We have certainly cultivated a lot of thoughts over the previous three years and now we find ourselves ushering in 2024 – a new year and a new beginning.

It seems like only yesterday when the entire globe was in an uproar that the world was going to end when we went from 1999 into 2000. Well, that didn’t happen, and here we are 24 years later entering a new year. This is a time for many folks to make personal new year’s resolutions – to maybe give up smoking, consume less alcohol, get more exercise, read more books, try to be more considerate of others and eat more fresh fruit and veggies. These are all good resolutions but many only make it a month or two and then fade into the dustbin of good intentions.

What about all the agricultural operations scattered across the countryside? What type of new year’s resolutions are they making? I know that a new year means a new beginning, a clean slate on which history is written, but most operations are not going to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch. I suspect they’re going to review the past year and see what worked and what didn’t turn out quite according to the previous year’s game plan.

Reviewing is high on my list of resolutions and it needs to be done each new year. It’s also a time to reflect on one’s planning process and see if that can be improved or strengthened. A good question to consider is who needs to be involved in this review process. My answer is anyone who can influence its outcome.

Any good chief executive officer in a company who is ultimately responsible for making managerial decisions certainly wants to hear from those that produce the product. They work the assembly line just as a farmer walks the fields and talks with his employees. If it’s a family operation, the family will sit at the table; if it’s a large corporate farming operation, the heads of the departments will be involved in the review. This is critical if new resolutions or ideas are to be incorporated into the operation.

Think about the myriad items to be included in such a review. How did we like the varieties we grew? Or, much more important, how did our consumers like them? Seed ordering starts early so having a good handle on this area is important. Trying a few new varieties to see how they compare to your standards should be part of any operation’s game plan. Also, making sure you will have sufficient fertilizer or organic inputs in place for the coming growing season is another item to consider early.

Should we try more season extension, such as using row covers, low tunnels, high tunnels or even venturing into the expanding number of winter markets? Just remember what I always say: That you as growers and your families deserve some downtime and time to renew and refresh yourselves. We can give you programs to keep you busy 13 months a year but that’s not going to be beneficial in the long run.

Most operations are broken down in marketing to wholesale or retail. That will probably not change much each year. If it does move, I would say that it probably will move from wholesale into more retail marketing. I know growers that do both and are quite successful. I always said that the “long dollar” is in the retail side, but some growers just feel comfortable being in the wholesale market.

Part of this discussion could be on incorporating agri-entertainment into an operation or even exploring the possibility of adding a restaurant. The important thing is that whatever you add, you want to do it correctly so it will be an asset and not become a liability. Sometime ideas sound great but implementing them can be a real nightmare if not thought out completely.

Maybe conduct a review of the status of equipment – including tractors, tillage implements, fertilizer spreaders, sprayers, cultivators and picking and packing containers. Look at the condition and soundness of farm vehicles from pickups to box trucks to tractor trailers. Check out refrigeration units to make sure they are sound and ready to operate efficiently. How is your irrigation equipment?

What about housing for your labor if it’s required? Is it up to code and ready for the influx in spring? What about the farm shop? Is it up to speed and ready to handle repairs and maintenance of equipment that you know will need to be repaired during the season? Don’t forget the hand tools! This is also a time to consider if additional equipment needs to be purchased or additional facilities need to be constructed.

What about the farm office? Do you have enough personnel to handle the load? Quality computers, administrative office supplies, up-to-date recordkeeping programs, etc.? Keeping good records is critical in operations of any size so that when inspectors from any governmental agency stop by you have them at your fingertips. Plus, your records are critical to any meaningful review for the new year.

I believe that ag operations, especially those in the field of horticultural, are by their very nature complex and thus their management is one of the toughest in the world. Why do I say that? I will use vegetable operations which are, in my opinion, at the top of the list. You are dealing with a labor-intensive living product that has so many decisions that need to be made during the growing season, from planting to harvesting and then marketing. Being a living product, it has a limited shelf life and a peak point of quality when it needs to be consumed.

Yes, even though the potato looks like a rock, it is a living, breathing entity and needs to be handled accordingly.

You can make all the right decisions and still Mother Nature can throw you a curveball. It is tough to be a manager, but each new year gives one the opportunity to review the past year, make changes and get ready to do battle in the new year. It takes a lot of optimism to be a grower year after year.

A big thank you goes to each one of you, and good luck with your new year’s resolutions.

You can contact me with feedback on my columns or ideas for future columns at wlamont@psu.edu.