Easy, Efficient, Effective or Expensive?

Let’s get it right out of the way first: I am not an agronomist.

I do, however, have a solid base of understanding relating to agronomy. With tongue in cheek I like to say, “I know enough to be dangerous.” Nonetheless, I took great pride in the significant attention to detail I employed while being in charge of seeding when still part of the farm. I carefully measured TKW (thousand kernel weight) and calculated seed rates accordingly. I was diligent about what fertilizer, and volume of fertilizer went into the seed row (we only had a single shoot drill.) I always slowed down to 4mph or less when seeding canola and ensured to reduce the wind speed to the lowest possible rate to minimize the risk of canola seed coat damage.

I always had a long season in spring from having to cover the whole farm twice: once with a fertilizer blend to be banded, (all of the N and whatever PKS that couldn’t go in the seed row) usually at least 2″ deep; the second pass was with seed and an appropriate PKS blend that could be be in the seed row. It’s just what I did to respect what I’d learned about the importance of fertilizer rate and placement. It took more time in applying, hauling home, storing, etc. It created operational challenges during application (it seems there were never enough trucks and augers available.) It took more time to set the drill for the correct application rate. All of that didn’t matter to me because I only had once chance to get the crop in the ground and fertilizer properly applied (at least at that time, the equipment we had made it so that all fert was applied in spring) and I wasn’t going to leave anything to chance that I could easily control.

The key point in fertilizer management is “The 4 R’s.” Right source, right rate, right place, and right time of fertilizer application make for the best use of your investment. So why over the last number of years have we seen such a boom in spreading fertilizer on top of the soil?

This article was recently published by FCC. There is no ambiguity as to the best and most effective way to apply phosphorus. I’ll ask again, “What’s with the shortcuts?”

I know the answer: time. There isn’t time to incorporate adequate volumes of fertilizer into the soil. We can use a spinner that has a 100′ spread at 10mph (or more;) this permits more fertilizer to be applied in a shorter amount of time, and it permits fewer stops to fill the drill during seeding…all of it saving precious time. I get it.

But where is the trade off? Have The 4 R’s of Fertility been tossed aside completely? Where is the balance?

Casting aside the proven science of the 4 R’s in order to save time by broadcasting is easy and efficient, but is it effective? I suppose that depends on what effectiveness you are trying to accomplish. I’m suggesting effectiveness of the fertilizer you’ve paid dearly for.

Direct Questions

When making important management decisions like fertility, what methods are you employing to determine your best strategy?

Where is your balance between ease, efficiency, effectiveness, and expense when making critical management decisions?

How has your Unit Cost of Production projection changed if you decide to accept only 80-90% effectiveness from your fertility program?

From the Home Quarter

What is easy might seem efficient, we might believe it is effective, but it is most likely expensive. Historically, decisions were made with the goal of minimizing expense with little else given to consider ease, efficiency, or effectiveness. Management decisions that do not provide adequate emphasis on effectiveness will likely see higher expenses. Your focus with your agronomy must be to produce at the lowest Unit Cost of Production possible on your farm. Choosing a fertilizer application method that places more emphasis on that which is easy versus that which is most effective is likely to create a situation that is expensive. Management decisions that focus heavily on one aspect to the detriment of the others rarely achieve results that meet or exceed expectations.

Introducing the Growing Farm Profits 4E Management System™. Details to follow.

About the Author

Kim Gerencser

Kim has a unique ability of fostering strong business relationships by building trust quickly and easily through his genuine care and interest in the well-being of everyone he speaks with. Kim holds a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) designation, a Bachelor’s Degree in Financial Services, and a lifetime of on-the-farm experience. After nearly a decade in the financial industry, Kim knew he could bring greater value to farmers by being independent, unbiased, and unrestricted in how he serves his clients.


This content is published with permission of the author.

For more information, visit Growing Farm Profits Inc.


 

 

If You Are Happy Just Floating Along, Go Fishing!

I wasn’t trying to be funny when I quipped what is the title of this commentary while in a meeting with an excellent banker and the exciting young prospective client he introduced me to. It just sort of rolled off my tongue in the moment. It was a hit; both men enjoy fishing.

The premise of that particular conversation was profit. In my work as a lender and a consultant, I venture to say I’ve looked at hundreds and hundreds, maybe thousands, of financial statements. Those statements have told a vast array of stories, from the depths of successive and devastating financial losses to the opposite end of the spectrum with profits that make you wonder if your’re drunk when reading it. Many hang around the middle, somewhere south of an impressive profit , but still north of a fundamentally adverse loss. It is sad to discover than many farmers create this break-even situation by choice.

