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It’s that time of year! When experts give their predictions for what will unfold in the New Year. And experts in the agricultural industry are ready with their predications for 2017.

Many in the agricultural industry are looking with cautious optimism to the New Year and there is hope that it will bring relief to farmers who continue to struggle with low commodity prices. This optimism stems from the fact that many analysts are predicting a recovery in commodity prices as corn and soybean supplies begin to decline and consumption around the world increases.

So what are some other important Ag trends to keep an eye on in 2017?

Trend #1: Slowing Machine Sales

Farmers will be much more likely to buy used equipment or try to get another year out of current equipment instead of making new purchases. Another factor in fewer machinery sales is elevated inventories for equipment sellers and a decrease in value for trade-ins. And while there are definite tax benefits to buying new, the reality is that farmers don’t have a whole lot to write off.

Trend #2: A Continued Interest in Precision Ag

Precision Ag will continue to pique the interest of farmers but price will be an issue. Farmers also are expected to continue to take an interest in free software categories but it is not known what will happen once these software offerings are no longer free.

Trend #3: Crop Protection will be a Hot Button Issue

Crop insurance will continue to be the most popular risk management tool that farmers employ. When it comes to weed-management issues, farmers are expected to face tremendous challenges with herbicide-resistant varieties. The expense of name-brand products to fight these weeds points to the use of generic products, however. Demand is expected to be light for insecticides and fungicides.

Trend #4: Decrease in Fertilizer Costs

Lower energy costs mean fertilizer prices should come down in 2017. Analysts predict that global supply and demand issues for all nutrient categories will continue pressure on prices, benefitting farmers.

Trend #5: Lower Fuel Costs

A decrease in fuel costs will offer relief to farmers and the Ag economy as a whole. Biodiesel and ethanol consumption also is expected to increase slightly.

If you own a farm, chances are there is a shop on that farm. And while crops and livestock may be the lifeblood of a farm, the shop is what keeps everything in working order.

Unfortunately, farm shops can be dangerous places. The tools and machinery contained in shops, when used incorrectly, can lead to injuries and, in rare cases, even death. During the cold, winter months, shops are especially busy as equipment repair and maintenance tasks are undertaken.

Not every shop accident can be foreseen or prevented. However, agricultural safety experts say that shop accidents and injuries can be drastically reduced by keeping the following in mind when working in the shop:

1. Good housekeeping goes a long way. Trips and falls are most often caused by clutter so make sure to keep walkways and work areas swept and free of debris. It also is important to clean up any spills right away.

2. Keep things well lit. Poor lighting makes it difficult to perform work safely and can cause eye strain. Make sure the entire shop is adequately lit and be sure to change burnt out bulbs promptly.

3. Save your back. Hydraulic lifts and hoists help to prevent back strain and injuries. Be sure to use this type of equipment when lifting heavy objects.

4. Protect yourself. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is a must in the shop. From eye goggles to heavy-duty work boots, failure to use the appropriate PPE can lead to injuries. Whether it is a mask to protect from filter dust or steel-toed boots to save your feet from falling objects, make sure you are always dressed for the job.

5. Get grounded. When electrical equipment isn’t properly grounded you risk electrical injury. Also be careful never to use frayed cords or cord less than 12-gauge. These type of cords may cost more but are well worth the investment as they are safer and help prevent motor damage.

6. Extinguish fire risks. Flammable and combustible materials should be stored away from heat sources and flammable liquids must be stored in covered containers. Always hang fire extinguishers near shop doors and check them annually. Proper ventilation also is essential.

Shop safety is a vital part of overall farm safety. If you are unsure if your shop is up to code, or need help installing safety features, it may be in your best interest to seek the advice of a safety expert. After all, whether you are working in the field or in the shop, safety must always be your first priority.

Gone are the days when farmers left their front doors unlocked and their barns unsecured. Today, farmers face a growing threat from thieves out to steal everything from tractors to crops to livestock.

While agricultural theft is nothing new, it is on the rise and farmers are doing all they can to protect themselves and their property from these criminals. Law enforcement is helping, too. Sheriff departments across the country have added rural crime units.

Of course the best offense is a good defense. Farmers are using a combination of tried-and-true crime fighting methods and modern technology to stop petty thieves as well as large-scale criminal operations looking to get away with thousands of dollars in farm equipment and much more. What follows is a list of the most effective ways to keep thieves at bay:

