Resolutions for your farm may be easier to keep

How many New Year’s resolutions have you kept? If you’re like most people, including myself, you’ve probably forgotten many more than you’ve kept. Resolutions are a lot like those perennially bad Christmas gifts we all receive from time to time — although their original intent might have been good, they’re rarely kept, unless you count the time you kept Aunt Edna’s fruitcake and used it as a doorstop.

The most common resolutions are the ones we make for ourselves, such as losing weight, getting into shape, or cutting down on the caffeine — the ones that are promptly forgotten before barely a month of the New Year has passed. Just like people, it’s easy for businesses like farming operations to become unfit and sluggish, so now might be the ideal time to step back, review your operation, and make plans for getting it back into shape.

The kind of changes that will hopefully make your farm more profitable can be made at any time, but there’s a psychological impact to making formal resolutions at the beginning of a new year. People throughout the world customarily use the first month of a new year to announce their resolve that the rest of the year will be better than the year that just ended.

Many growers in the lower Southeast would have a hard time imagining this year could be any more disappointing than the one that just passed. Although planting was delayed in some areas by heavy spring rainfall, the soil moisture was as good going into the season as most growers could remember. June, July and August weren’t altogether bad either, and some farmers were eyeing bumper crops going into harvest. Then, in September, the rains came, and, in some cases, continued through the early part of December. In some cases, crops were left to ruin in the fields, and great promise quickly turned to disaster.

But hope springs eternal with the start of a new year. That sense of optimism and opportunity provide a good start for implementing long-term changes, if needed. And you’ll probably find that business resolutions are more attainable and certainly will reap more tangible benefits than the personal resolutions we routinely make, and break, for ourselves.

It’s always nice to envision what a difference a major capital investment would make in a farming operation. Those big-ticket items like tractors, combines, sprayers and other marvels of new technology undoubtedly add efficiency, but not without a hefty price. For many growers, adding debt at this time would only compound existing problems, and that’s no way to start off a new year.

On a smaller scale, something as simple as purchasing a new computer system or software for your farm office, or low-pressure nozzles for your irrigation system might go a long way towards increasing efficiency and improving the bottom line.

There’s a lot of talk in agricultural circles now about “niche markets” and “value-added products.” If you think your operation does one thing better than anyone else, maybe it’s time to consider expanding on that concept and doing some self-marketing. In my travels in the Southeast, I’ve seen some excellent example of entrepreneurism on the farm, from pumpkin patches to agri-tours for retirees and students. Finding a niche has been a proven means of survival and growth for many businesses and industries.

There’s also the incredible power of knowledge and how it can be applied to improve what you’re already doing. Go to Extension, commodity group and grower organization meetings until you can’t stomach another chicken leg or plate of barbecue. You’re bound to learn something useful for this season.

Finally, be careful not to make unrealistic resolutions, and don’t make too many of them. If your farming operation has grown at a clip of 3 percent to 4 percent for the past five years running, or maybe even has had a negative growth rate, it’s not likely that you’ll achieve 25 percent growth in 2010 just because you write it down as a goal. Also, limiting the number of resolutions tends to focus your attention on the priorities, thereby preventing them from falling to the wayside along with so many other well-intentioned, but short-lived personal New Year’s resolutions.

And we’ll resolve to become better at what we’ve been known for.

Whatever you do and however you do it, resolve to do it better this year than last. At Southeast Farm Press, we’ll resolve to continue to be your most timely and reliable source of information for agriculture, and we’re always open to your suggestions on how to do it better.

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