Every grain farmer’s crop plan looks good on paper — until the whole thing blows up and you have to start over. It rained. It got cold. It’s expected. And unavoidable.
But how do you turn that inevitable spring chaos into a positive start?
With weather extremes and narrower planting windows, recognizing the difference between what you can control and what you can’t helps reduce stress. Simply put, your task during the next six weeks is to manage people, equipment, inputs, family and markets — without skipping a beat.
“Time management is really about defining what system works best for you. There are plenty to choose from,” says Davon Cook, a family business consultant at K-Coe Isom. She suggests a simple system that starts by defining intermediate to long-term goals:
- A. critical — most important to your success
- B. enabling — a bridge to make a critical goal happen
- C. nice-to-have — less urgent, but on long-term improvement list
Now equate your goals with your to-do list and organize by A, B and C priorities every day. Let’s say your critical goal is to plant half the farm’s soybean acreage by April 15. You’ve defined early-planted soybeans as critical to your success. A related enabling goal might be to have two trained drivers for both soybean and corn planting rigs, or hire a mechanic this year to make all field operations more timely. And maybe your nice-to-have goal is to serve food and beverages on long days.
On this week’s to-do list, prioritize A items like “pick up planter bearings” and “confirm seed arrival.” Your B items that support enabling goals could be “spend two hours training Luke on planter operation” (the tactical to-do list item for this week) or “call recruitment firm about job posting ad.” And place a C by “call café about possibly catering field meals.”
In any case, as you prioritize, ensure you tackle the A items first.
“Sometimes the C list items are easier, and it’s tempting to knock them out,” Cook says. “But you need to keep your eye on the prize, so A tasks get done first, whether they are painful or easy.”
This spring you may want to set goals around the 5% rule — increase price 5%, increase yield 5%, reduce costs 5%. If that is a critical goal, work backward to determine how these translate to your to-do list.
Even so, how do you avoid feeling overwhelmed? “Think through the question, ‘What am I going to do well today?’ ” Cook says. “Tomorrow may have its own issues, but today you can focus on doing one thing well, with simple clarity. Establishing clarity helps when you get in those paralysis moments.”
Time to communicate
One critical goal is communication. During busy times, the more you communicate proactively, and before an event like spring planting, the better. Have a meeting with the whole team before planting and walk through the plan. Use rain delays to meet again to update the plan.
“Be proactive before things get busy so you can ward off problems later,” Cook says. “Some farms have preplanting and preharvest meetings. The ones who do find it incredibly valuable. The whole team sits down for a few hours, goes over safety rules, talks about who is assigned to what equipment and brainstorms what they can do better compared to last year.
“It’s a pregame huddle. They feed everybody and gain some positive energy even as they’re learning better processes for the upcoming season.”
Think of ongoing operational coordination like the morning greasing routine on the combine. You do it to prevent future problems.
If you don’t have a morning huddle during spring planting, consider a daily group text or email. Some folks send out a message at the end of day saying who will be where tomorrow. Whatever format you use, keep it consistent and focused so it’s not a waste of time.
“It provides the information all need to stay productive and not get frustrated,” she concludes.