Successful farmers recognize that gross margin analysis is
critical for good crop selection. The gross margin is determined by
deducting the direct variable input costs of growing a crop from
the gross income of selling the crop. Knowing the gross margin of
each crop helps farmers choose the most profitable combination to
The only costs included in this category are those that can be
measured and allocated on a crop-by-crop basis. A farm should know
with some accuracy the seed and chemical costs of a pea crop
compared to a flax crop. However, when asked about the cost of fuel
or machinery repairs on a wheat compared to a canola, the farmer
would have to use an arbitrary method of allocating the farm's
total cost by acre, number of passes, or as a percentage of gross
The few studies done involving measurement of these items have
shown that differences between crops are generally too small to
materially affect crop selection. However, other variables will
impact the results. Environmental issues will also influence crop
selection, such as disease pressure, chemical rotations and
regional factors such as frost free days, average rainfall and heat
Producers who strive for a higher gross margin consistently
achieve a better result than those who budget at a lower potential.
Simply put, 80% of a large number is still higher than 80% of a
small number. This may seem obvious, but over the past 20 years, I
have watched producers who use gross margin analysis as a tool to
help with their crop selection process regularly outperform those
who use intuition or who follow past practice.
Maximizing gross margin is not as simple as typing yields on a
spreadsheet, but there is minimal opportunity for long-term success
without planning for short-term profitability.
A simple rule to follow is that "less is more."
Generally, the fewer crops selected, the higher the profitability.
Gross margin can identify the top four highest profit crops. It
follows that farmers who grow more than those are choosing to lower
their profits. As well, more crops makes it more difficult to
manage production logistics during the growing season. As we all
know in the agriculture industry, timing is everything.
It is easy to fall into a rut of using intuition when picking
what we think are the highest gross margin crops. However, it will
pay dividends if you force yourself to go through the exercise of
calculating it on paper. As the adage goes, "what gets
measured gets done."
This article was originally published in The Western
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