How can I be more efficient without breaking the bank?
Agriculture is an industry characterized by tight margins and plenty of risk. Whether working in fruits and vegetables, grains, livestock or value-added, farmers are always looking for ways to run their operations as efficiently as possible. However, with no clear roadmap, the possibilities are endless on how best to achieve that goal. Two experts weigh in on actions you can take today to make your farm more efficient.
Efficiency is a loaded word. However, the easiest way to understand it at a farm level is by sharing responsibilities. Its cost is low, possibly even free, and the benefit of having multigenerational knowledge is immense.
Many of us have adopted tech to make life more efficient, from improving sleep quality to everyday scheduling. It’s no different in farming, where tech can be an asset. If an idea can be a proven winner, why not incorporate that into the farm?
Affording the younger family members or farm workers increased responsibilities naturally makes room for new perspectives and ideas. If your farm is aiming to be as efficient as possible, collect all ideas from all people. Evaluate and implement the best ones.
A culture of shared responsibility is a culture of shared management, whether formal or informal. Rather than everything feeding up to one person in a decision-making tree, with a flatter management system, you increase the likelihood of greater worker engagement and efficiency. When something is not performing at an optimum level, multiple people identify it versus continually relying on one person to notice the issue.
Why have a person only drive a tractor? Perhaps they could manage all machinery instead. One person doing one task may not be the most efficient operationally, especially if they’re brimming with ideas to improve the farm.
Some people hear the phrase “finding efficiencies” and think a painful lesson is lurking around the corner or that jobs are going to be lost, but there’s no reason why this must be the case. Finding efficiency is simply doing something the easiest way possible.
Often, it’s not one major idea, but lots of little solutions that slowly build towards a more efficient whole. And, really, isn’t that what farming is all about? Who ever solved all their farm’s problems in a single season? Every sector within agriculture is a long-term play, and we should think about generating on-farm efficiencies in the same way.
Olds College, Olds, Alta.
Farming in Canada is risky, and we must remember its vast complexity, especially as we seek efficiencies. Canadian farmers operate in an environment of “polyrisk,” meaning the whole is riskier than the sum of the parts. Food prices are higher globally, energy prices are spiking, supply chains are lagging and fertilizer has never been more expensive. To farm with efficiency in mind, farmers must work harder than ever and, sometimes, that’s not enough.
Farm operators must stay informed about all things agricultural, which is why it’s so important to write your own business plan – perhaps the single-most important document related to the farm, and certainly the easiest one in which to find efficiencies.
Know that nobody truly knows the “what, why and how” of your farm quite like you. Despite the difficulty of writing a plan, drafting it yourself will help to ensure the document is personalized with your farm details, and has longevity specific to your unique situation. Employ a third party to review and optimize, but keep in mind that nobody can truly understand the variability and ways to improve your farm’s practices like you do.
Don’t forget to learn either – this is a hallmark of efficiency. Many post-secondary institutions and agricultural groups offer professional development and courses to help you stay on the cutting edge. One popular way is through a peer group that meets regularly to share practices and procedures at their farm. This real-life learning is often best done with fellow farmers in a similar geography. Farmers five provinces away, or in a different sub-sector of agriculture, can only offer so much practical efficiency.
This micro-form of benchmarking allows you to compare apples to apples while you improve efficiencies by understanding how similar farm managers handle the same internal and external issues.
3 tips to help improve efficiencies for your operation
Engage the young people at your farm
They are often brimming with new and unique ideas. It costs you nothing to hear their ideas and how they may be applied at a farm level and may just save you a lot.
Write you own business plan
This will allow you to take a long, calculated look at every aspect of your farm. With an in-depth perspective, you will naturally begin to identify areas that can be improved for greater efficiency.
Join a peer group
By listening to farmers similar to you, whether business-wise or geographically, you’ll gain real-life advice to act upon for the betterment of your operation.
From an AgriSuccess article by Trevor Bacque.