  • Post signs. Many a hiker has crossed farmland unaware that he or she is trespassing. In such cases, posting signs that read “private property” or “no trespassing” should do the trick.
  • Put up fences and other barriers. Signs aren’t always visible so you may want to put up fences, including barbed wire fences. You also should consider planting large trees or hedges to deter unwanted visitors. These natural barriers also help to obscure your land and property. Gate hinges are easily removed so should be fortified. Secure gates with chains and locks. Secure access roads with gates or cables stretched between posts cemented in the ground.
  • Lock it up. Weld metal covers over hasps to protect padlocks from being cut. Lock storage areas with padlocks, hasps and deadbolts.
  • Light it up. Make sure your farm is well lit at night and that it is lit in the right places, including near fuel tanks, grain bins, barns and outbuildings. Lights should be kept on automatic timers. Install motion sensor lighting around the perimeter of shops and other buildings.
  • Get a dog. A dog’s bark is a strong deterrent to would-be criminals.
  • Install video surveillances systems. Cameras, monitors and recorders should be integrated with devices like motion detectors that trigger alarms and activate video recorders. Sometimes just seeing a camera will be enough to scare away a thief.
  • Make your mark. The owner applied number (OAN) program was established by the FBI to return stolen property using a unique 10-digit number, identifying the state, county and owner. This number can be permanently stamped on tractors, tools and everything in between. As a result of this program, stolen equipment has been recovered from across the U.S. You also can fit equipment and other vehicles with security tags that relay a GPS signal to help locate the property (and the thieves who took it)! You should permanently tag your livestock and post signs to advertise this fact, as well.
  • Boost awareness. On large farms, make sure employees are always on the lookout for suspicious activity or unfamiliar faces. Also make sure any vandalism or property damage is reported immediately.

While agricultural theft shows no signs of slowing down, today’s farmers are fighting back. And the methods they are using are proving to be very effective!

Harsh winter weather can be dangerous no matter where you live. However, blizzards and severe conditions hit farmers and ranchers especially hard.

When you are miles from the nearest store or even a neighbor you need to make sure that you have everything on hand so that you, your family and your animals can survive extreme conditions. Dangerously cold temperature, strong winds and reduced visibility are just some of the conditions you may encounter. Further, heavy snow can lead to the collapse of roofs and power outages.

When it comes to surviving a blizzard, it is important not to be caught off guard. While weather predictions aren’t always spot on, it is unlikely that heavy snowfall and blizzard conditions will come out of the, well, clear blue sky.

Making sure you are well prepared for a blizzard means that you have what you need on hand so that you and your livestock can ride out the storm. It is important that you winterize your farmhouse and all outbuildings while the weather is still mild. You also should stock your home with extra blankets to keep you warm in the event that power goes out. Bottle water and food that does not need to be heated up before you eat it is essential. Finally, make sure you have a first-aid kit and that you are familiar with the signs and symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite.
Livestock farmers and ranchers need to be diligent (and most are) when preparing livestock before a blizzard hits. Unfortunately, many times a blizzard may occur that is much stronger than expected and the results can be catastrophic. The following steps should be taken in anticipation of a hard winter:

1. Make sure all livestock are in the best possible health. This will go a long way toward helping them survive weather emergencies.

2. Evaluate emergency hay reserves. Since cold weather increases animals’ energy needs, it is important that you are able to adjust their diet as needed during a long stretch of extremely low temperatures.

3. Service all feeding equipment to avoid breakdowns. This includes assessing fuel storage and supplies and testing generators and connections. It also includes making sure water heaters are in working order.

4. Maintain structural windbreaks.

5. Have adequate bedding. Not only does clean, dry bedding reduce stress on animals, when animals are wet their nutrition maintenance requirements increase.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember during blizzards (or any severe weather situation) is that you cannot take care of your family, animals or property if you don’t take care of yourself first.

growing-your-ag-based-business

If you own a small agriculture-based business, chances are you are always looking for ways to grow that business. While expanding your business can be a risk—especially if you are doing reasonably well now—it is a risk worth taking. This is especially true when you know that there are more people out there who would benefit from your product or service.

The key to growing your business is to make sure you have a plan. While every business is different and requires a unique vision for the future, there are some basic tenets that need to be adhered to whether you are selling farm machinery or children’s clothing.

1. Remember that timing is everything. Make sure the market conditions are right for growing your business. If you have to wait a few months or even longer to expand your offerings because of a soft market, use that time to prepare for your expansion.

2. Surround yourself with the right people. If you really want to grow your small business, you are going to have to hire dedicated, talented individuals to help you. It is essential that you take your time when hiring because one wrong hire can set you back considerably.

3. Embrace change. The most successful businesses are able to adapt and respond to market conditions. If you find it difficult to recover after a setback, you are going to have a tough time growing your business because there will always be bumps in the road. The most successful business owners use these bumps as lessons and move on.

4. Focus on customer service. No business will survive if doesn’t provide outstanding customer service. Never grow your business so fast that you are forced to sacrifice customer service. And in your quest to acquire new customers, never forget your current customers. Customer loyalty can literally make or break a business.

5. Take advantage of technology. The larger your business becomes, the more likely you will need to implement more advanced technology. Make sure you carefully research your options so that this technology allows you to better manage your business.

The decision to grow your small Ag business can be daunting. The key is to know where you want to go and how to get there. Remember, if you offer a quality product or service that is in demand and you treat your customers well, the sky is the limit.