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Seasoned ag agents offer factors of successful operations

By SEAN CLOUGHERTY
Managing Editor

RICHMOND, Va. (March 21, 2017) — Weeks before their scheduled retirement from Virginia Cooperative Extenstion at the beginning of March, longtime agriculture and natural resource agents Keith Balderson and David Moore gave corn and soybean growers their insights on what they’ve seen make for successful farm operations.
Covering a wide swath of topics, the agents said close attention to financials is a given for top operations and that goes for equipment and family living expenses.
Moore said successful operations he’s worked with weren’t hooked on having “new paint” in the shed, referring to trading in tractors frequently and Balderson said successfulness also means being disciplined with profits in good years.
“Don’t spend it just because you have it,” Balderson said.
In the field, Balderson said good growers he’s worked with pay attention to little things that can have a big impact.
Good soil sampling helps in selecting good varieties for fields. Seed spacing and depth of planting are two things that help the crop emerge evenly which can preserve yield potential.
Moore said seeding rates is an area a grower can make small adjustment for larger impacts.
Improving and maintaining soil health is another key area.
“I think soil health is a way to increase your profits,” he said. “Treat your soil like it’s the No. 1 asset on your farm.”
Moore added many of the farms he’s work with have a good troubleshooter who are familiar with crop deficiencies and how to address them quickly. He also said many successful operations have diversified into another segment of agriculture to spread out risk.
For some farms, it’s adding custom work for other operations; for others, it’s growing vegetables or livestock.
“They usually have something else going on,” Moore said.
On the topic of precision agriculture, both agents said to be choosy on which technology to invest in, making sure it will lead to a cost savings somewhere else or a yield increase.
“Let them work for you,” Moore said. “Don’t just collect the toys.”
“You have to understand what you want it to do for your operation,” added Balderson. ”Don’t let it overwhelm you.”
The agents and audience shared a laugh over the frustration all the new technology can bring with its efficiency when, during Balderson’s presentation, the projector quit advancing slides and a farmer in the audience called out, “This is just another day in the field.”
On-farm research is another sign of a successful operation, the agents said. While both agents are well-known for working with farmers on field test plots, Balderson said farmers that do their own testing get results specific to their farm.
“We can’t look at everything that’s on the market but you guys can do a whole lot of this. It’s easy to do side-by-side comparisons,” he said.
Balderson also said many good growers he’s worked with were willing to share what information they got from their research and help other farmers.
The agents both urged growers to be teachers, not just to other farmers, but to other members of the community about how they operate and protect natural resrouces.
“It may not be children,” Balderson said. “It may be a legislator. It may be your neighbor next door.”
Wrapping up their presentation, the agents said agriculture looks to be headed for a lot of changes and for farmers to succeed, they will have to be willing to make changes in their operation.
“Nothing’s going to be sacred,” Moore said. “There’s going to be some jumping in and jumping out and a focus on what makes money now. You think that could be bad but it could be good.
Balderson’s last slide in his presentation was of a couple of dinosaurs and while he joked they partly signify he and Moore going into retirement, he made a point to the growers listening as well.
“Make sure you don’t become a dinosaur,” he said. “Be willing to adapt because as you get older, things change.”