Are you “Fine Tuned” or “Wandering?”

In my last blog, I stated (for the benefit of dairy producers, as well as those who sell to them) that:

“We have to know our current financial position at all times. Whether you are facing your banker or just facing the future, you simply have to know. It’s your choice and your responsibility. Next time, I will introduce you to a new system that some of my colleagues and I have been developing for making these very measurements within your business. Until then, start to review your marginal costs and returns. I think you’ll be glad you did.”

This blog is being written from the perspective of producers. However, this is important for those of you who sell to these same producers, too, since dairymen will be better positioned to pay for your product or service as their cash flow improves. I hope that, after reading my last blog, you actually took some time to look at what your various production costs have been. Did they seem reasonable? Have they increased over the last two years? This happens a lot when milk prices are high, simply because producers are under less pressure to control costs than they are when prices are depressed.

What should we measure? Obviously Cash Flow should be monitored, but, more importantly, the specific items that derive Cash Flow, i.e. all of our costs. This includes Labor, Supplies, Repairs & Maintenance, Vet & Breeding and numerous other expenses. How about the “grand-daddy” of all our production costs — Feed Expense? This represents anywhere from 50-65% of our total costs. If you are using a feed program such as Feed Watch or EZ Feed, you can measure Income over Feed Costs (IOFC) as often as daily. You can also do this manually, too, if you know your actual feed costs, but these programs can assist you to be more “automated” in measuring your feed costs. Your accuracy will hinge completely upon the level of precision with which you measure & input your costs. You can also complete this measurement of IOFC manually if you make an accurate measurement of your feed inventory each month. By the end of this article, I will explain how you can do this.

Why does this matter? Simply stated, if you want banks to loan you money in the future for operating needs or expansion, you will definitely need to illustrate that you have your costs under control. Would you loan money to someone who had no idea what his future cash flows and profitability will be? Of course not! Your lenders will always want to know what you expect to achieve in terms of Revenue & Expense. You won’t hit these target projections to the penny, but knowing what you expect to achieve will provide you with targets against which you can measure your actual results! It will also provide your banker with a notion of what your Debt Service Coverage will be. This is the ratio of your Net Cash Flow divided by the sum of your Principal and Interest Payments. Most bankers want this to be 1.25X or greater. It tells them whether their loans will be repaid as projected, and, of course, this is good to know. Even if you are “self financed,” you will want to know what your potential returns will be!

Knowing all of this information will show you what your Break-even levels are. If these are out of sync, you will need to make adjustments in order to boost your cash flow. Want to impress your banker? Be prepared to tell her that, even though milk prices are currently above $20/cwt, you can still break even at levels as low as $16/cwt!

In the next few weeks, my colleagues and I will be introducing a web-based tool designed to measure your cash flow and make comparisons against your budget. Would this be valuable to you as a producer? I believe so. It will also allow you to measure your feed costs as accurately as possible, using the information that you can input as often as you want. In measuring your IOFC, especially if you don’t have a program like Feed Watch or EZ Feed, being armed with this information will be huge! Even if you have a feed software program, it will equip you to do a “physical measure” periodically, just to check for accuracy. You can also use the worksheet in our program to measure your actual feed costs in a very straightforward manner.

Next time, I will be explaining the benefit of knowing your “Why” and how this all fits in with measuring your Cash Flow and Income over Feed Costs. All three of these items are instrumental to “Finding Your Profit.”