by George Looby, DVM
Many of us, from time to time, become a bit frustrated by some of the programs emanating from our nation’s capital and we express our displeasure in a variety of ways. And then, on the flip side, there is the occasional program that hits the mark in sponsoring those who need assistance in some very basic way. So it was with a program presented by the UConn Extension Service on Wednesday, April 11 at the Research and Teaching Facility located in Storrs, CT. For some this facility might be better known as the Agronomy Farm.
This program was funded by a grant from the USDA-NIFA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. The USDA-NIFA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program was introduced in the summer of 2016 to help educate, mentor and enhance the sustainability of the next generation of farmers. The University of Connecticut was fortunate to obtain a grant of $597,598 to assist in developing a number of educational programs. Charlotte Ross acted as the coordinator of the program, serving on the extension staff on a three-year grant. Charlotte is a young vegetable farmer herself who, together with Jonathan Janeway, operates Sweet Acre Farm in Lebanon, CT where they raise vegetables, eggs and chickens. Much of their production is marketed through nearby farmers markets, CSA and the Willimantic Food Coop.
The featured speaker of the day was Shane J. LaBrake, agricultural consultant, who provides guidance and direction to young farmers over a wide geographical area. His topic for the day was Small Vegetable Farm Equipment. On small farms the size of a particular piece of equipment should match the size of the operation as closely as possible. There is no reasonable reason for investing in an oversized piece of equipment designed for a much larger farm, tying up capital. The skill level of the operator should always be taken into consideration when purchasing a piece of machinery. When the scale of a piece outpaces the skill level of the operator, something is going to suffer and the results are often not pretty. One way in which good management can be described is that it is an accumulation of good habits.
To increase the profitability of a given operation it needs to raise the bar for all levels of the operation but who is to say that this has happened? The opinions of those most directly involved are often somewhat biased so they must be arrived at in as impartial a way as possible. Plan for both macro and micro events. Many factors interact to determine the success or failure of an operation, many of which the operator has little or no control. Consider the weather, illness, breakdowns and the availability and dependability of labor all interacting to influence the success or failure of an operation.
A survey of the inventory available on a farm will help in determining immediate and future needs. Will the equipment available meet the needs of the overall operation? Will replacement help make the operation more efficient and profitable? Is the preventative maintenance program on the farm up to speed and current? Is the equipment safe? Are safety belts and roll bars used on a regular basis and all operators familiar with them and, beyond that, do they use them?
When making the determination as to when and why to buy a new piece of equipment, there are questions that need to be considered carefully before making a purchase. First one must ask if that purchase will make a measurable difference in the overall efficiency of the operation. One of the speaker’s major concerns was that of financing. He prefers to watch for promotional sales where zero percent financing becomes available. Beyond that he is in the rather favorable position of having family resources that he can tap into for funds when a purchase becomes necessary. If the experience level of the buyer is small it would be wise to enlist the assistance of an experienced friend or neighbor to go along as a consultant. When it comes down to good old-fashioned horse trading it is helpful to have a wise old hand along.
When buying a new tractor, consideration should be given to the full range of tasks that it is going to be asked to perform. A bucket with a quick attachment feature can avoid hours of frustration when mounting. Many newer models tend to be light in the rear end which can result in a loss of traction. The type of terrain on which the tractor will be operating should be given careful consideration. Careful considerations aside, when it comes to tractor buying even the most conservative individuals can get caught up in the excitement of the moment and must resist the impulse to buy the biggest, the shiniest, the most powerful unit on the lot.
Another area where experience plays a big role is in the area of machinery maintenance and repair. Not everyone is a gifted mechanic and if your own skill level is in the marginal range it is probably better to have a piece that is newer and somewhat less prone to breakdowns. Routine maintenance is within almost everyone’s ability but major repairs require considerable experience and training. If the distance to the nearest dealer is considerable, then having someone local to assist with repairs becomes even more important. A checklist is helpful to ensure that all necessary tasks are completed on schedule.
LaBrake’s overview for the beginning farmers group should be of great value to those in the early stages of their careers in helping them avoid some of the many pitfalls that they might otherwise encounter in their careers.