“We were starting to hear information from farmers about how the economic downturn in the commodities market was having an impact on their bottom line,” said Shawn Conley, Cooperative Extension state soybean and small grains specialist and agronomy professor at UW-Madison. “A lot of us saw the writing on the wall.”
So in 2017, Conley, along with Bryan Jensen, Integrated Pest Management specialist for Cooperative Extension and UW horticulture professor, changed up the Annual Agriculture Winter Meeting Series to better meet the needs of farmers, known in the industry as “producers.” The new spin: pivoting mindsets from growing another bushel to saving another dollar, or focusing on the inputs instead of output.
“The focus of our series was where farmers should spend those limited input dollars to meet the three limits of sustainability: economic, environmental and social — how to deal with stress,” Conley said.
Grains market volatility sprang from a glut of crops supplies and high costs for inputs like fertilizer, pesticides and land rent costs. To meet these bearish challenges, Cooperative Extension experts instructed producers to develop informed marketing plans with tips on how to find savings. They encouraged paying close attention to soil health and choosing seed varieties and hybrids that best fit the area to be planted. Experts also recommended using integrated pest management practices and managing weed resistance.
What’s more: they developed a stand-alone YouTube channel with 10 videos ranging from 10-40 minutes, along with a four-page guide, “Grain Management Considerations in Low-Margin Years.” These materials, available to anyone with internet access, can reach producers anywhere and at any time.
Results were promising. The Winter Ag Meetings reached 455 total participants across 13 locations over 65 hours. Presentations included 4-6 hours of content and individualized question and answer time. Participants were producers (79%) and bankers (12%). Nearly 100 percent of attendees said the content was relevant to their operations and nearly 80% planned to change their crop inputs based on the new information. Nearly 95% said the information would help them increase profitability and 56% said the information alleviated stress related to farm operations.
“All across the board, the biggest aspect that hit home with farmers was to do a better job at marketing, planning and selling their crops, instead of just waiting until the end of the season and getting what the elevator delivers to them,” Conley said.