The choice is often centered around tax and the great lengths taken to avoid payment of income tax. The list is long and arduous; it won’t be found here.

Let’s put this in real terms. Most farms I’ve analyzed range from approximately $250/acre on the low side to $400/acre (or even higher) as the figure that represents whole farm cash costs. That is the amount of cash required to operate the entire farm for one full year. Now, I got my math learnin’ in a small town school, long before calculators were allowed in the classroom, back when cutting edge computer technology was the Commodore Vic 20, but math is math, so if we consider a 10,000ac farm with $400/ac costs, we’re looking at $4,000,000…each year!

Granted, there aren’t too many 10,000ac farmers who are happy to break-even each year, but they are out there. At the end of the day, I don’t care if you’re 400 acres or 140,000 acres, expect a profit!

Farmers take far too much risk each year to not expect a profit. If you walked $4,000,000 into any bank, could you get a better return than 0%? Of course! You could get a risk free rate in GICs that would probably approach 3% (or maybe 4%…any bankers reading this what to comment???) So I ask why, if you could get a risk free rate of 3% or 4%, why would you take a sh_t-ton of risk to accept a 3% or 4% return farming?

Direct Questions

Investing $4,000,000 in GICs and getting a risk-free 3% annual return grosses $120,000 per year before tax. Could you live on that?

Land owners/investors demand a rent that mimics 5% return on the value of the land. If you invested $4,000,000 in land, you could earn upwards of $200,000 gross in rent, plus enjoy the long term capital appreciation…could you live on that?

What is an acceptable return to demand from your business…based on the amount of risk you take each year?

From the Home Quarter

Farming is not for the faint of heart. Farmers accept the financial risks that come with farming because they understand them. The opposite if often true of stock markets: farmers aren’t typically investors in equity markets because generally they don’t fully understand the risks. But savvy stock investors who do understand the risks still expect a positive return, they aren’t happy “just getting by.”

If you’re happy just floating along, go fishing.

About the Author

Kim Gerencser

Kim has a unique ability of fostering strong business relationships by building trust quickly and easily through his genuine care and interest in the well-being of everyone he speaks with. Kim holds a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) designation, a Bachelor’s Degree in Financial Services, and a lifetime of on-the-farm experience. After nearly a decade in the financial industry, Kim knew he could bring greater value to farmers by being independent, unbiased, and unrestricted in how he serves his clients.


This content is published with permission of the author.

For more information, visit Growing Farm Profits Inc.


 

 

Hide & Seek: How Perfection Kills Success

While on holidays in early July, I watched our group of 3-5 year olds playing hide and seek. They were having a ball because each of them is learning to count so being the seeker was their chance to show everyone how high they could count, because the thrill of the chase is invigorating, and because the risk of getting caught (found) adds an element of excitement.

What I found consistent while watching these children play was how all of them, no matter how long the “seeker” counted, kept moving from one hiding spot to another. Yes, these are small kids, aged 3 to 5; yes, they are too young to grasp the strategic concept of the game; yes, they were actually hoping to get found. It appeared as though they would hide, then identify a spot that looked better, so they’d leave their first hiding spot to go to another. Once there, they’d realize that it either wasn’t as good as it looked, or that they see yet a better hiding spot elsewhere. And the cycle continued until the seeker was done counting.

The point is not meant to be critical because it applies to older kids who do understand the strategy of hiding stealthily so that the seeker can’t use his other senses to pick up a hint where the hiders might be. Either by making noise while hiding, or by wasting their precious lead time looking for the ideal place to hide, they often leave themselves vulnerable by trying to find the perfect hiding spot.

These children were exhibiting a behavior that we, as adults, emulate far too often. We regularly short-change ourselves by seeking perfection, or our personal idea of it; we jeopardize success in the now because we we see something that we “think” is better.

The young children playing hide and seek spent their entire hide time, while the seeker counted, their entire hide time was spent moving from spot to spot, often giving up a great hiding spot for a poorer one. The older kids playing hide and seek waste their hide time by trying to find that perfect spot that no one has thought of, and when they can’t find it by the time the seeker announces “Ready or not, here I come,” the hiders are usually not ready and end up settling for a terrible hiding spot just so that they actually hide and aren’t caught just standing there in the open…


How does this apply to you or your business?

