Too often producers make major agronomic decisions without adequate tools to fully evaluate the complexity of today’s constantly evolving and integrating agriculture. Decision support tools are needed that allow producers to conduct their own “what if” scenarios. Often, new findings are viewed as “silver bullets” or on the opposite hand, too risk to incorporating into current enterprises. The free on-line Excel-based enterprise budget decision support program that we have developed will help producers evaluate the incorporation of sheep into their farming systems on an individual case basis.
Our objective for this project is to develop a Fallow Grazing Enterprise Budget Decision Support Tool. We will use this tool to provide both sheep and crop producers with an economic assessment of our research. Plus – this free online tool will be available to producers to perform enterprise budget analyses specific to their operations.
The team’s long-term goal is to develop an integrated crop/livestock production system that is economical and environmentally sustainable and provides benefits to both livestock and grain producers. Farming systems in Montana and other Western states are based on substantial inputs of fossil fuel, and burning to remove crop residues, synthetic fertilizers to maintain soil fertility, and pesticides to control weed and insect pests. We are developing holistic sheep/crop production farming systems that use sheep to manage crop residues, resulting in improved soil fertility, reduced weed and insect pests, and increased use of low cost crop residues for fiber and meat production. Additionally, sheep grazing summer fallow has the potential of significantly reducing selection pressure for glyphosate resistant weeds by obviating the need to control weeds with glyphosate. Overall, our results will enhance rural development with a new paradigm for agricultural production based on the “marriage” of food and fiber production with landscape management.
Montana wheat producers use approximately 4.5 million pounds of herbicide active ingredient annually on 3.75 million acres of summer fallow for weed control (calculation based on Montana Agricultural Statistics 2005). This represents the largest quantity of herbicide used in Montana’s number one industry – agriculture. In our current project at Ft. Ellis, MT, grain yields did not differ among chemical, mechanical (tillage), and grazed summer fallow management in either spring- or winter- wheat/fallow rotations (Figure 1.; Snyder et al., 2007).
In our previously funded SARE project SW00-015 An Alternative to traditional wheat stubble management using sheep to control pests and improve soil nutrient cycling, we reported that sheep grazing was more effective than tillage or burning to control wheat stem sawfly. Grazing was also as effective as burning or tillage for biomass reduction (Figure 2). All of this was accomplished without negatively impacting soil bulk density or soil nutrient profiles (Hatfield et al., 2007a, b, c).
In a preliminary study that was the foundations for our current SARE Proposal SW07-013 Evaluation of Alfalfa Weevil (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) Densities, Weed Abundance, and Regrowth Characteristics of Alfalfa Grazed by Sheep in Fall and Spring, we found that winter/spring sheep grazing appears to offer potential for alfalfa weevil management without compromising yield or nutritive value of subsequent alfalfa production (Goosey et al., 2006; Figure 3).
The implementation of these projects does not require crop producers to become sheep producers; rather both sheep and grain producers can obtain benefits from partnerships. To accomplish this both, sheep and crop producers need more information on the economic feasibility of incorporating sheep into farming systems. Additionally, producers need a tool to evaluate enterprise level budgeting specific to their operation and proposed partnerships.
With our published results we have an excellent database with which to develop the Fallow Grazing Enterprise Budget Decision Support Tool. We have extensive records on costs (financial, time, and other resources) associated with all aspects of the different weed, insect, and residue management methods. We have the ability to develop the appropriate questions and categories to accurately reflect all input aspects of the different fallow management strategies.
For the past 8 years, we have kept detailed records on each sheep grazing option and its conventional counterpart. From these records, detailed financial and economic enterprise analyses will be conducted. Financial analysis looks at the “financial feasibility” of each particular system. Financial feasibility is primarily a cash flow analysis. Financial analysis will include the ability to pay all out of pocket production costs for each alternative, and will include the ability to finance different sets of capital assets which may be required by each alternative. Because a particular alternative is found to be financially feasible does not mean it is economically profitable. Detailed economic profitability analysis will also be prepared for each systems analysis. Economic analysis includes both cash and non-cash revenues and costs. If a system is found to be financially feasible, it must then be determined if it is economically feasible, i.e. profitable. Comparisons of financial and economic feasibility will be made across all alternative systems similar to the ewe enterprise budget previously developed (Griffith et al., 2001). The program will allow producers to conduct their own “what if” analysis on a multitude of inputs, costs and projected revenue. BUT – even without estimates of future market value, producers can evaluate the different options’ impact on unit costs of production independent of income.
Detailed information has been kept for all operating treatment inputs (fuel, oil, seed, fertilizer, chemicals, etc.). Fixed assets (land, machinery, etc.) will also be tracked and incorporated into the analysis. In addition to the cash costs, non-cash information will be included in the analysis. The primary non-cash item will be the amount of labor required to complete particular tasks that are relevant to the economic analysis. After preparation of detailed financial and economic enterprise budgets based on the research scale, these budgets will be extrapolated to “typical” commercial size operations for use in educational activities. Key determinants of financial and economic feasibility will be identified and, if possible, levels necessary for each key element will be specified. Our past efforts and accomplishments speak to our ability to accomplish this goal
Our objective was to develop a free on-line Excel-based enterprise budget decision support program to evaluate the incorporation of sheep into farming systems as an alternative to pesticide and mechanical methods of weed and insect control. The program has been completed and is available online at the following address. Click on the address then scroll down to Sheep Grazing Crops Partial Budgeting
In presentations at the 2008 Montana Woolgrowers conventions and the 2009 Stillwater County extension and producer forum, both crop and livestock producers and extension specialists were interested in using the tool. This tool will allow producers to do a more logical evaluation of alternative practices involving the incorporation of sheep into farming systems.
Educational & Outreach Activities
The decision support tool that we developed is available at:
The use of this tool has been demonstrated at the 2008 Montana Woolgrowers Convention and the 2009 Stillwater County extension and producer forum.
What we produced is a tool for economic analysis – not an actual analysis. The dynamics of this tool allow producers to use their own costs rather than published “academic dollar values,” which may not represent all alternatives or market conditions
The program is still being evaluated, used and updated. We prefer successful adoption rather than rapid adoption
Areas needing additional study
Continued work on the incorporation of sheep into farming systems. More extensive work on sawfly control, and using sheep in more dynamic crop rotations and forage systems. We have also submitted a pre-application to Western SARE on carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas production associated with incorporating sheep into farming systems.