By Darren Hefty

What if a bushel of wheat was worth $20 right now?  How would that change how you farm?  Odds are you’d take a lot of chances with things that COULD make you some money but likely wouldn’t.  Perhaps you’d spend a little bit of money foolishly.  Maybe you’d overpay for land or equipment, etc.

Clearly the market isn’t at a high level today. If you want to make money on wheat, you have a unique challenge.  How can you cut expenses and cost of production without giving up one bushel of yield?

Here are the 7 key areas you need to look at in your wheat production plan for 2017:

  1. Agronomic advice – If you’re going to raise your highest yields with this crop in order to generate as much gross income as possible, you can’t do it without GREAT agronomic advice.  I’m all for pinching pennies when needed, but I strongly recommend working with the best agronomic advisors this year.  It should easily gain you a few bushels and help you avoid a big mistake that could take you out.
  2. Cash Rent – Run the numbers for your own farm and be transparent with your landlords.  In many cases, for cash rent to be fair at current grain market levels, rent needs to come down.  Many growers are getting substantial reductions for this year.  It costs nothing to ask.
  3. Fertility – While fertilizer prices have come down, they are still higher than you’d like.  Use grid or zone sampling to direct a variable rate spread.  This way, you can invest money only where it will give you the best chance at a good return on investment.  We recently had a question on Ag PhD Radio from a farmer in Montana.  His local supplier had run just one soil sample and made a fertility recommendation for ALL his winter wheat based on that ONE sample!  You can’t afford to do things like that.  Our advice to him was to rip up the sample, as it was worthless information, and go get some good grid or zone samples as soon as possible.
  4. Seeding Rate – Just like in corn and other crops, many farmers are planting too many seeds per acre.  Look at the research from your area and adjust your seeding rate accordingly.  Planting the best varieties is important.  By using a great seed treatment and properly fertilizing, you may be able to cut back your seeding rate and still get a great yield.
  5. Equipment – Maintain your current equipment well and USE IT.  My point here is that you can’t afford to have other people doing things for you in most cases.  Just imagine paying a custom applicator $5/acre to spray your field 3 times this year on 1000 acres of wheat.  That’s $15,000 right off your bottom line!
  6. Convenience – Along the same lines, look at every other spot in your cropping plan where you pay someone else to do something you can do just as well yourself.  Those are expenses that don’t make you money.  They just COST you money.  There is no reason why you can’t soil sample, scout fields, spread fertilizer, install tile, and spray everything yourself on your farm.  Sure, time can be a limiting factor, but do these $100 per hour jobs and cut other things from your schedule.
  7. Crop Protection – Honestly, you can’t afford to cut your weed, insect, and disease control at all.  They have to be nearly perfect in order for you to achieve top yields.  You can certainly look for generic options or programs to save money.  Prepaying should get you the lowest price of the year for the inputs you will use.  Also, there are 0% financing offers available this year.  Apply for them early to get the lowest price and the best terms.  Finally, look closely at ROI on everything you do.  Don’t cut things that are making you money!