WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — As agriculture enters a period of income moderation, farmers may need to fine-tune their management practices.

They learned keys to successfully managing their farms at Purdue University’s Top Farmer Conference.

“Pick up your playbook from the later ‘90s and early 2000s, dust it off and get back to plan B,” said Michael Boehlje, professor of agricultural economics at Purdue. “Most of you manage your business very well. Just return to the basics.”

He discussed 10 strategies that can position your farm for success:

* Manage operating risk

“You have to worry about managing cash and land costs,” Boehlje said. “Every day when you wake up, your job is to lower your cost. One way to manage operating risk is to buy (inputs) and sell (product) at the same time.”

This allows farmers to get a better feel for what they’re spending versus what they’re earning. It’s also prudent to find the right crop insurance policy for your farm.

* Manage money and capital

Now is the time to lock in interest rates, especially on land. Interest rates are expected to climb.

Boehlje recommended getting the longest terms for repayment as possible. He also advised farmers to save a cash stockpile.

“A lot of people say, ‘What do I do with my cash?’” he said. “Hold on to it. The value of cash is the value of risk litigation. It’s the first line of defense against financial stress. It gives you the flexibility if things don’t go well, to have a buffer.”

Go into this period of moderation with better reserves. If you don’t have those reserves, have a conversation with your lender about restructuring your debt.

* Emphasize execution

“I don’t know of any manufacturing business without standard operating procedures,” Boehlje said. “It tells how we go about doing things. You have to have a systematic way of doing it.”

Farmers should focus on details, data management and doing fewer things better, he said.

* Increase asset utilization

Boehlje suggested that farmers have a 24/7 mentality. Keep your planters and combines running as many hours as possible.

“If you’ve got it, you’ve got to use it,” Boehlje said. “There’s no business I know that would not use their equipment for six to seven hours a day.”

Farmers also should consider leasing equipment and joint ventures as possible strategies.

* Use time efficiently

Focus on management skills and hire skilled employees, Boehlje said.

Scheduling and work-flow planners can be great tools.

* Grow volume and sales

Homing in on increased productivity using current machinery is an important tactic.

“Most people think they need to get more and bigger machinery,” Boehlje said. “That’s not the right way to approach it. You get better at what you’re doing first. Then you can think about that. We have too much iron.”

* Increase margins

The first and most important marketing decision you make is not what you sell your product for — it’s what you pay for your business, Boehlje said.

If rent prices are too high, you are at a disadvantage. Control your costs in every way possible.

* Focus on a strategy

Figure out what drives you as a farmer. Is it operational excellence? Innovation? Customer relationships? Decide what you want to focus on.

“You need to respond to what the customer needs and wants,” Boehlje said. “Don’t blow off things like farmers markets. they can be huge money makers.”

* Create value for your customer

“Figure out who your customer is,” Boehlje said. “It’s who you sell your goods to. For many, it’s the grain elevator. Have conversations about how to create value for them.”

Differentiate your goods and services from other producers. Focus on quality, storage or delivery — whatever you’re good at.

* Get smart

“Network — use consultants and make connections,” Boehlje said. “Most farmers are good operations managers. But we need to think like a CEO.”

Having a CEO mentality means managing relationships and money, he said. Focus on people, relationships, strategies and income.