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As winter settles in, farmers are quickly turning attention to 2022 farm planning. Factors like farm labor availability and supply chain disruptions potentially complicate some normally straightforward purchase and planning decisions. Planning ahead is more important than ever.

This year’s “off-season” decisions could have lasting financial implications for many farmers. It’s time for a deep-dive into your 2022 farm planning and how you’ll make the most of every dollar of your planned spend.

Crop inputs

Crop farmers could see disrupted availability and higher prices for crop inputs like fertilizer herbicides and pesticides in 2022. As you firm up cropping plans for 2022, act quickly to capture any possible price discounts. Think about product bundling discounts and alternate products or practices in the event a specific herbicide isn’t available, for example.

“Talk to your suppliers early to identify challenges and buying opportunities,” said Nationwide Agribusiness Risk Management Consultant Derek Hommer, CCA. “Consult your agronomist, extension service or weed scientist on programs that will fit your farming operation.”

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Supply chain disruptions have made this a volatile marketplace, with prices moving sometimes sharply higher or lower based on local or regional availability. That’s likely to continue well into 2022, so Hommer said it’s a good idea to look at ways to get as efficient as possible with how you manage crop fertility.

“A zone or grid soil sampling system can help you fine tune your fertilizer program by applying only what you need, where you need. Consult your agronomist on how to best maximize your fertilizer dollars,” Hommer said. “Work with your supplier to take advantage of the seasonality of fertilizer demands, helping them bear some of the risk may lead to rewards. Evaluate your crop rotations and be open to changes to maximize your profitability and input costs.”

Buying your crop seed early is the best way to ensure you have the right hybrids and varieties for your acres. For 2022, those decisions are complicated by the availability of other crop inputs, Hommer said.

“Begin planning your seed purchases as soon as possible. Herbicide availability may or may not affect your seed purchases, and should be part of that consideration,” he said. “One of the most effective methods of weed control is by adequate crop stands, and your seed decisions will contribute to those stands.”

Hommer also recommends looking into production practices or crop management systems that can expand your seed options. Adding products like seed treatments might make some varieties or hybrids viable options where they may not have been in the past.

“Think about changes in practices like plant population, row spacing, or emergence. They all contribute to the establishment of a crop stand and may help some varieties that you haven’t considered in the past thrive on your acres,” Hommer said. “A seed treatment may also help add to final stand counts.”

Though every situation will be different depending on things like your location and the specific herbicides and pesticides you apply, there’s one fundamental way to help overcome challenges like tight supply and high prices for both product types: Keep your options open and plan ahead.

“Have multiple plans in mind so if Plan A doesn’t work, you have a Plan B and even a Plan C,” said Hommer. “Consider other weed management practices to lessen your dependence on herbicides for tough-to-control weed species.”

Livestock management

The cattle and hog marketplaces have been disrupted in the last two years by processing delays and logistical logjams that have sometimes challenged producers. Because the supply chain has been slowed by things like occasional temporary processing plant closures, Hommer recommends having a “Plan B” in place for both how you’ll support your beef, dairy or hog herd and how you’ll get your animals processed when it’s time to market them.

“Knowing that the supply chain is slow, plan ahead. Cows can and will calve before their due date whether you are ready or not, and even the most closely watched pigs can scour. Make a list of the supplies you will need to take care of your animals and order them well ahead. This will be especially helpful if you face processing delays,” Hommer said. “Stay in touch with your veterinarian on your upcoming plans, so that they too can be well stocked.”

Develop plans for the following components of your livestock management as you consider your 2022 strategy:

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Volatile grain prices, limited ingredient supplies in some locations and delivery disruptions are all possible in the coming year. Plan for these variables by making backup arrangements in the event your feed supply is disrupted for any reason.

The trucking sector continues to face both truck and driver shortages since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With a domestic shortage of almost 100,000 drivers, feed isn’t the only thing that could see interruptions in availability and movement in 2022. Cattle and hog trucks may be in short supply in some areas, creating the need to find alternative delivery arrangements or hold back animals altogether until transport is available. If you have animals to deliver under contract, Hommer recommends planning for a second transportation option so you can continue to fulfill your contractual obligations.

