The Golden Approach to Crop Production
The elusive silver bullet. We all want that one product, practice or formula that will solve all of our problems when it comes to farming and crop production. Many claim to have it, some think it will be developed and others have given up the search. In all reality, there is no silver bullet. Having “one tool to rule them all” just isn’t reasonable in a space as dynamic and complex as farming. But, is there a technique that gets you incrementally closer to consistent success and profitability? I would argue yes. There is no silver bullet, but there is a golden approach.
I was recently at a conference where there was a fellow presenting who has been apart of the agriculture industry for decades that has consulted with farmers throughout the west coast, east coast and mid-west of the USA and in Canada. He has made financial and marketing recommendations for hundreds if not thousands of farmers and knows the intricacies of some of the most successful farms in North America. I ran into him at the evening appetizer event and couldn’t help but take the opportunity to pepper him with some questions. As someone with an interest in the finance of farming he was full of great insight. But, it was the answer to the last question I asked him that was the most insightful:
“Of the most successful farms you deal with, is there one common thread or practice that they have in common?”
I knew how broad of a question it was and wasn’t entirely sure he would be able to give a concise answer to something that is as complex as farm success. But I asked the question anyways and after he took a few seconds to think he looked up at me and said:
“A plan – Shane they all plan. From agronomics to precision farming implementation to cropping plans to succession to marketing and financials… they have a plan”
It’s such a simple concept, but exceptionally important. Plan. Part of me wanted a piece of insight that was off the wall revolutionary to be able to take away, but when he said it there was a part of me that got excited because it is something that every single farmer and person can do with relative ease. On top of this, it is consistent with something I have always been a big proponent of.
Planning is necessary and can be short term, long term or somewhere I between. But it's more than just "planning". I have always experienced the best planners taking planning to the next level. They are executing on what I call PIMEA.
Planning is a skeleton. It is the starting point and core of successful farming, but it’s also not the whole answer because there is always room for improvement and evolution. It’s a starting point.
What is PIMEA?
Planning – The plan is the layout. It is laying the foundation of what you want to do and accomplish with specific objectives, timelines, tasks, needs and is understood by everyone within the farming operation as well as the strategic business partners such as retails, accountants, suppliers or consultants for example. If we are talking about a crop plan, some of the things that should be considered are:
- Field, variety, plant stand target/seeding rate, herbicide plan (pre seed, in crop, pre-harvest, post harvest), fertilizer plan (rates, products, timing, application methods), fungicide considerations, seed test/treatment, intercrop opportunities, harvest chaff spreading measurement, stand establishment target, think about the supplier grower program dollars and what the opportunities are to execute on, irrigation planning, VR implementation…There are endless components from just an agronomic perspective to plan for, BUT when it is done the outcome is always better than the alternative!
Implement – This is process of taking the freshly laid out framework and executing on it. When you lay the plan out, there should be some basic steps/guidelines for how the plan is intended to come to fruition.
- Who’s the lead of each component? Who is responsible for doing what?
Measure – The plan must be measured throughout the laid out timeline (typically the season) and have recorded information of what was executed on, when, what wasn’t executed on, what went wrong etc. This allows you to have information to look at and improve upon. Identify the right key performance indicators (KPI’s) to understand how good things are or where there is room for improvement. Use them as benchmarks for future progress.
- Usng a plant stand target as an example: Did you execute on your plant stand target? What were the numbers? Where was there high, low or on target numbers? Identify trends. Did you do a trial to compare at all?
Evaluate – Analyze and sift through the data and information collected and understand why it happened. Look at what went well and what went poorly and identify the reasoning behind it. What could have been done to solve it? Could there have been a better outcome? Can you plan more specifically next time?
- Why were your plant stand targets lower than expected plan? Was it a controllable issue or uncontrollable? Is it something you can adjust for in following seasons? Was it consisted across your farm/operation?
Adjust – After the evaluation, look for opportunities to adjust and improve for the next season. Be specific with the adjustments and ensure the right metrics are in place for the plan and can be measured for moving ahead.
- Adjust based on your evaluation of the plant stand. Increase seeding rate, slow down seeding speed, level drill more diligently, treat seed, use new seed, get new openers or whatever issue may have been causing the concerns.
There will never be a perfect plan. But there can always be incremental improvements to the plan and the ability to keep it agile and malleable so that you are not constrained by the plan, but rather it helps you to take advantage of the opportunities that arise.
There is the old quote from Ben Franklin that says “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”, and while a lack of planning may not result in failure that you experience, it surely won’t be the best possible outcome that is achieved either. Proper planning is a pivotal for something I will be talking about in the coming weeks in a blog post; “stacking the deck”. Derived from card fixing so that the card game goes your way, I like to talk about this from a daily action perspective so that you are priming the environment you are surrounded by to have a better outcome by doing simple tasks n a consistent basis. More to come soon.
If you have any questions or comments please do not hesitate to reach out!