Put your data to work by identifying SMART goals

Modern technologies open an exciting challenge for today’s farmers.

Data is being collected across every acre for every operation. Using your data and committing to SMART goals now can result in increased profits.

I wrote a couple of columns last year around this time about planning for last year’s crop. They involved preparing a cost of production spreadsheet and planning your inputs. Hopefully you did this and kept up with the real inputs as the year progressed.

This exercise will allow you to calculate your real costs of production for various fields and crops.

I also discussed the opportunities to collect data from last year’s crop. Now is the time to use this data.

What I would like you to do is to implement SMART goals for your 2017 cropping plans. I have seen several, slightly different variations for the acronym SMART, which can be used to provide a focus for goal setting.

These include:

S — specific, significant, stretching

M —measurable, meaningful, motivational

A —agreed upon, attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented

R —realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented

T —time-based, time-bound, timely, tangible, trackable

For this exercise, let’s use:

  • specific
  • measurable
  • attainable
  • realistic
  • time-based

The agronomic data you collected last year is perfect for implementing SMART goals for your crop production in 2017 when it comes to being time-based. The quality of your data allows you to make specific goals based on field or crop information.

Because this is your real data, your goals will be based on your farm and should be realistic. With the technology available to you, they will also be measurable and should be attainable.

So, let’s take a few moments to think about what a SMART goal might be for 2017.

For example, your overall yield average for your canola was 60 bushels per acre.

However, now is the time to look at your yield maps and cost of production spreadsheet.

Here is what a table that summarizes 2016 yield by management zone and by nitrogen efficiency might look like.

This is actual data from a client. I have discarded zone data from Zones 1 and 6.

30-data-628

My initial comments about the 2016 results are:

  • These are great numbers. Even in Zone 2 you beat the nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) number that I usually use for canola, which is 2.8. You are getting great results from the nitrogen you applied.
  • Your yields were about 12 percent higher than 2015, so was it something you did very right or was Mother Nature responsible? I suspect it probably means you are getting more nitrogen mineralized from your organic matter than average — some due to your long-term minimum-till practices and some due to the weather.

A 2017 SMART goal might be to increase your NUE by one-tenth of a pound while at the same time maintaining your yield levels. That’s a goal that is very specific, measurable and time-based.

However, is it realistic? That translates into lowering total applied nitrogen by six lb. per acre while maintaining high yields.

The reductions in the zones would be 2.5 lb. for Zone 2, 8.6 lb. for Zone 3, 6.5 lb. for Zone 4 and seven lb. for Zone 5.

What if we added a 20 percent blend of ESN into the urea blend? It might increase the NUE to where we want it, but will this be cost effective?

When your agronomist looks at aggregated data from growers with similar yield in your area, the ranges are from 2.2 to 2.8 lb. of nitrogen per bushel. You’re already more efficient than some, but the data also tells you that setting a SMART goal of two lb. of nitrogen per bu. is realistic.

What are the economics? At 50 cents per lb. of nitrogen, hitting your SMART goal saves more than $3 per acre. Is the reward high enough for the risk? At the same time, can that $3 be reinvested into ESN and the reward evaluated at the end of the year?

Here are other examples of how you might use your data to set SMART goals for 2017:

  • Increasing seed efficiency

How can you manage your seeding rate? Has your agronomist been tracking your emergence and calculating your survival rates? Similar to being more efficient with nitrogen, can you use your variable-rate planting capabilities to be more efficient with your seed investment?

Start with your data. If you averaged 60 bu. per acre and planted five lb. per acre across your entire operation, your seed efficiency is 12 bu. per lb. On average, you had a 50 percent survival rate.

If you can increase the survival rate by 10 percent to 55 percent, this would mean you could reduce your seeding rate and save $5.50 per acre. Your efficiency would increase to 13.33 bu. per lb.

Now, taking this one step forward, was there a difference in survival rates in different zones? Which zones have the best emergence and could be tweaked?

  • Increasing acres seededor planted per day

If you are currently at 300 acres per day per drill, is 330 acres per day a realistic SMART goal? What would you have to change to make it happen? Could you stretch your day by getting someone to run the drills from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m.? How many hours would it take you to do the headlands and around potholes so the operator won’t get stuck?

On average, you lose 1.5 to two percent of yield for every day you delay seeding.

  • Reducing the cost per acre of fungicide application in canola from $32 to $29 without reducing the yield

This could be accomplished by using satellite imagery and reducing the acres that you are treating. Again, this goal is specific, measurable and time-based.

More and more data is being produced that shows that it is realistic, depending on your topography and the weather.

  • Lower your cost per bushel by 15 cents on wheat and 30 cents on canola

I recently crunched some numbers with a grower on his cost of production spreadsheet. It showed his operating cost of production for wheat to be $210 per acre.

He grew a 63 bu. average, so his costs were $3.33 per bu. The operating cost of production for his canola was $315 for a cost of $5.75 per bu.

The 15 cents per bu. on wheat and 30 cents per bu. on canola signify about a five percent increase in production efficiency. These numbers are across the entire farm.

Are there ways to drill this down to fields? How about by zone? This SMART goal would really need a lot of monitoring. If you aren’t collecting your cost of production numbers now, maybe it needs to wait until you can do so.

Once you have identified one or more SMART goals, you can focus your entire operation on what’s most important to your farming business. Sit down with your staff and family and communicate what the goals are.

This is also a great time to issue a challenge and reward folks when you achieve a goal.

Thom Weir is an agronomist with Farmer’s Edge. He can be reached by emailing thom.weir@farmersedge.ca.

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