Improving Integrated Resource Management Skills of Beef Producers

Project Overview

LS96-074
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1996: $163,642.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2001
Region: Southern
State: Oklahoma
Principal Investigator:
Damona Doye
Oklahoma State University

Commodities

  • Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animals: bovine

Practices

  • Animal Production: grazing - continuous, feed rations, implants, pasture fertility, pasture renovation, range improvement, grazing - rotational, stockpiled forages, winter forage, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: organic fertilizers
  • Education and Training: decision support system, extension, farmer to farmer, focus group, networking, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, budgets/cost and returns, agricultural finance
  • Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: soil analysis

    Abstract:

    Integrated resource management (IRM) techniques and tools equip producers to survive in a globally competitive environment. The overall objective of this project was to develop a research and education program to strengthen family farms and improve beef production systems. Objectives included:
    1.) Through research, develop case studies to document existing IRM practices and identify factors critical to successful IRM.
    2.) Identify technological tools supporting IRM and incorporate them into ongoing educational efforts to teach beef producers how to use the tools for better decision-making
    3.) Build on previous programs to identify IRM research and education needs and continue to increase awareness of IRM concepts.

    Case Studies
    Case studies were summarized in a thesis, “Evaluation of Integrated Resource Management Skills of Beef Cattle Producers Using the Case Study Method” (Tesconi). The case studies confirmed that producers, due to differences in soil resources, managerial expertise, or capital constraints, have different limiting factors. Interdisciplinary teams visited farms, helped participants assemble financial and production data, and discussed potential changes in practices. Details about management structure, goals, enterprise mix, information system components, personal characteristics of farm managers, inventory of farm resources and production levels, and the manager’s perception of farm risks were noted. Case study data were examined to identify production and information practices which could benefit other farms.
    An IRM index was developed to evaluate the producers’ adoption and use of management practices advocated by specialists in the areas of animal science, financial management, forages, and herd health. Disciplinary specialists evaluated the case study information. Using their professional judgment, they rated each producers’ adoption of recommended management practices within their respective disciplines. Analysis of the discipline-specific management indices and an overall management index with net income, feed costs, grazing costs, other costs and the total cost of production indicated that forage management practices are highly influential to net income and that feed costs had a strong negative impact on net income. Producers with the highest overall management index used and maintained more extensive financial and production records. However, the profitability of producers relative to indices was inconclusive.

    IRM Tools
    A bibiliography cataloged printed material, software and video materials supporting IRM at the beginning of the project. A survey of software vendors was used to develop a publication listing software and features of cow/calf record-keeping software. This publication has been a popular resource for comparing available software. Other software to facilitate IRM analysis and decision making was evaluated, demonstrated, and sometimes developed when gaps in tools available to support decision-making were identified. New software to evaluate affordability of part-time ranching, livestock leasing alternatives, new grazing management practices, and enterprise budgets for forage, stockers, and cow/calf enterprises were developed.
    A software tool to identify profit-maximizing forage/livestock systems was developed (Smith). The model continues to be demonstrated to educators with feedback used to further its development. The software promises to be useful in evaluating profit potential for different land bases, forage mixes and beef enterprises, given data appropriate to a specific geographic region. The solutions provide food for thought for producers evaluating forage alternatives, land base expansion, and stockers relative to cow/calf operations.
    Another tool solves for least cost winter feeding plans (Marshall). This study indicated savings in winter-feed costs significantly reduce annual maintenance costs, and thus improve the profitability of cow-calf operations. If for example, producers changed from feeding twenty-five pounds of high-priced and mean-quality fescue hay per head per day to feeding twenty-five pounds of mean-priced and high-quality fescue hay to their wet cows, the savings could be as much as $61 per head. For a 50-cow herd, savings of $61 per head would reduce cow-calf cost of production by $3,050. These dollar amounts whether expressed per head, per cow herd, or for a region are important.

    Building on IRM programs
    Educational programs included intensive “hands on” workshops, demonstrations, publications, and materials posted to the WWW. Educational materials were modified to reflect lessons learned through field experience. Cow-calf Standardized Performance Analysis (SPA), Integrated Farm Financial Statements (IFFS), and Quicken® software were among the tools used with producers and agricultural professionals. Step-by-step instructions for using Quicken® for farm records were updated annually.
    SPA workshops provided the participants a chance to dig into their own production and financial numbers with professional guidance. They began to understand the need for data that is collected and summarized in a consistent manner and recognized shortcomings in their existing information systems. At the same time, through the production and financial performance measures calculated, they began to identify strengths and weaknesses in their operation. During the course of the project, more than 100 ranchers identified potential cost-saving measures of an estimated $3,000 annually each.
    Quicken workshops and materials demonstrated to producers that they did not need to spend a large sum of money to computerize their financial records. Hundreds of producers received assistance in getting a better handle on their financial situation. More informed decisions enhance prospects for profitability. Producers who have participated in workshops indicate that they gain new skills as well as confidence in using the computer in their business. They begin to think about sorting their income and expenses by enterprise to identify profit (and loss) centers on the farm.
    Information exchanges were conducted periodically. The forums allowed participants to share ideas and experiences concerning various aspects of integrated resource management. Producer information exchanges focused on a limited number of topics identified in advance. The emphasis was on participants learning from each other and researchers learning from participants. The forums suggested research and education needs and served as a basis for future dialogue. Similar formats were used for exchanges among veterinarians and accountants. Increased awareness of tools available to assist in financial record-keeping, analysis and planning as well as IRM concepts makes them better prepared to assist their clients.
    Both producers and educators voiced a need for a publication to provide prospective beef producers with realistic expectations of resource and management needs. A bulletin, “So, You Want to Be a Rancher”, was published.
    A new educational initiative focused on accountants working with cow/calf producers. Case studies and other experiences of investigators suggested that accountants who were simply filing tax returns for clients could provide additional valuable services by summarizing records to support managerial decisions. Hence, plans were developed for a series of managerial accounting workshop using input from accountants, advisors and producers. The expected long-run impact is that producers, by working with their accountants to improve their management information systems, can improve financial performance.
    Investigators capitalized on ongoing, related efforts through cooperatively planned activities to benefit all beef producers, small and large, with integrated, interdisciplinary programs and materials. In addition, agricultural advisors such as accountants and veterinarians were offered training to familiarize them with concepts and tools outside their traditional areas so that they can better assist producers. This project promoted the development of management skills and improved resource management practices, thus building human capital. Outcomes of the project included improved on-farm information systems, increased likelihood of farm profitability, and more direct feedback to researchers on high priority needs.

    Project objectives:

    • The overall objective was to develop a research and education program to strengthen family farms and improve beef production systems. Objectives include:
      1.) Through research, develop case studies to document existing IRM practices and identify factors critical to successful IRM.
      2.) Identify technological tools supporting IRM and incorporate them into ongoing educational efforts to teach beef producers how to use the tools for better decision-making
      3.) Build on previous programs to identify IRM research and education needs and continue to increase awareness of IRM concepts.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.