Many cattle producers pride themselves on their ability to buy cattle. But Mike Boehlje and his family, who farm in Iowa, and their neighboring cattle producers discovered the hard way that they were lousy cattle buyers.

“We'd go out to the Dakotas and buy cattle. Of course, you don't go all the way out to the Dakotas without buying a potload of cattle,” deadpanned the Purdue University extension agricultural economist to farmers attending the recent Top Crop Farmer seminar at Purdue. “It didn't matter what the markets were. The bank sponsored a busload of farmers to go out there, and we'd just be bidding against each other.”

That's no longer the case. Boehlje's family and his neighbors hired a procurement buyer who could make unemotional purchases. Now the family also is using an outside source for custom farming.

“We had two combines and two tractors,” Boehlje says. “We were humming, but we never got the job done. So we terminated two of our four employees, shifted the two other employees to our livestock operation, and went to custom farming.”

Again, the family found success and the farming was completed on time. “Our yields went up and our costs went down,” Boehlje says. “How did we get timeliness? We don't go with just one custom farmer. We have three. That's exactly what the corporate sector does. They're hesitant to go with a sole supplier. They want two or three or four. Competition does wonders for timeliness.”

Boehlje suggests that farmers decide what not to do and hire someone to perform those tasks. The “not-to-do” tasks should be ones that growers cannot do well or inexpensively themselves.

“What might you stop doing?” Boehlje asks. Here are a few suggestions to get you started: purchasing/procurement; selling/marketing; crop scouting; trucking/transportation; storage; spraying; tillage; planting; harvesting; accounting; financial analysis; tax preparation; machinery operations.

“Many farmers make a ‘to-do’ list,” Boehlje says. “But how many make a ‘not-to-do’ list?”