Evaluate management style now With the holidays and the year 2000 well behind us, it's time to think about organizing farm operations for the new year. During cold weather, producers may want to sit down and evaluate their management strategies.

Many producers already implement wise management strategies in their enterprises. For them, the focus should be on ways to make their enterprise even better. For those who are not quite up to par, now is a good time to start over and get things in order. In fact, everyone can make their operation better in some way.

Make time to plan "Successful managers are those who take time to plan," says Donna Amaral-Phillips, Extension dairy specialist for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. "They set priorities that change as situations change and then evaluate how well their plan is working to achieve their goals.

Amaral-Phillips suggested three traits of successful managers - planning, implementation, and evaluation. These traits apply to any farming enterprise.

Planning ahead to anticipate future needs is important in containing production costs as well as maintaining profitability. "For example, if a farmer raises 10 extra heifers and wants to milk them, he needs additional forage," she said. "He needs to address that need now so he can make plans to buy additional forage or other commodities to stretch that forage supply. He needs to make sure the forage supply does not limit milk production in March."

Producers should evaluate forage needs every year, even if they are not adding animals. Forage supply and quality change each year. Planning the best way to use forages can prevent shortages, improve long-term cash flow, and help maintain production at a profitable level.

Implementation of plans is important. A producer's ability to get work done in a timely manner while paying special attention to the most important tasks is a valuable trait.

"The key to a successful manager is being able to recognize top priorities and to get them done first in a timely manner," she adds. "Establish the top two or three priorities, make those changes or finish those tasks, then proceed down the list."

Evaluate programs Successful managers always step back and evaluate how their programs worked. Producers should ask themselves if their current ways of doing things are resulting in profit. Then, they should decide if there are ways to more efficiently manage their operation.

"What works for one manager, may not work for another," Amaral-Phillips says. "You must constantly evaluate and look for ways to improve. Ask yourself if there are ways to feed your cows easier and cheaper, but at the same time, improve profit. Determine if your changes improved cattle performance and health, and/or your bottom line."

Take advantage of the new year. Step back and plan for the future needs of your operation, re-evaluate your priorities, then evaluate how your program is working. If you need help, contact your county Extension office. They have many tools to help you manage finances, productivity and to help you make decisions about your operation.