There’s no good time for an outbreak of pinkeye in a beef herd or something more like widespread gastrointestinal disease in a hog barn. A routine illness can become a major problem without the right animal health products and medicine to treat your animals. Make sure you have adequate supply on hand or plan for how to get those products in the event of an outbreak.

Business operations

The farm labor shortage has gotten a lot of attention since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and it continues to be an issue for many farmers moving into 2022 and beyond. Ensuring smooth operations also will depend on the right insurance coverage in the new year, especially with so much volatility in values for farm assets and things like crop inputs. It will be important to plan for how you’ll manage both moving into the new year, Hommer said.

“Now is a great time to look at labor efficiency as you plan for 2022,” he said. Are there jobs that you can custom hire to cut down on your labor needs? Would an investment in equipment or automation cut down on labor required?”

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Geography has a lot to do with the specific labor challenges farmers face today. In general, think about ways to make your available labor more efficient. That may mean thinking differently about how you handle certain field operations, for example.

Specifically, Hommer recommends thinking about these changes to cut down on labor or make available labor more efficient:

  • Switch to production systems like no-till that cut down the trips across a field.
  • Add automated or robotic tools or practices to handle some jobs previously done by a human worker.
  • Change planting dates to spread out the workload over a longer time period.
  • Adjust crop rotations to align with available labor at key times in the crop year.
  • Custom-hire some field operations or work with a neighbor to share the investment in required equipment or labor.

Find more tips on how to manage farm labor shortages here.

The dawn of a new year is a good time to make sure you’ve got the right farm insurance in place. Think about any potential new liabilities and whether you’re covered for them moving into the new year.

“Your farm changes every year. Have you kept your agent aware of the purchases you’ve made, things you’ve sold, or additional liability you may be taking on?” Hommer said. “This is a great time to review your farm coverage with your agent as well as bring them up to speed on the past years changes, and the plans you have for 2022.”

Even though many will enter 2022 thinking first about buying decisions relating to the new year’s crop or livestock output, there are always big-ticket purchases and long-term capital expenses to think about, especially if you have growing needs like outdated machinery or buildings in need of major upkeep work. Availability for all of these could be short in 2022. Whether you simply want to be attentive to maintenance needs or have plans to make major updates to your farm, it’s another area to plan for in the new year.

“Availability of new equipment and parts is going to continue to be a struggle in 2022,” Hommer said. “Increasing your routine maintenance schedule can help you identify potential maintenance issues way earlier.”

Supply chain issues like those in the crop protection and fertilizer markets are hitting the farm machinery and equipment sector. Moving into 2022, that could make it hard to get everything from routine maintenance components and parts to tractors, sprayers and other power machinery.

Being more vigilant and active with maintaining parts inventory, conducting routine maintenance and staying attentive to the condition of wear parts can help you stay ahead of breakdowns that could be even more costly in a year when supplies are short. Technology can aid in that effort. Hommer recommends considering tools like thermal imaging that can help keep an eye on machines and parts so you know how much life they have left.

“Old equipment can be made better by investing in new technology,” he said. “Could adding a camera system make the equipment safer? Or can you add temperature monitoring for things like bearings that are prone to failure? These types of tools can help save a lot of downtime.”

In the early part of 2021, costs for building materials like framing lumber skyrocketed because of supply disruptions. Though they’ve returned to previous levels, future similar logistical logjams like transportation shortages could cause similar market reactions in 2022. It’s another thing to think about if you’re thinking about building or renovating barns, farm shops or other buildings on your farm. Planning ahead can help secure building materials and help you better weather any potential price spikes throughout the year.

Also think about your local marketplace. If many area farmers are constructing new grain bins, for example, building materials may be in short supply later in the year.

“Look over your facilities and making plans for maintenance ahead. Now may be a good time to contact contractors and bid projects for next spring,” Hommer said. “Grain bins and parts are in high demand in some areas. Now is a great time to start the conversation on improvements to your facility for next year.”

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