Strategic decisions for better returns: The four Rs

Strategic decision-making

Dairy systems have always and continue to fascinate me for the simple reason that they are incredibly complex, and no problem ever has a simple solution. Combined with the hundreds of different products on the market that farmers are bombarded with daily serves to only create more confusion. How do we cut through all the noise right down to what we really want to know – whether a product works as it claims or not? To assess a product’s worth and potential use on your farm, there are a few things to keep in mind when evaluating a product or even a services merit. An insightful article by Dr Hutjens suggests that farmers should always evaluate a product using the four Rs; these being anticipated response; economic return; available research and filed responses.

Anticipated response and economic return

The anticipated response is often the first thing that piques your interest. No product would be worth considering if it were not beneficial to your business. Secondly is an economic response. While this may seem logical, it is often not weighed up or determined when considering the use of a new product. Economic profit can be made when the use of a product guarantees a return on investment, covering its own cost and giving returns above their own in the form of improved performance responses or improved health and reproduction parameters. Hutjens (2007) suggests that an ROI below 2:1 should not even be considered.

Backed by research

Economic return is mostly backed and guaranteed by the research done on a product. Millions of rands are spent on product research each year, with the aim to prove its effectiveness. One important aspect of this is that a product backed by solid and significant research also carries with it a degree of certainty and assurance of a return on investment (ROI). 

Research is often done under different environments, and will always have a probability figure with it, which is pretty much all that anyone cares about. This probability or P-value is very insightful and gives you an indication whether or not the promised response or action of a product is real and attainable in different environments.  A good rule of thumb is a P-value <0,05 has some pretty good evidence suggesting that it will have the desired effect. Any P-value <0,1 suggests that there is a trend, but a response is not always guaranteed.  By considering the available research and taking it into account, you can instantly eliminate some products that might not meet your ROI of 2:1. Any product worth your time will be backed by some solid science.

Care must be taken at this R to ensure that farmers do not fall victim to what is known as the “me too syndrome”. This refers to products that are marketed as being similar to other well-proven and researched products but themselves have very little or no research and results to back up their claims. It is important to remember that while products may have similar functions, that each has a unique chemical make-up and as a result, an unique response that can’t always be assumed to be the same. It is crucial then and almost surprising sometimes to request the science behind a product and test whether the probability of a profitable response is worth your time.

Field response

The last R to consider is field response, i.e. what is the performance effect and results seen in your own business.  Again, when selecting a product, a significant P-value (P<0,05) increases the chance of a profitable product response. The importance of the field response, although at the end of the checklist; is how does the product perform on your farm and in your business.

The four Rs

Should the four Rs be ticked off, rest assured that you are well on your way to spending money on proven products that will yield an economic response. Use this checklist to cancel out the noise on-farm, allowing you to focus on the important stuff.

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Technical adviser: Ruminants

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