Farm Management

Benefits of good farm management

The farm is an enterprise that is most dependent on the farmer’s own decisions, current and past weather events, as well as soil and climatic conditions and the markets for supplying the farm and selling its products.

Farmers have to make dozens of decisions on a daily basis (it has been calculated to be around 40 significant decisions per day!) forced by organisational, economic and market realities. Clearly, most of the effort is directed at matters directly concerning current production. However, it is always essential for the farmer to take a broader view of whole-farm management. This involves sensibly and consciously making optimal, long-term decisions so that the farm’s resources are used optimally, delivering the greatest possible economic surplus with the lowest possible environmental costs not only today, but also in the foreseeable future (link).

Farmers, as entrepreneurs, need to have a reliable and credible basis for all decisions. The use of decision support systems (DST), especially well developed in crop production, can significantly help to adapt farm operations to current market conditions and needs, as well as to take account of changing climatic and technological conditions. Climatic conditions influence the spread of both known and new crop pathogens, but also shape crop resistance.

One of the most important factors impeding long-term farm management is climate change. Observed climatic changes are significant deviations from the characteristic perennial conditions in the weather pattern. The manifestations of climate change are not only the commonly emphasised increase in temperature, but any deviation from previous weather conditions. This can be a greater or lesser frequency of thunderstorms, hot days or frosty days. More frequent extreme phenomena reduce agricultural productivity by directly damaging crops, reducing yields as well as indirectly by making it more difficult to carry out correct and timely agrotechnical procedures, favouring the development of diseases and crop pests. The greatest crop yield losses are recorded when adverse weather events occur during critical periods for crop yield. Most cereals, for example, are very sensitive to drought conditions at the flowering and grain-filling stage. In years with excess precipitation, yield declines are caused by water-logging in the fields, increased severity of crop diseases and pests, and difficulties in carrying out field work in a timely and accurate manner. Intense rainfall, thunderstorms and hailstorms can cause direct damage to plants or the crop at maturity, as well as causing soil erosion. Significant yield reductions can arise from late frosts and heat waves. These phenomena are the greatest threats posed by the climate change currently being observed. Losses caused by extreme events – according to analyses for the European area – are expected to be the main reason for the loss of about 17% of European crop yields over the next 30 years. The impact of climate change will also affect livestock production by, among other things, increasing investments in ventilation and air-conditioning for livestock, especially for cattle.

Climate change:

  • can cause loss of income for farms and consequently lead to their financial difficulties as a result of more frequent flooding, droughts, frosts, etc.,
  • may result in the need for increased investment in the adaptation of livestock buildings and, in their absence, to a reduction in animal productivity,
  • can lead to economic and livelihood problems for rural residents as a result of property damage due to more frequent violent storms, flooding etc.,
  • may lead to a reduction in production possibilities in the area due to an increase in new pests and plant diseases, may lead to environmental damage due to:
    1. excessive drying and degradation of soils as a result of drought or flooding,
    2. excessive incidence of pests and diseases at unrecorded levels,
    3. more frequent floods degrading floodplains, which will significantly increase the social and environmental risks associated with agricultural production.

Along with climate change, the problem of earlier occurrence of cereal pests, e.g. horsetail, causing a real risk of yield losses, and therefore the need for plant protection product use adapted to the new scenario, must be taken into account. Due to the increase in the area of maize cultivation in Poland – to which the rise in temperature over the last half century has also contributed – the range of maize pests and diseases is increasing towards the north. Until recently, they were present only in the southern part of the country, e.g. European corn borer and western corn rootworm, or leaf spot. Now they are present throughout Poland.

Following the introduction of new crop species or changes in soil tillage technology – resulting from market, technological, organisational or climatic conditions – new pests can be expected to colonise crops or there may be changes in the intensity of pests already observed. Factors such as fertilisation, water availability, as well as increased concentrations of carbon dioxide, ozone or UV radiation can also influence the change in conditions for the spread of crop disease pathogens and pests. Weather extremes that cause stress and weaken plants can increase the secondary incidence of crop diseases and pests, affecting the financial effect on the farm. Most of these risks can be identified earlier using decision support systems and the actions taken will be much more effective. Decision support systems help to apply the right crop protection strategy against old as well as new threats from agrophages.

The farm business plan is the foundation of the farm

–  the basis and plan for the commercial operation, taking into account its goals, objectives, the conditions for achieving them, as well as the expected economic results and financial impact. In drawing up the farm business plan, the general principle of economy – both of expenditure and of the environmental and social impact of activities – should be kept in mind at all times. According to this principle, specific objectives should be achieved with as little effort and resources as possible, optimising them. In the case of farms, this involves savings in terms of human and objectified labour inputs, as well as in terms of energy, time, space and environmental consumption. Any farm business plan should be built on a few basic principles. In order to ensure that the selection of planned activities is not haphazard, too labour-intensive and that it leads to the envisaged goal, appropriate planning principles should be applied.

In this case you should:

  • get to know the farm for which you are developing a plan well,
  • know its objectives and production conditions,
  • know the criteria for evaluating the achievement of the objective,
  • know the limitations of the farm,
  • have the necessary expertise, both professional and communicative,
  • make the optimal choice.

Important matters, such as a business plan, cannot be treated according to the principle of ‘it will wortk itself out’. A clash with unforeseen and unexpected events always carries huge risks and is the cause of most problems and failures. Therefore, three principles should be kept in mind:

  • make full use of all the knowledge we have,
  • prepare ourselves as well as possible in every respect,
  • be proactive and respond to all incidents in real time,
  • and then carefully observe how the implementation of the established plan is going.