  • How much time over the winter is spent researching the “perfect” seed variety to grow?
  • How much time is invested into monitoring equipment prices and inventories to feed the desire of owning a seed tool (sprayer/tractor/combine) which might be “that much better” than the one on farm now?
  • How much time is spent in frustration thumbing through all the resorts available to choose from in the Caribbean so that your winter vacation will be “perfect?”

 

Direct Questions

Is there more analysis put into short term decisions than long-term or even permanent decision?
(It took 3 months to decide what canola to seed…but we’ll just expand that bin yard over there!)

Is there more analysis put into what we find fun and less into what we don’t enjoy?
(I know precisely how many combines like mine are for sale in Manitoba right now, but I haven’t bothered to consider if I could reduce my interest rates.)

Have you passed by a really good hiding spot because you were trying to find the perfect one?

From the Home Quarter

“Paralysis by Analysis” is a not so old adage that I lean on regularly. It is a challenge for detail guys like me because we want to be sure we’ve got everything right and in place before we take the next step. “Paralysis” because sufferers never take the next step; they justify their inaction because the “analysis” isn’t complete. News Flash: it is never complete!

I have made great strides in shucking that condition. It pokes its head out occasionally…I treat it like “Whack-A-Mole!”

Your farm will succeed if your canola variety yields 3 bushels less, but stands better than the other variety you desired. Seeking a marginally better sprayer probably won’t make enough difference in your overall profitability to cover the added cost. And take the damn vacation…you deserve it, you’ve earned it! Stressing over picking the “right resort” kills part of the fun. It’s like trying to pick the juiciest apple on the tree by looking at them from the ground.

About the Author

Kim Gerencser

Kim has a unique ability of fostering strong business relationships by building trust quickly and easily through his genuine care and interest in the well-being of everyone he speaks with. Kim holds a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) designation, a Bachelor’s Degree in Financial Services, and a lifetime of on-the-farm experience. After nearly a decade in the financial industry, Kim knew he could bring greater value to farmers by being independent, unbiased, and unrestricted in how he serves his clients.


This content is published with permission of the author.

For more information, visit Growing Farm Profits Inc.


 

 

ROA – Return on Assets

Return on assets, or “ROA” as we’ll refer to it, is an often overlooked financial metric on the farm. Partly, I think it is because there is a culture in agriculture that places too much emphasis, even “romanticizes” the accumulation of assets (namely land, but mostly equipment.) This doesn’t necessarily bode well for ROA calculations. But the greater reason ROA isn’t a regular discussion on the farm, in my experience, is because it is not understood.

The math is simple to understand, so when I say “ROA is not understood,” I mean that the significance of ROA, and its impact, is not appreciated.

Return on Assets is a profitability measure. Its key drivers are operating profit margin and the “asset turnover ratio.” ROA should be greater than the cost of borrowed capital.


 

Let’s ask the question: “When calculating ROA, do we use market value or cost basis of assets in the denominator?” The simple answer is “BOTH!”
Do two calculations:
1) using “cost” to measure actual operational performance;
2) using market value to measure “opportunity analysis” which is a nice way of saying “could you invest in other assets that might generate a better return than your farm assets?”


 

Operating profit margin is calculated as net farm income divided gross farm revenue, and is a key driver of Return on Assets.

The asset turnover ratio (also a key driver of ROA) measures how efficiently a business’ assets are being used to generate revenue. It is calculated as total revenue divided by total assets. The crux of this measurement is that it has a way of showing the downside of asset accumulation. The results of this calculation illustrate how many dollars in revenue your business generates for every dollar invested in assets. While there is no clear benchmark for this metric, I’ve heard farm advisors with over 3 decades experience share figures that range from 0.25 to 0.50. This means that for every dollar of investment in assets, the business generates 25-50 cents of revenue (NOTE, that is REVENUE not PROFIT).

If assets increase and revenue does not, the asset turnover figure trends negatively.
If revenue increases and profit does not, the operating profit margin trends negatively.
Increasing revenue alone will not positively affect ROA. “Getting bigger” or “producing more” alone without increasing profit does not make a difference. If you recall: “Better is better before bigger is better…”

To Plan for Prosperity

As you will find in many of these regular commentaries, the financial measurements described within are each but one of many practical tools to be used in the analysis of your business. Return on Assets cannot be used on its own to determine the strength or weakness of your operation. But used in combination with other key metrics, we can determine where the hot issues are, and how to fix them so that your business can maximize efficiency, cash flow, and profitability.

