Farm finance is a necessary part of farming for most every farmer. I don’t know more than a handful of farmers that I work with on a regular basis that aren’t still financing a tractor here, an upgrade on something there or new land in-between.
Sometimes I ask myself, why in the world would a farmer consider financing a best management practice (BMP) when they are already financing several other items? The resounding answer that I hear time and time again is that “if BMPs are good for the environment, and investing in it can help me accomplish farming goals while also being an environmental steward then it’s a win-win situation."
One thing that I’ve found as a county agent is that BMPs that don’t need financing through cost-share assistance are also a win-win for farmers. After all, what can be better than improving farming production through using BMPs without financing while also protecting the environment? The answer to this question is, of course, not much.
Five Low-cost BMPs that don’t require financing
1. Soil testing before fertilizing is free and it lets a farmer know where to put more, less or none at all when it comes to fertilizer and lime.
2. Implementing a Nutrient Management Plan (NMP) is free and can save up to 100 dollars per acre just in Nitrogen fertilizer costs. The savings comes from being able to fertilize with poultry manure instead of commercial fertilizer.
3. Calibration of fertilizer spreaders before fertilizing takes about 30 minutes at most and can potentially save hundreds of dollars through ensuring and using precise fertilizer application rates.
4. Utilization of legumes such as white clover can add up to 200 lb N/acre/year to the soil where it can be used by other forage species. This is equivalent to 600 lb/acre/yr of ammonium nitrate fertilizer.
5. Utilizing both cool and warm season forages in pastures will decrease the need for feeding hay and other supplements in winter. In fact, with proper grazing management it is possible to graze for 300 days out of the year when cool and warm season forages are maintained.
To wrap up, I would like to refer to the teachings of one of my college professors who was in the peace corps in Africa. His idea was to utilize all resources to the maximum efficiency. In telling this to his class he would always show that controlled grazing could accomplish that goal of making the most with the least. For example, controlled grazing can increase weight gain through higher stocking rates on less land, increase forage consumption through temporary confinement, increase rotation and decrease fertilizer inputs through more even excretion of nutrients across the pasture. So, if a farmer was going to use cost-share assistance to finance a BMP I would suggest financing more fencing for increased control when it comes to grazing. Now, my professor always talked about using clovers to produce free N among other things as well and I always thought he was right, but in this day and age, I am now convinced.
John Pennington is an agriculture and water quality specialist with the University of Arkansas.