All farms have and use processes – that’s how the people on your farm get the work done each day. It’s true that every farm operation has different ways their people go about the tasks of farming. However, sometimes there can be major variations in terms of whether people are doing things the way you as the leader want them to.
Some aspects and activities of farming can really benefit from standard operating procedures (SOPs). These can help increase the efficiency of the operation – and sometimes even raise the level of safety for everyone on and around the farm, too.
Where to start
It’s typically up to the farm’s leaders to decide where and how to put standard processes and procedures in place. This means first determining which activities and areas of the farm will benefit most from documented processes – where they will make the biggest impact or gains in efficiency.
Start by “auditing” your operation to discover these areas. Then, use these four quick tips to help make some basic SOPs that won’t take forever to create and maintain.
Four quick tips
- Write it down. The key to a process that your employees – or really, anybody – can follow in a repeatable, standardized way is that it must be written down. This doesn’t need to be an extremely detailed document – and, in fact, it’s better if it isn’t (see tip #2). Having something in writing for an employee to reference helps when they’re out in the field or away from you and other managers. They don’t have to spend their time and yours to ask questions, and they can easily do things the “right way” even when you’re not there with them.
- Keep it simple. It’s important to keep your process as simple and brief as possible. The clearer and briefer the process, the easier it is for someone to follow correctly. You want to distill the process down into the fewest steps possible while still getting the full activity completed. Keeping it simple also helps save you time – you won’t get bogged down trying to document every single detail or point about the task. You’re simply capturing the key points they need to remember each time.
- Make it handy. Have the process posted or readily available in the place where the employee performs the task. For example, keep laminated copies of planting and harvest processes inside each piece of equipment, so employees have ready access when they’re in the field. Maybe there’s a pre-task equipment check-over you require employees to do – that might be posted inside the machine. This makes it even easier for people to do the right thing.
- Don’t stress. The real importance of capturing basic processes for your operation is in making sure they’re “good enough,” not perfect. Trying to create – and then maintain – perfect, detailed processes for every task in your entire operation will only lead to headaches and frustration. And because technology changes so rapidly on the farm, you’d constantly be creating and then re-creating the wheel. Try to keep it simple and train others in your operation to document simple processes for others as well.
Creating basic processes for the farm can be a valuable off-season activity. You can talk more with our advisors for the farm about this and other ideas to help increase efficiency in your operation.
The opinions of Darren Frye are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or the Penton Farm Progress Group.