About the Author

Kim Gerencser

Kim has a unique ability of fostering strong business relationships by building trust quickly and easily through his genuine care and interest in the well-being of everyone he speaks with. Kim holds a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) designation, a Bachelor’s Degree in Financial Services, and a lifetime of on-the-farm experience. After nearly a decade in the financial industry, Kim knew he could bring greater value to farmers by being independent, unbiased, and unrestricted in how he serves his clients.


This content is published with permission of the author.

For more information, visit Growing Farm Profits Inc.


 

 

Per Acre Equipment Calculation

In the June 8, 2017 edition of the Western Producer, columnist Kevin Hursh penned Per acre equipment calculation can be revealing. As is typical, Hursh hits the nail on the head with this piece by suggesting farms should know their equipment investment per acre. His column goes on to describe how new equipment has seen significant increases in SRP (suggester retail price) over the last few years, contributing greatly to the elevating of the “per acre equipment calculation.”

First, let’s figure out where you are at. Add up the current value of all your equipment, owned and leased. If that total is $2.5million, and if your farm is 5,000 acres, your equipment investment per acre is $500. If we compare that to a 2,500 acre farm with $1million invested in equipment (therefore $400/ac), who is better off?

Measure it against earnings

Last year, I had a client tell me about a meeting with his lender. This particular client is small acreage, relatively speaking (under 1,000ac in crop) and yet was quite well equipped for his acres. He carried minimal debt, and despite some cash flow challenges over the previous two years, his working capital was still very strong. He was seeking a high-clearance sprayer so that he could ensure timely fungicide applications for his lentils, and other high value crops. The feedback he received from his lender was that his “equipment investment per acre was to high.” On the basis of that single calculation, it most certainly was. What the lender failed to evaluate was the entire farm profitability. Because of the small acre base, my client was able to produce a rotation of high-management high value crops. His net profit per acre was almost double a typical grain farm. His ability to justify a high equipment investment per acre was evident. Needless to say, he acquired his sprayer (a used model valued at just north of $100,000) pushing is equipment investment per acre from $484 to $644.If we only looked at equipment investment per acre, we would likely conclude that Farm B is in a better situation by only having $400/ac invested in equipment versus Farm A having $500/ac. Yet when we dig further by bringing EBITDA into the calculation (EBITDA is Earnings Before Interest Taxes Depreciation & Amortization) we discover that Farm A generates stronger EBITDA per acre than Farm B, and is therefore possibly justified in having a higher investment per acre in equipment. In practical applications, even this doesn’t go far enough to determine which is better, but it’s a start.

To Plan for Prosperity

Delving into management calculations can be daunting and confusing. If we don’t know what to look for, how it compares, or even if we’re not measuring anything, we’re already behind before getting started. Begin by measuring the many facets of your business; in this case, “What is your equipment investment per acre?” How has is changed over the last five to ten years?

Relating back to my client, his EBITDA was a whisker under $120/ac, so his EBITDA to Equipment Investment on a per acre basis was about 0.186:1. This means that with his equipment investment of $644/ac will generate about $0.186/ac in EBITDA. Is that a good metric? As Kevin Hursh closed his column, “It’s unfortunate that more information isn’t available on the typical investment levels in each region. That would allow producers to make more relevant comparisons.”

About the Author

Kim Gerencser

Kim has a unique ability of fostering strong business relationships by building trust quickly and easily through his genuine care and interest in the well-being of everyone he speaks with. Kim holds a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) designation, a Bachelor’s Degree in Financial Services, and a lifetime of on-the-farm experience. After nearly a decade in the financial industry, Kim knew he could bring greater value to farmers by being independent, unbiased, and unrestricted in how he serves his clients.


This content is published with permission of the author.

For more information, visit Growing Farm Profits Inc.


 

 

Grain Market Ebb & Flow Expected to Continue in 2018

As we turn to 2018, keep in mind that market conditions are in a constant state of change due to a multitude of reasons and when market circumstances are shifting, we must fine tune our plans.

I would characterize the major grain, cereals and oilseeds markets over the past two to three years as embroiled in an ebb and flow battle of big supply versus big demand.

Global agricultural production has seen record large production for at least the last three years. At the same time, demand for food and feed ingredients is equally powerful, which in many cases has surprised all agricultural players on how quickly product is consumed worldwide.

And so is the perpetual motion of a big supply versus big demand environment, we don’t necessarily have a sustained bull or bear market. Rather, we have a few weeks or months where market focus may be on large crops, with prices trending generally lower. Then, a realization the global community is chewing through the large supply at a more rapid rate than believed, and price tends to generally trend upward for a few weeks or months. In essence, we have seen a broader, longer-term sideways trend to grain markets, punctuated at times by some wild swings, though remaining within each commodity’s respective ranges. There is no clear signal yet that this condition is about to change.

