Use Equipment/Technology to Manage Risk

March 19, 2010

COLUMBUS, Ohio – For farmers looking to manage weather-related economic risks, equipment and technology are their best friends.

Randall Reeder, an Ohio State University Extension agricultural engineer, said that weather is a major factor in risk management, from cool, wet conditions at spring planting to muddy conditions during fall harvest.

However, farmers can minimize the risks related to weather through the use of technology and equipment, including bigger machinery, conservation tillage, wider tires, controlled traffic, precision agriculture, improved drainage and on-farm tools such as a grain dryer. In dryer climates, modern irrigation systems are common as a risk-management tool.

Reeder recently provided the information to farmers at an AgCredit Risk Management workshop, conducted at Tri-Rivers Career Center in Marion, Ohio.

"Using bigger equipment offers risk benefits," said Reeder. "A 12-row planter instead of a 6-row planter can aid a farmer in planting corn on time, thereby eliminating or reducing the yield losses that usually occur for corn planted after May 10. Or the farmer may choose to plant twice as many acres. In addition, a bigger planter reduces the cost or need for hired labor."

Reeder, who also holds an appointment with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, said that a bigger combine offers similar advantages. Having a grain dryer on the farm can speed up harvest.

"Having a grain dryer, or a bigger one, allows earlier harvest," said Reeder. "In southern Illinois, thousands of acres of corn did not get harvested in 2009 because the region depends on the weather for natural grain drying."

Making adjustments to, as well as properly maintaining farm equipment, can also aid in risk management.

For example, wider, lower pressure tires can improve trafficability on wet soils and reduce compaction.

"Rubber tracks can serve the same purpose," said Reeder. "Both tires and tracks can reduce the risk of getting stuck."

Reeder recommends farmers practice preventive maintenance on farm equipment.

"Routinely replacing planter parts that typically need attention during planting can save delays. In addition, keeping good records can allow other components that usually last for about three or four years to be replaced before breakdown," said Reeder. "Getting equipment prepared in the off-season is always a wise idea."

Technology, from precision agriculture to certain production practices, can also be a farmer's friend when it comes to managing risk.

"Continuous no-till, for one, is a major risk management practice," said Reeder. "Eliminating primary and secondary tillage operations saves time and money."

Reeder said that while no-till soybeans is common practice, most farmers have yet to pick up no-till corn because they still figure that the extra cost of tillage is a better economic risk than the possibility of lower yields associated with no-till production.

"However, it's hard to argue against a system that requires only these operations: plant, apply nutrients, spray for weed/insect/disease control when necessary, and harvest," said Reeder.

In addition, Reeder said that continuous no-till helps minimize compaction damage from a wet fall, such as what occurred in 2009.

"Those farmers may need some light tillage to smooth out ruts before planting, but their fields are less likely to have severe compaction than fields with tillage every year or two," said Reeder.

Controlled traffic is another production technique that can help control compaction. Controlled traffic is a method whereby all farm equipment is driven in the same paths year after year.

"It's a good choice to reduce compaction, but it's seldom practiced because it's a challenge to get all equipment the same basic operating width and aligning all heavy tires to fit the traffic pattern," said Reeder. "But add RTK auto-steering and controlled traffic is more manageable."

Of all the risk management techniques a crop producer can practice, Reeder said many farmers agree the most important is proper surface and subsurface field drainage.

"As one farmer emphasized, if your land needs drainage, nothing else matters until that is taken care of," said Reeder.

Author(s): 
Candace Pollock
Source(s): 
Randall Reeder