The 7 Deadly Sins of Agronomy
Agronomy is not as exact of a science as many of us would like it to be; it’s dynamic and complex. Often we make it harder than it needs to be and unfortunately, emotions come into play, inhibiting best possible outcomes. What sort of outcomes? When talking better outcomes in agronomy, many are typically talking about increased yield. But better outcomes in agronomy to me means optimizing yield for profitability instead of always maximizing yield. Emotions can hinder our ability to effectively execute this though. But what sorts of emotions come into play? Many, but they can be summarized in what are known as “The 7 Deadly Sins”; greed, pride, sloth, wrath, gluttony, lust and envy. Extrapolating these out to the agronomy world actually can show where yield and profitability are often lost!
1. Pride – Defined as “a negative connotation pride refers to a foolishly and irrationally corrupt sense of one's personal value, status or accomplishments”.
In an agronomic setting this can show up as an individual thinking they know everything, unwilling to constantly improve, or thinking that their way/way they’ve always done it is the only way. This mentality has will struggle in a space evolving as quickly as agriculture. Striving for a better understanding and acknowledging that no matter what you’ve accomplished (helping a farmer achieve their massive yield target, or a farmer doing so as well), there is always a constant room for improvement, especially as circumstances change.
2. Gluttony – Defined as “habitual greed or excess”
In an agronomic setting I look at this more on the crop inputs end of things. The crop inputs and technology out there today has had positive implications everywhere, but that doesn’t mean that adding more is always better. For example, from a nutrition perspective, more nitrogen isn’t always the answer, and in some cases can be worse (lodging, negative environmental impact etc)! It should be about looking at things from the needs of the crop and the soils (plus conditions, application methods etc)and then approached with balance in mind. Understanding exactly what the crop needs based on yield targets is a great starting point and helps keep the desire for excess in check.
3. Wrath – Defined as “extreme anger”.
From an agronomy perspective this shows up often in the “revenge spraying” category. There are insects in a field and even though the crop is beyond the staging of damage, the desire to recommend/ to spray the insects remains high! The same goes with weeds, there are critical points in a crops life when a the field should be weed free, however, there is a tendency to see a wild oat escape that is minor late in crop staging and the action is to go spray – even though the weeds won’t impact the yield in the current year and the weed seed bank build up would be minimal! Taking emotion out of these sorts of scenario’s and approaching them with a more calculated, quantified approach to the decision.
4. Envy – Defined as “a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else's possessions, qualities, or luck.”
“The neighbour is spraying, maybe I should be too?”
“I usually start swathing when the neighbour does”
While this might not directly be envy, it is closely related in that you want to be doing something because somebody else is. Doing something because the neighbour is doing it is never a good reason to take action. It might indicate there is a need to go and check or dig further, but there are too many variables that can change timing or needs from one neighbour (or field) to the next. It’ always best to understand the specifics of each field vs. making decisions based on what others are doing, whether being a farmer or an agronomist.
5. Sloth – Defined as “reluctance to work or make an effort; laziness.”
While I don’t think “sloth” is a tendency that many farmers or agronomists have by any means, when I look at this in an agronomic context I think timing and being too slow to react to a situation during the season or not having a plan in place to execute. The differences that proper timing can make on herbicide, insecticide, fungicide, or nutrient application are huge. When there is an insect like bertha armyworm in canola for example, the damage they can do at threshold within a day or two is significant! Ensuring timely checks of fields and timely execution of practices or applications is imperative.
6. Lust – Defined as “very strong sexual desire.”
I am sure you are wondering where I am going to take this one, but if you simply drop “sexual”, lust means very strong desire. One of the desires I see often is more acres or newer equipment. Now I fully understand the need for growth in many instances (and the economic and financial benefits behind it), but focusing on the specific land base an agronomist or farmer already has and being better on those acres is a strong plan to get more off of those acres vs. “lusting” after more land. When lusting we focus elsewhere and focus on uncontrollable things. Spending time and effort on what you can influence today is going to allow you to obtain better outcomes, which will enable more land and growth down the line.
7. Greed – Defined as “intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food.”
Anyone can fall prey to being greedy. The thing about greed is it is blinding. It takes away our self-awareness and ability to reason. While this is very similar to “lust”, I think it can be framed differently. There is a constant desire for bigger yields, as I alluded to earlier. I love big yields and pushing the boundaries of crop production, don’t get me wrong. But too often I see it without the fundamental understanding of what is holding back better yields or profitability. We try variable rate services without truly understanding how to utilize, or apply more nitrogen because it seems like the right thing to do. Wanting those yields and that higher profitability is great, but assessing intelligently what’s limiting and then identifying ways to alleviate those limitations will help vs. blindly applying/doing and desiring more.
No matter how much influence technology has on agriculture, there is always going to be a people component somewhere. And when people are involved, there are psychological quirks that come into play and undermine our ability to achieve what we want to achieve. Overcoming these 7 Deadly Sins of Agronomy is a great start to moving your farm operation forward, or becoming a better agronomist yourself!