Dairymen, all it takes is 30 seconds… Small investments can give you more financial control

Dianne Shoemaker, Field Specialist Dairy Production Economics

Originally published in the October 15, 2015 issue of Farm and Dairy, Dairy Excel Column.


What difference can 30 seconds make? A lot. When a team starts working on their business analysis for 2015, 30 second investments that will make the process easier and the results more reliable:

Crop expenses

These are the most ignored expenses on dairy farms.   It is relatively simple to calculate total crop expenses for a farm for a year, but how useful is that information? With tight margins, how can total crop expenses be used to find opportunities to control costs? They can’t.   Only when they can be allocated between crops can those costs per acre and per ton or bushel be used to identify strengths and concerns.

When invoices come in for seed, chemicals, fertilizer, custom work, or supplies, grab them and jot down what crops they apply to. This is a job for the crop people who should be crossing paths with the bookkeeping people to make sure this information is getting into the system. Also verify that the items being billed were actually delivered and used on your farm.

Acreage use

Acres and yields of each crop are needed to take that next step of determining costs per acre or per ton or bushel.  Jot down acres as crops are planted or harvested. How many acres were rented, how many acres were owned for each crop? Which acres were double cropped? With what?

Crop yields

Jot down yields as crops are harvested. The most common reason for not tracking harvest numbers is the challenge of measuring. Some yields are easy…as long as the counter works on the baler and someone reads and records the counts. Others are more challenging, but doable with a little creativity.

Silage and hay yields were simple to measure when it was all blown into an upright silo. Wait for the silage to settle and check the silo chart. Silage bags are relatively easy to measure with charts as well. The most challenging are silages put into bunkers and piles, especially when they are stacked well above sidewalls. Safety aside, packing density and pile shape can make it very challenging to come up with accurate measurements, especially if there was already other silage in the structure.

An alternative would be to measure silage going into the pile. Some farms have the ability to weigh each load going in. Awesome! Just remember to add it all up and record the final yield. If weighing every load is not an option, weigh a few loads, calculate an average weight for a full load, and count loads going in.

On the surface, acres, costs and yields seem to be simple numbers. Yet too many good farms don’t have reliable systems in place to capture them. These numbers can be relatively easily tracked if the folks involved in these activities would invest those precious 30 seconds…