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Farm Planning: An Overview

Posted Dec. 1, 2000

So many references to planning are made in all facets of our lives that one begins to get the feeling that planning is something that everyone talks about but few practice. Evidence of plans gone astray abounds in our society.

Since 1958, the Noble Research Institute Agricultural Division has embraced a goal of providing farm planning assistance to agricultural producers. In fact, the Foundation pioneered employing a multifaceted approach to farm and ranch planning. Early on, Foundation agricultural specialists recognized that producers needed assistance from not only professionals such as agronomists, animal scientists, agricultural economists, and horticulturists, but also representatives from lending institutions, government agencies, and the university extension service. The planning approach practiced by the Noble Research Institute in the late '50s and early '60s had striking similarities to what was referred to some twenty or twenty-five years later as IRM, or integrated resource management. Even with this history of farm and ranch planning, at times we have probably erred by talking about planning more than practicing it.

The difficulty facing farm and ranch planners is that farming is not like most businesses, because of the close connection between biological processes and the economic success of the farm; the relationships with family members who are co-owners, workers, or managers; and assets that include the quality of soil, water, and other natural resources. The farm planning process must find a way to tie together the economic, environmental, and social aspects that are unique to each farm or ranch business. Planning begins by formulating goals in each of these areas. The plan should detail specific actions and a time line for reaching each subgoal, and benchmarks for monitoring when a goal is reached are also important.

Some might envision a whole-farm plan as a document, such as a notebook containing budgets, maps, and soil test reports, but it is really a dynamic process, not a product. Farms are changing entities, both from year to year and within the seasons of a year as weather, markets, and other factors change. A farm plan is never finished but is an ongoing process that begins with an initial written plan.

As we look to a new year in a new century, don't let the dynamic nature of farm or ranch planning deter you from taking that initial step. Write something down and bounce the idea off those around you.

Thought for the month: The vast majority of men die poor, not because their intentions were not right, but because their plans were not right. Anonymous