Put a pencil to harvest strategy

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by Chuck Danehower, University of Tennessee

National Corn Growers Association
It's September. And though cool, wet weather in some areas delayed crop progress this season, many growers are now shifting to harvest mode. While there is maybe a little lull before harvest, review management duties as you get ready for harvest.

Evaluate harvesting power. Do you have the combine or picker power to efficiently harvest your crop on a timely basis? Do you need an additional harvester either through purchase, lease, or by having some acres custom harvested? If the harvest season gets drawn out due to the lateness of crops and weather, extra harvest power may be needed. Put a pencil to it! If you need assistance in this evaluation, contact your County Extension office or area farm management specialist.

Update your 2014 cash flow plan. A quick yield and price assessment to estimate income along with examination of remaining outflows for the year can prevent problems before they occur. Include in the outflows- operating loan, equipment & land loans, cash rent, and an estimate of remaining expenses. On the income side, there won't be any USDA direct payments coming in October. The new farm bill may generate a payment for your farm, but it would probably be 2015 before that is known. If you estimate a shortfall, start exploring now ways to address it.
Update your marketing plan. Will you be able to fill your contracts? Talk to your local elevator for alternatives. Prices have been trending downward so evaluate carefully whether additional contracting should be done before harvest.
Hopefully, any storage that will be needed has been evaluated and or secured for this crop. Have you considered any post-harvest strategies? Have you explored selling to potential end users such as ethanol plants or livestock producers? Keep in mind that just because you have storage, doesn't mean you have to use it.

Identify the weak areas of your fields as harvest gets ready to start. What corrective measures can be made for next year? Include weed problems in your assessment. Resistant weeds should be particularly identified as a small problem can quickly get out of control the next year.
While the weed problems are fresh in your mind, explore what you can do this fall and in 2015 to control any problems. Many Universities including the University of Tennessee have field days right before harvest starts and would be a good place to evaluate control measures.

Start considering tax planning. If you wait until December, it is too late. Talk to your accountant and share your cash flow assessment. Any major tax planning should always be for economic reasons as well as saving taxes. Taking on additional debt to save a little in income taxes, may not be feasible.

Start formulating 2015 plans. Evaluate whether you will plant wheat for 2015. It won't be long before you will be asked to start making 2015 seed purchases.

Know When to Hold 'Em
Looking ahead to this fall, cow-calf producers face a tough decision: Sell calves at record-high prices at weaning, or sell them at record-high prices later. Not a bad problem to have, but one that deserves some evaluation, as a variety of factors play into determining the "best" marketing plan for an individual operation. Derrell Peel, marketing specialist at Oklahoma State University, says the cow-calf producer is in the drivers' seat this year, as marketing calves right off the cow will generate excellent returns for most.
Some might want to forward-contract and price their calves for fall delivery, but Peel does not see much downside risk in waiting to price calves later.
Kansas State University Agricultural economist Glynn Tonsor agrees. Cow-calf producers face a blessing and a curse with multiple marketing options to consider this year. Tonsor sees four primary options for cow-calf producers to consider: sell at weaning, hold calves after weaning through a fall backgrounding period on forage, retain ownership through finishing, and finally, expand the herd by retaining more heifers. With the current prices, it is difficult to retain heifers.

Take the Money and Run
According to Darrell Mark of South Dakota State, marketing calves at weaning this fall remains an attractive option for many producers. Mark says the Livestock Marketing
Information Center projects returns over cash costs, including pasture rent, to be near $350 per head for an "average" cow-calf operation in 2014. Last year's average return was about $123

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