certain farmers, big time operators and small time operators alike, I've been poked fun at for talking about the incorporation of cover crops and having a small grain in my crop rotation. That combination however, made us more money this past year than corn or soybeans.
We have also found that cover crops can potentially improve the profit margins of our grain farm as well as our livestock operation. Using practices that intertwine grain farming, cover crops and livestock works better for us, and has been more profitable than each could have been alone.
An open mind goes a long way. Going into this cycle of agriculture, I am confident that our diversification into more than just corn and soybeans will carry us through. I firmly believe that if people aren't skeptical, or at the very least curious about what we're doing on our farm, then I'm not pushing the envelope far enough.
If we as farmers aren't continuously trying different practices and technologies, then we fall into the cycle of "well, that's how dad did it, and that's how I'm going to do it." This is a dangerous mentality. Your dad or grandfather may have been an innovator in his time, but some of those practices may have been pushed to the wayside by newer and more efficient methods. Old methods like moldboard plowing just because that's how the last generation did it makes no sense on today's farm.
Now, we have more efficient practices, like ripping, strip-tilling, or even no-tilling. Just because you were taught to winter cattle in a feedlot doesn't necessarily mean that's the most effective practice either. With the future state of agriculture looking how it does, our thinking outside the box on how to keep costs down will be necessary, even vital.
A big part of farming is researching, innovating, and trying new ideas. With that in mind, why would we reproach someone trying a different practice like cover crops, bale grazing cattle, or a crop rotation involving more than just corn and soybeans?
Trying new things means I fail… a lot. But we learn, and our operation is more profitable and efficient because of it. No one likes to have a field that is a train wreck, myself included. Train wrecks lose money and can be an embarrassing reminder of what went wrong all summer long. However, with careful planning and intense management we have managed to avoid any total disasters so far. There are certainly risks with trying new practices, which is why thorough research is necessary.
One of the very few advantages I have by operating solo is that I can do whatever I like. There is no senior member in our operation to dictate what practices we use or don't use. I am not implying all older, or younger, farmers are reluctant to embrace new or unpopular practices; some of the operators implementing the same practices I have are well into their 70's. Age does not always determine an open mind.
The risks involved in trying something new seem much smaller than the potential long-term risks of never progressing in the science of agriculture. So if you take anything away from reading this, I hope it's this: don't be afraid to have an open mind and ask questions. I love talking about ways to improve our farm as well as our farming methods.
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The views expressed in this article are the author's alone and not those of Farmer's Business Network, Inc., its affiliates or members.