by Mark Caygeon Junkin
I firmly believe that if you haven’t figured out how to get your crop in within five days of good weather, you really need to rethink what it is that you are doing.
I’m not talking about buying bigger equipment; I’m talking about being better organized pre-season.
My focus in human resources is not on generating B.S. paperwork but in organizing farm systems so that activities like spring planting go smoothly. A few ideas that many farm clients find of useful are:
1. Have all of fields mapped and in a binder in each tractor. Have written directions from one field to the next so that anyone could get to the field without talking to you. Also have a Garamond GPS unit pre-programmed in each tractor which can take an employee from one field to the next. Have a sign on each gate post labeling each field clearly so that everything is idiot proof.
2. You should never have to talk to your employees during planting! Within each field, map the A-to-B strike points for each field activity. Mark out any problematic areas ranging from mud holes to “sensitive” neighbours. Specify the seeding rate/variety to be used for each field. From your written instructions they should know how to work each field with each piece of equipment.
3. Have pre-printed forms which you can fill out each evening and give to each employee at dawn outlining what tasks he is to do each day. Have your entire system set up so that you don’t have to talk to anyone during spring planting. Way too much time is lost “organizing a circus.” On the back of each of these forms, have everyone’s cellphone number and key suppliers’ contact information.
4. Have a white board in the shop dedicated to charting what crop goes into what field and what activities pertain to each crop in that field. At the end of each day have each employee mark off what activities were done in each field. This whiteboard acts as a “dashboard” for activities.
5. In March, double check to make sure there is a set of wrenches, WD-40, duct tape and hammer in each tractor. Spray paint all field tools fluorescent orange so they don’t get lost in the field. Have common spare parts for each piece of equipment in each tractor for rapid field repair.
6. Organize/clean your shop in March and use a P-touch labeler to label what goes where. Brainstorm with your staff what spare parts should be on hand in the shop and order them in!
7. Light up your yard like a football field so that you can fuel up, grease and fix all equipment in the dark. Set up systems so that everything can be “loaded” in the evening and is in the field within 10 minutes of employees showing up at 5:30 a.m.
8. Have all of your seasonal employees lined up by March 30. I recommend having an extra mechanic scheduled to fix breakdowns in the evenings after his “real job” during planting.
9. Having employees show up to the shop at 5:30 a.m. from April 1 until the last bean is in the ground. On slow days, send everyone home at noon. This will get everyone’s (especially laid-back family members) biological clock used to such hours by the time the spring planting rush begins. Your tractors should be in the field for two rounds prior to sunrise so that you have a full day of light to work within. If you are a dairy farmer, hire in friends with day jobs to operate equipment when you milk. Operating from sunrise to sunset (~16 hours) results in maximum productivity.
Remember, there is a bushel of corn lost per acre each day that you are not able to get that field planted during the prime time window! In a wet spring, speeding to get the crop in prior to the next rain matters more than your fertilizer rates! Sure, large equipment gives you an edge, but preseason organization trumps all.
What you do in March matters big time!
- Mark Caygeon Junkin specializes in Farm Succession and Human Resources out of Mitchell, Ontario. He lives to improve how farm families make strategic decisions and work together. See Mark at this year’s Western Fair Farm Show, March 7-9 in London. And you can order a copy of his book, “Farm Succession shouldn’t be done at the Funeral Home!” by calling 519-348-9994 or emailing president@ agriculturestrategy.com.