As we turn to 2018, keep in mind that market conditions are in a constant state of change due to a multitude of reasons and when market circumstances are shifting, we must tune our plans.

Wheat

This is a uniquely Western Canada situation where elevator spring wheat price discovery is less mindful of trends in futures prices and more focused on protein premiums/discounts. I do not view the Canadian wheat market as short of protein. Rather, it is net short market-ready protein.

The wheat market’s primary task has been to cobble together usable blends of quality spring wheat approximating a target protein of near 13.5 per cent. Note, though, that near the end of 2017, bids for higher protein wheat were valued because of blend value to achieve the target protein requirement.

In order to see price appreciation of the lower end of the protein spectrum, we need to see some generalized price rally across global wheat markets, likely requiring 2018 crop adversity as a measure where a rising tide can lift all boats. Weather events, government actions and moisture concerns across the United States Plains and Western Canada are all factors that could move the wheat market in early 2018.

Feed grains

Prairie cash feed barley pricing has worked its way higher through the fall season. Despite U.S. corn price weakness, Lethbridge cash feed barley bids are holding rather firmly. Rising cattle numbers entering southern Alberta feedlots and an advance into wintery conditions appears to have elevated feed demand for barley.

Our feed market will likely remain firm, but I am concerned that a fading U.S. corn market may become increasingly competitive for the feed-user dollar. Near the end of 2017, fundamental news that might lift oppressively bearish attitudes in the corn market remained lacking.

Oilseeds

Following a November peak, canola and soybean pricing retreated, still part of the big supply and demand price formula. Expect another turn up during the canola market’s seasonally supportive March-May period.

Demand will at times need to be inspired by a cheaper relative valuation to other oilseeds because sustaining crush margin mediocrity and a $50 a tonne premium to soybeans is not realistic at all times. Nonetheless, China’s insatiable appetite for oilseeds (soybeans and canola) will continue to provide support for prices through the year ahead.

Emerging world vegetable oil price trends will be important to influencing canola valuation.

Pulses

The big news here is India’s decision to drop a 50 per cent pea import tariff bomb on imports. Prairie cash bids for yellow peas took a sudden turn lower in late 2017 as the ensuing confusion triggered cardiac arrest throughout the pulse trade here and internationally.

The Indian food policy is unpredictable, driven by those who support high stocks and low prices for the benefit of consumers and those in favour of higher prices for the benefit of farmers. In this instance, this policy decision has been made with the benefit of farmers in mind.

The trade situation is obviously not good. But longer term, the situation may not be as dire as it appears at this time.

North America produced 1.35 million tonnes fewer peas in 2017, meaning fewer to sell, and in time, there will be a recalibration of demand outlets to encourage an important move away from Canada being as heavily dependent on India as a buyer. Watch for increased demand for milling peas and protein extraction industries.

Bottom line

Always be prepared to make marketing plans as markets shift. As we look towards 2018, crop adversity could strengthen wheat prices, while Chinese demand is expected to provide 2018 support for oilseeds. In pulses, a recalibration of demand outlets should smooth out Indian trade disruption.


Mike Jubinville of Pro Farmer Canada offers information on commodity markets and marketing strategies. Call 204-654-4290 or visit www.pfcanada.com to find out more about his services.


xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx IF YOU ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE, CHECK OUT THE REST OF OUR ANYTHING AG WITH FCC SERIES FOR MORE!

 

This content is published with permission of the author and Farm Credit Canada (FCC). FCC is Canada’s leading agricultural lender. We live and breathe Canadian agriculture, agribusiness and agri-food.

For more information, visit fcc.ca.

Temple Grandin: An Animal Welfare Game-Changer

 

VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS

  • Temple’s revolutionary Center Track Restraining System is designed to reduce stress in animals
  • Farmers and ranchers speaking directly to consumers is the best way to build public trust
  • Public needs to know about the positive changes in cattle handling and meat-packing industries

 

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx IF YOU ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE, CHECK OUT THE REST OF OUR ANYTHING AG WITH FCC SERIES FOR MORE!

 

This content is published with permission of the author and Farm Credit Canada (FCC). FCC is Canada’s leading agricultural lender. We live and breathe Canadian agriculture, agribusiness and agri-food.

For more information, visit fcc.ca.