4 Keys to Early Season Organic Success

By Bryce Irlbeck, B&B Irlbeck Farms

Given how often things change in farming, some consider plans to be obsolete. But for large-scale organic producers, developing a plan is key to avoiding pain points that can hurt your bottom line. And when things change, as they often do, a plan can help determine your next best course of action.

To develop an effective plan and make smart in-season adjustments, keep the following four tips in mind.

1. Balance Rotation, Resources & Budget

When creating a plan for the season, you should consider the following three factors:

  • Crop rotation
  • Equipment and labor
  • Budget

Our farming operation starts with the crop rotation to determine what crop is best for each field, both for the upcoming and future crop years. Then we balance our equipment and labor capacity with the total number of acres we need to cover.

You need to be honest with yourself about what you can realistically accomplish with your resources, which comes from prior knowledge and thoughtful consideration. Be conservative in your estimates of how long each task will take for the acreage you have. A little cushion will pay dividends when challenging conditions, such as unexpected weather, arise. As producers, we need to document plans, changes, and outcomes, to provide the necessary insight to make better choices next year.

Finally, we consider the budget to ensure we will have access to the required level of funding, and make sure we will hit the desired profit level for each field and across the farm.

2. Work Around the Weather & Soil Temperatures

With your initial plan in place, you’ll need to keep a close eye on the weather as you enter the planning season — watching where and when rain will hit, down to the hour. For example, in Iowa we begin watching both the short- and long-term trends starting on April 1st. The Agrible, Inc. YouTube channel is an excellent resource for weather updates.

Based on the weather forecasts, start making plans for the window of time you’ll need for each crop. For example, corn and soybeans need a 3-day window for tilling, planting and rotary hoeing twice, but have a fairly long planting window. However, field peas need to go in early, have a fairly short planting window, and you don’t want rain to hit them right after. Look for a 24-hour window that’s clear. If you can’t get your peas planted, be prepared to go with “Plan B.”

For example, this year May was not a good month for planting organic,but looking into June it gets drier. On my family farm, we planted some corn in May but will plant most of it in June. For the number of corn acres we have, this helps spread the field work and associated risk out over a longer period of time versus trying to get everything done in 3 days.

Soil temperature is another factor to consider along with the weather — you want soils at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit and trending upward. But at some point, it becomes irrelevant, because you’ve got to get the crop planted. To manage this situation, cold germ test your seed so you can plant the seed with the highest vigor in unideal conditions first.

3. Make Adjustments with the Big Picture in Mind

Things don’t typically go according to plan in farming, so it’s important to stay flexible and be willing to make changes as you go.

Making adjustments goes back to assessing the number of acres against the equipment and labor you have, and balancing them with the weather forecast. This year a piece of tillage equipment broke down and we didn’t get to plant when we wanted. While we normally avoid planting in the rain, we made the decision to plant so we could get one-third of our acres in, leaving the rest to be planted when the short-term forecast cleared up.

In organic production, you also must be prepared to move onto the next crop. Wheat might winterkill, peas could die during rotary hoeing, or you may just not be able to get the planned crop planted. While you’re not going to feel good tearing up a crop or switching up your rotation at the last minute, you have to be ready to cut your losses and make in-season adjustments.

When you do make a change, document it and report it to your certifying agency (as required). The documentation will allow you to review why you made a change, how you made it, and how it turned out. This will help you develop a systematic process based on facts instead of emotion and improve your decision-making when similar scenarios come up in the future.

4. Accept the Imperfect

Finally, keep in mind that nothing works out perfectly in farming. Don’t get too worked up when things don’t go according to plan. By staying flexible and having a plan that balances your acreage with equipment, labor, and the weather forecast, you set yourself up for a successful season.

To learn how AgriSecure partners with clients to develop and execute best-in-class organic farm & field plans, schedule an Organic Farm Consultation today.

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