A typical crowd of some 200 farmers gathered for the annual southeast Indiana no-till breakfast in Ripley County last week. Barry Fisher, state resource agronomist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, moderates the meeting, which features questions from farmers. However, he delivered his own message this time before he fielded questions from the audience.
"Now, while prices are good, is the time to work on our crop production methods, fine-tune them and become more efficient," Fisher says. The long-time district conservationist in Putnam County has a reputation for knowing how to fine-tune no-till programs, and get down to the nitty-gritty brass tack suggestions of what it takes to make a system both high-yielding and cost-effective.
"While the farm economy is fairly stable is when we ought to seek out methods that let us do things more efficiently," he says. "That's why we have meetings like this and share ideas. Some cushion in crop budgets right now gives us time to look at some different technologies and determine what does and doesn't work for each one of us. Then we can be efficient.
"You do it now. Then you're ready for when prices fall again. We don't want to wait until prices are down and then have to worry about getting more bang for our buck. If we do it now, when commodity prices back off, we'll still be in a position to produce profitably."
He also noted that while crop prices are high, the costs of inputs are also high. Fisher farms some on his own. He's calculated that it could cost him up to $500 per acre to put his corn crop out this time. "Those are high-stakes odds. We're putting a lot of investment out there with no guarantee of what we'll get back. We at least need to try to learn where we might be able to be more efficient and trim some of those costs, even though if the corn and soybean prices hold, we should make money this time even at high input costs.
Some of the cost-effective things Fisher likes to help farmers do are zero in on small things, such as which knives to use when injecting sidedress ammonia. He also preaches planter maintenance, including having each row unit checked on a metering stand before the season starts. The cost is small compared to possible losses, he says.