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Get Your Record Keeping Set Up Before Spring Hits

Farmers and service providers work on nutrient management plans (NMPs) at a Middlebury class.

Going into the sciences, I discovered the value of writing things down – general advice being, “the more notes the better.” But, admittedly, this takes discipline and may be impractical. In my work I encounter many farmers whose main record keeping tool is their memory. I’m always impressed by the level of detail a farmer can pull out of their head – how many bales they took off a field last year compared to this, or what the weather was like ten years ago. This level of attention to detail is what makes a good farmer.

I’m not trying to replace this first-hand knowledge, but I am trying to help farmers in their decision-making process.

Making decisions by the seat of one’s pants might work if you are clever or lucky, but it is not a reliable way to make decisions. When a farmer needs to make critical deci­sions it can be helpful to have easily access­ible written records to analyze. How much time or effort you spend getting accurate and precise numbers should depend on the type of decision you are making. But, there is probably some measuring and record keeping all farm­ers can use to improve their operation. Like­wise, when making financial decisions, the ability to have accurate accounting greatly improves the likelihood of making financial decisions based on a correct assessment of risks versus rewards.

Nutrient Management Planning

We spend a fair amount of time, in the winter months particularly, helping farm­ers develop and maintain Nutrient Manage­ment Plans (NMPs). Farmers should know by now that plans are required on most operations. Even the smaller farms need to take soil and manure tests, and record the basics. The value of NMPs evolves over time as farm­ers become more adept at the process and discover what is useful to their operation. One challenge that often arises is that many farmers just aren’t interested or skilled in working on a computer. Through UVM Exten­sion’s class, many are surprised at how they improve in this area, while knowing we are here to continue guiding them through the process. The challenge, and the reward, of nutrient management planning, is that it is an annual process. This means farmers have the opportunity on a yearly basis to reflect on their operation and improve their plan.

Tracking On-Farm Operations

We have one farmer who innovated a grazing calendar to keep track of all his practices on the farm like planting, fertilizing and har­vesting, and then enters that data into the computer. Another farmer would dutifully fill out his online records every night after each operation, but that became too onerous this year with the hectic weather conditions. Another farmer keeps his records in a regular notebook, but finds our help useful for his organic certification. Strategies evolve with reality, and it takes times to figure out what works individually for each farm. It certainly requires follow-through, but the rewards can be worth it when it comes time to make major management decisions.

A good tool for graziers are the grazing charts share with On Pasture readers every year. If you haven’t already downloaded yours, there’s no time like the present. Click!

Growing up on a farm, my stepfather’s main record keeping tool was, and still is, a small notepad kept in the pocket of his shirt. Only he could read it or understand it, but it was easy to access for real-time note taking. For years, we would have debates about the merits, or lack thereof, of computer-based records. He was always diligent about soil tests, but recently took a class to write an actual NMP. I notice these days that I find him on the computer more than I used to, as he finds time to research antique tractor parts and watch videos of skidders. As it turns out, computers aren’t as useless or as scary as he might have thought, and hope­fully that applies to record keeping as well.

This article was originally published in the Champlain Valley Crops, Soils and Pasture Team Winter 2018 Newsletter. Find more about the Team’s work here. If you’re in Vermont, click here for more information about Vermont’s Required Agricultural Practices and Nutrient Management Plan requirements. Or Contact Kristin at

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Kristin Williams
Kristin Williams
Kristin enjoys assisting with a multifaceted group of assignments in Extension, with the aim of helping farmer’s create and maintain more sustainable systems on their farm, particularly focused on soil conservation and nutrient management. Kristin holds a B.S. in Environmental Science and a M.S. in Plant and Soil Science, both from the University of Vermont. Her graduate research focused on biological indicators of soil health and nematode ecology. That work exposed her to the critical value of the living fraction of the soil. Her work in nutrient management began as an intern with Ben & Jerry’s as an undergraduate. However, the roots of her passion for soil science began while playing and working on the farm she grew up on in Vermont. In general she enjoys work that makes research applicable to real world solutions, and she takes a multidisciplinary approach that has led her to work in transportation, sociology and applied economics. In her free time she loves to hike and enjoys gardening, shopping at farmer’s markets, and cooking. Kristin is a Certified Crop Adviser.


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