Monday, February 16, 2009

Diversify or Die

4) Plan Multiple Projects. Every bird game hunter in Canada knows that in order to hit a moving target you need to send up a spread of pellets. While it takes only one BB to bring down a duck, it is impossible to tell in advance which one out of the two dozen in a shot shell will be the one to hit the mark. So too with agricultural diversification, the next big commodity is usually a moving target. What was a hot seller last year may be passé this year and what will be huge next year may be only an inspiration right now.

Most farms usually have land and money to experiment with 1 or 2 unique farm based business units annually. These research projects can be similar to existing farming practices, but the ultimate goal should always be to create a stream of income that is independent from the other farm operations. Ideally the diversification missions should also maximize the productivity of equipment and labour already present on the farm.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Diversify or Die

5) Get Started Immediately. The best time to diversify your farm income was 15 years ago; the next best time is now. The old exercise adage “No pain, no gain” is equally appropriate to many agricultural enterprises. Rarely will a farm manager take action until the agony of maintaining the status quo is greater than the fear of trying something different. Unfortunately for many rural families, that something different means selling off assets.

Within each problem are the seeds of the solution. This idea is probably best described by the axiom “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” When the family farm experiences financial, emotional or spiritual pain, it is just nature’s way of reminding those persons that change is necessary to restore balance, whether the problem is cash flow, work load or personal fulfillment. Regrettably for most people, the misery never passes the critical threshold required for quantifiable action to occur.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Diversify or Die

Wouldn’t it be great if some one would come up with the ultimate all risk insurance package, one that protected the farmer from every peril known to agriculture. A parcel so comprehensive that it would protect each sodbuster or stockman against early frost, drought, hail, floods, closed borders, collapsed commodity prices and rising fuel costs. As icing on the cake, imagine if this definitive bundle of indemnity required no monthly payments or annual premiums. As surrealistic as this scenario sounds, it may come as a surprise to many, that such a policy is available to each and every person involved in agriculture and that coverage is called farm diversification.

While such a concept may come as a shock, the idea of risk spreading had its foundation established generations ago when first the pioneers began to settled this mighty land. In the days before stabilization payments, GRIP and NISA, farmers were able to make it from year to year by raising and selling a variety of commercial goods. Because individuals back then did not rely on a single agricultural product, it was virtually impossible to face a “perfect storm” of high feed prices that hog producers are facing today, that cattle producers lived through following the BSE, and low commodity that grain growers endured for a decade before that. While each of the aforementioned crisis’ appear to be unique, over the long run, these periodic “disasters” are statistically predictable and therefore the notion still exists that multiple commodity farms are best suited to for agricultural businesses to survive in the long run. Below are 5 tips on diversifying your farm.

Agroforestry As An Agricultural Alternative

#1 Shelterbelt Trees. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, shelterbelt trees provide the biggest return on the investment dollar year after year regardless of what type of farming operation they are planted around. The grain and forage producer will realize higher yields, the livestock producer will require less feed for the winter and higher gains during the summer, the orchard owner can plant varieties rated for warmer climates and the farmer or rancher will use less fuel to heat his house in the winter and less electricity to cool the house in the summer.

By stopping the wind, shelterbelts allow fields to retain more moisture for both grain and forage production. With documented yield increases of over 10% for wheat and up to 100% for forage crops like alfalfa, it’s a wonder that more farmers are not willing to reap the yearly benefits that shelterbelt provide. .

With the high Canadian dollar, export markets that have been hammered by BSE and feedgrain prices that have gone through the roof, it seems that the beleaguered livestock industry could use a couple breaks to get them by for another year. Unlikely as it seems, it appears the prosaic shelterbelt could be part of the answer to many of the stockman’s woes.

Every one who has blown his breath across a spoonful of hot soup knows that moving air strips heat off a warm surface at a faster rate than when conditions are still. Known as the windchill factor, the moving air makes the temperature feel colder than the actual thermometer reading. Warm-blooded animals such as cows, sheep and horses standing out on a windswept pasture are no different. When the wind blows they lose heat faster and need to eat more to maintain their body temperature. Ranchers can save more than a big round bale per season by properly sheltering their cattle. On a herd of 100 cows that can amount to a savings of $3000 per year, every year The following graphs illustrate just how much effect the wind has over average daily gain and the feed conversion ratio

The shade that the shelterbelt provides to the livestock in the summer can be as important to the producer as the wind protection in the winter. Livestock producers backgrounding cattle know that when the temperature soars above 30º C, if the cattle do no have access to shade, water consumption can double and daily gain can drop to zero.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Agroforestry As An Agricultural Alternative

#2 Ornamental Trees Ornamental trees have a high value when there is a housing boom, because so many new homeowners need to plant landscape trees and shrubs around their property. Under these conditions, savvy nursery operators can make upwards of $20,000 per acre growing nursery stock. Unfortunately, like many commodity-based industries, once the housing bubble bursts, the tree’s resale value diminishes rapidly. The advantage that mixed farming operations have over straight nursery operations, is the trees can have great value as alternative crops producing sap, nuts, fruit and shelter for fields and buildings.

For people interested in growing nursery stock, the best place to start planting is right around the homestead. If the trees cannot be sold to the landscape industry or if the business plan changes, the ornamental trees will provide a never ending source of food for both the landowners and the wildlife, a place of beauty for the residents, and add thousands of dollars of value to the property.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Agroforestry As An Agricultural Alternative

#3 Fruit Trees Although many people dream of one day owning and operating an orchard or vineyard in the Okanogan Valley in southern B.C or on the Niagara peninsula in southern Ontario, with land prices approaching $100,000 an acre for good orchard land, it may be difficult to convince the spouse and the kids to make the big jump. What may be come as a shock to some, is that the western provinces can grow a wide variety of fruit trees, shrubs and vines that are commonly associated with warmer climates to the south.

While small fruits such as saskatoons, cherries and raspberries have been the mainstay of rural U-picks for decades, the prospects for apples, plums pears and even apricots are becoming more prevalent on the market gardening scene. The main reason for this shift is the consumer demand for fresh locally grown product. With prairie U-pick apples going for as much as $2.00 a pound on the tree while beef and pork are often languishing below the $1.00 a pound on the hoof, it small wonder why many livestock producers are considering switching sides.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Agroforestry As An Agricultural Alternative

#4 Nut Trees It may come as a revelation to some, but years of global warming is not required before establishing a nut grove on the farm. Some of the trees that can be grown on the prairies that produce edible nuts include the Black Walnut, Bur Oak, Butternut, and Hazelnut.

If you are looking for an RRSP for your children and grandchildren, can’t do any better than planting black walnut trees on your farm or acreage. These majestic trees add mucho dineros to the value of the property when they are growing, produce copious volumes of tasty, edible nuts throughout their life and have an enormous value when the tree matures. The wood is highly prized as a cabinetry veneer and in the manufacture of gunstocks that has resulted in astronomical prices with some trees fetching upwards of $10,000 each.

Nut production can begin after as little as 5 years after planting but the production of veneer wood is a generation or so down the road. As an added bonus the black walnut roots produces it own herbicide called “juglone” that keeps the ground around the base of the tree relatively weed free.