The tougher the market, the tougher producers need to be when considering costs and their overall operation plan.

For Willard Jack of Belzoni, MS, who farms 3,000 acres of cotton, soybeans, wheat, corn and rice; advance planning and proactive decisions help him to manage today's costs.

“This year, I've been buying early and making the best deals early,” says Jack. “We began buying fertilizers last fall when we saw costs making a big swing and we pre-bought through the rice season. We likely saved $40-50/acre by buying early.”

Jack, who has always believed in following a master plan, diversifies among crops to spread the risk. His plan this year is to drop his cotton acreage, increase wheat and soybeans, hold his rice and decrease his corn.

Long before the fuel price increase, Jack began running his equipment slowly to save gas. “About six years ago, we put larger hydraulic pumps on our equipment to improve fuel economy. By gearing fast and running slowly, we've found that we can use 30 gal. of fuel in a day instead of 100 gal. That's a pretty substantial difference.”

One area that Jack doesn't shortchange is his labor. A large part of his philosophy is surrounding himself with the best people. “The big thing I'm trying to do is get better quality help,” Jack says. “Because of all the new technology, our help has to be better, education has to be better. We pay more to attract and keep those people.”

Along the river in the northwest corner of Tennessee, John Lindamood farms approximately 5,000 acres of wheat, cotton, corn and beans. Like Jack, Lindamood's cost cutting began 20 years ago when he converted to no-till, specifically to save costs. “We are 90% no-till today, although we still have the equipment to work the ground.”

Recently, in an effort to conserve fuel, Lindamood has been running spray rigs in place of large tractors, and like many cotton producers, knows he has too much capital investment in his harvest equipment.

LINDAMOOD BELIEVES producers need to revitalize and challenge their own practices. A big proponent of precision agriculture, he uses aerial imagery to help his variable-rate nitrogen (N) management. “We used to go out and just put N on everything, but we can't afford that anymore,” says Lindamood. “Now, we have a better way of allocating our resources.”

He's employed the variable-rate system on corn for the first time and reports no yield reductions the first year. He's also begun using InTime, a Web-based tool that downloads field information within 24 hours to a Web site.

“One reason we never used this before was that there was no way to get us the information quickly,” Lindamood admits. “Now, we can process a prescriptive map and do a variable-rate application. I wouldn't say we're revolutionary, but we're out there scouting fields and making some decisions that are ahead of others.”

Lindamood hopes to experiment with variable-rate seeding in the near future.

While his operation is still experimenting with auto-steer, he believes that certain technologies are essential in gauging efficiency. “Everyone needs a yield monitor in order to gauge productivity,” he says.

Behind the scenes, he's converting his recordkeeping system to MapShot; he expects to save time — and yes, money eventually.

Cutting costs today means considering new technologies and practices in order to make an operation more efficient. And those who plan ahead will be that much further when times turn tough.