Recordkeeping and Resilience: Reflections from MGGA 2016

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Anton and I took a trip to Great Falls last week for a workshop on grain cost of production at the Montana Grain Growers Association Annual Convention. This was my third trip to the conference since starting at MSU two and a half years ago. I love many things about this conference, but here’s a partial list, in no particular order:

  1. The drive up, which is beautiful. (Favorite spot here.)
  2. A chance to report back to farmers on work we’ve done during the year.
  3. Conversations with farmers, government employees, agribusiness professionals and others.
  4. The trade show: I LOVE ag trade shows, but that is another story.

Anton and I presented on wheat cost of production, in a workshop for beginning farmers organized by Northwest Farm Credit. (And it’s available in the Tools and Resources section of this website.) We created our budget with support from Montana Wheat and Barley Committee, and help from two groups of producers.  The budget showed a net loss for winter wheat production last year—even when just examining variable costs.   I always dislike giving a “doom and gloom” report, even when it is something people already know. Suggesting that new producers invest effort in record keeping and budgeting in a year where it those records are unlikely to show something nice is a bit of a hard sell.

But I was surprised by conversations afterwards and during the other presentations in our workshop. I was pleased to hear optimism and even some stories of good parts of the year, like seeing healthy, high-yielding crops. We did see record yields in some areas of Montana, and many farms are now further diversified with  pulse production replacing fallow.  The result was that these producers were able to mitigate losses and even, for some, have a decent year. One producer told me, “We always find a way to make some money.” Another said “We are always looking to try something new.” Finding “ways to make some money” may have been more of a challenge this year.  But the strategy of trying new things, keeping records, and benchmarking, is good advice for all of us.

 

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About Author

Kate Binzen Fuller is an assistant professor and extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics at Montana State University. She holds an M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis. Her extension and research program focuses on the economics of farm management decisions, including USDA programs and policies, pests and diseases responses, and issues surrounding leasing and land values. Kate’s extension program takes her on the road often, resulting in a rapidly expanding knowledge and appreciation for Montana’s interstates, highways, and (especially) gravel roads.

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