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Tips for 'Hanging On' in the Current Situation

Posted Sep. 30, 2005

Pre-hurricane-Katrina fuel prices had more than doubled, and nitrogen prices had increased about 26 percent over last year's price it's gotten our attention, and now everyone is hurting. Farmers and ranchers find themselves trying to stretch every dollar even further than they normally have to. Here are a few things to do that will enable you to save some money and potentially improve some aspects of your operation.

  1. Use hay rings when feeding hay. Without rings, cattle can waste up to 45 percent of hay. Using rings reduces losses to around 9 percent.
  2. Soil-sample prior to purchasing fertilizer. Without this practice, you are almost always either under- or over-fertilizing.
  3. Since break-evens for combining wheat are extremely high, consider planting a cool-season perennial such as a wheatgrass variety (west of I-35) or a tall fescue variety (east of I-35) for winter stocker operations.
  4. If you're thinking about planting bermudagrass, look into some of the seeded varieties, and give special consideration to the blended mixes. The last several years have brought more productive seeded bermudagrass options than we have seen in the past, which can make this option cheaper than sprigging. Also, consider seeded varieties that have both hulled and un-hulled seed. This helps spread germination out over a longer period, thus affording some drought protection.
  5. Learn to live with some weeds. Short of managing a research plot, almost every pasture will have weeds.
  6. Limit weed management to productive land. Killing cactus on a shallow hilltop may only yield some short grasses and probably some more cactus, but applying herbicide to loamy bottomland normally pays for itself in increased forage production.
  7. Purchase fertilizer and herbicide based on cost per unit of fertilizer or active ingredient, not total cost per ton or cost per gallon.
  8. Calibrate sprayers and spreaders prior to using.
  9. Avoid buying that highly advertised "miracle grass." Wait for it to be proven locally for a few years in established variety trials. If it is that good, it will still be around and probably at a lower price.
  10. Hold off on planting anything, and use what you've got. If you do plant, adjust stocking rates to compensate for less land in production.
  11. Use by-product feeds. Soybean hulls, wheat middlings, corn gluten meal, etc., can often extend winter pasture to the spring flush economically. Visit with a livestock specialist to buy the right feed for your needs.
  12. Look into government "cost-share" programs. Remember, these programs are your tax dollars at work.
  13. Obtain assistance in developing a conservation plan.
  14. Reserve winter pasture for growing animals, and only allow access to dry cows if you need the stock density to use the grass.
  15. If your only enterprise is a cow-calf program, think twice no, three times before planting summer annuals. Many warm-season annuals are highly productive, but are "nitrogen hogs." Consider more cost efficient warm-season perennials for cow-calf programs.

Natural disasters almost always create ripple effects through the agricultural sector. While many of us may have to dig deeper to stay viable, please remember those who suffered the most from this event.