Farm Progress

Can you make an incremental change on your farm, gain an advantage and minimize risk? Here’s what speed limits and tickets have to do with farming in 2018.

December 14, 2017

3 Min Read
INCREMENTAL: Experience says you can drive 74 in a 70 mph speed zone and not get a ticket. But data says you can go 78 mph and not get one. Would you?

Eric Snodgrass likes to speed. But only a little bit. And he’s got a good story about it.

“When I was a boy, the speed limit was 55 mph, and my grandpa would set the cruise at 59. I’d ask him why, and he’d say he could go a little faster, get where he needed to be, and not get a speeding ticket,” tells Snodgrass, an Agrible co-founder and atmospheric scientist at the University of Illinois.

By the time Snodgrass got his driver’s license, the speed limit was 65. His dad set the cruise at 69, and told him the same thing his grandpa did. Fast-forward to today, when the speed limit is 70. Snodgrass would set his cruise at 74. His reasoning was the same: get there faster, avoid a ticket.

Then he discovered some data. Road and Track magazine collected 225,000 speeding tickets issued in Minnesota and asked who gets a ticket and why? Snodgrass discovered in the data set that out of that 225,000, only 37 tickets were for going from zero to 5 mph over the speed limit. He kept reading. Less than 2% of all those speeding tickets were given for going from zero to 8 mph over the limit.

So the question: Would he risk going another 4 mph faster? Yes. Yes, he would.

“Dad’s and Grandpa’s experience would’ve protected me from getting a ticket. But the research says go 78, get a small advantage, arrive early, and you probably won’t get a ticket,” he says.

It’s not so different on the farm. Say you do some research, and instead of planting 29,000 seeds per acre, you plant 31,000. What if you could increase productivity without spending more on yields? What if the profit exceeds potential loss on stressed plants? Could you increase profit by making a small change in seed population?

Experiment. Analyze. See what’s more productive. See what’s more profitable.

Who’s savvy?
Snodgrass has a lot to say about that, especially as he travels the countryside talking to farmers.

“Really savvy farmers don’t blindly accept things. They test and see whether, with time, something will make their business more profitable,” he says, telling of a farmer he met in Kentucky who, after prices fell after 2012, planted 12 acres of chia. It improved soil health, and he and his wife started a chia industry in Kentucky. Four years later, they’re the biggest chia growers in the country, straight from Franklin, Ky.

What’s a savvy farmer? Someone who takes small but calculated risks, and moves forward. Someone who doesn’t just minimize loss, but also maximizes profit. Someone who’s around to play the game next year. And the year after that.

2018 will be a challenging year on the farm. Margins are tight. Debt-to-asset ratios are holding steady. But markets aren’t expected to move much, at least not in the direction farmers want them to. Our marketing analyst Bryce Knorr says only 3% to 4% of farms nationwide are vulnerable, with high debt and negative income putting them at risk of going out of business. Others have to decide when they could reach that point.

“The farmers most at risk, according to my research, are those in the middle of their careers, trying to expand and perhaps bring in the next generation without the resources to do it,” Knorr says. 

It all begs the question: What incremental change can you make? Gain advantage, minimize risk. Avoid the ticket.

Will go you 74? Or 78?

Comments? Email [email protected].

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