As the cost of diesel and fertilizer continues to create sticker shock, Blackland farmers evaluating future crop decisions can no longer afford to go with the adage "that's what I've always done."

"The days of putting out 50 to 60 gallons of fertilizer just because that's 'what I've always done' may be over," said Brian Braswell, service sales manager for the southern business unit of Helena Chemical at the Blackland Income Growth Conference in Waco, recently.

Dealing with high production costs using sound management practices and new technological innovations were the highlights of the conference, sponsored by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce.

More than 500 farmers and ranchers attended the event and trade show in one of the largest regional agricultural conferences of the year.

Dr. Alex Thomasson, a Texas AgriLife Research biological and agricultural engineer, discussed several aspects of precision agriculture. He said during times of high production costs, precision agriculture practices can benefit farmers if they utilize tools such as "prescription maps" to project crop inputs.

"Planes are able to fly over fields and provide images to producers and create prescription maps," he said. "This (could help) vary the rate of pesticide application in a particular area."

Yield mapping has been used to conduct a multiple-yield comparison on an AgriLife Research cotton field, he said. These activities allowed researchers to develop a fiber-quality mapping system. Such practices could aid farmers in cutting back on expensive crop inputs and improve bottom lines.

Meanwhile, crop farmers have had insurance protection for years, but that hasn't been the case for livestock producers - until now. Dr. Jason Johnson, Texas AgriLife Extension Service economist, discussed many insurance options, including Livestock Risk Protection, which "basically is a put operation."

"It's insuring price on a board," he explained. "You're buying price protection."

The pilot plan receives a small federal subsidy on the premiums and insurance agents sell the policies. Livestock Risk Protection pays indemnity if the market price on calves falls below the coverage price, he said.

"With this program, you're basically locking in a floor," Johnson said. "LRP is the same as a put option. Why should you use it? It may be cheaper than a put, and it's on a per-head-basis."

More information about these programs can be found at http://www.rma.usda.gov/index.html.

Gene Stallings, Texas A&M University System regent, was the keynote luncheon speaker. He emphasized the importance of education, particularly for those who farm and ranch, investing thousands of dollars in land and equipment.

Conferences such as BIG can make a difference and help them gain knowledge, he said.

"You can get better and improve yourself professionally, but it takes a while to become a good farmer," said Stallings, who referred to today's society as having a "we want it now" mentality.

Stallings said people need to slow down and take the time to become better in everything they do, be it their profession, involvement in family or life in general.

During the conference, the following Blackland 4-H members received college scholarships: Jordan Beckhusen (Milam County), Justin Berndt (Johnson), Jenna Day (Grayson), Mackenzie Dorsey (Falls), Dorothy Ford (Coryell), Ashley Isom (Coryell), Logan Laughman (Johnson), Hayley Miles (Coryell), Sarah Murff (Dallas), and Alyssa Word (Kaufman).

More information about the Blackland Income Growth Conference can be found at http://dallas.tamu.edu/BIG.