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Corn+Soybean Digest

Build Farm Playbooks


“How many times do I have to tell them?” “I told them about the change, so why didn’t they listen?” “Do I have to be everywhere?” The list of the things that can frustrate the farm leader is a long one. As the farm grows, think of ways to replicate our thinking in others to make sure the right things get done the right way.

What happens when employees aren’t plugged in to what needs to get done or what’s changed? You already know. Someone gets lost, the wrong field gets sprayed or the wrong hybrid is planted. But that’s not the worst of it – people get fired, crops get killed and the stress of uncertainty can fray nerves.

These frustrations prompted a friend who leads a large Iowa farm to build playbooks for each employee on the farm. What’s in a playbook? All the key things about each farm that every farm leader has in his head but wants every employee to know.

During winter, the playbook is built with field-by-field details that cover location, acres, plans for tillage, fertilization, hybrids and herbicides. By investing effort in building the playbook, this farmer has found three key benefits for his farm.

1.     It forces him to work through details on each field long before the first wheel turns in the spring, so he has already mentally worked through any challenges.

2.     The playbook actually makes changes easier because everyone’s copy gets updated to the latest version when the plan changes.

3.     It reduces errors and inefficiencies because employees (even new ones) have the right information to do what needs to get done.

With the playbook in place that contains the latest information, this farm leader and his employees have the confidence to know the right things are going to get done in the right ways. As much as possible, he has eliminated the need to rely on assumptions.

Building this level of detail, months ahead of the activity, is a change in thinking for many farmers. Making the investment of time and effort can really improve results by moving decision-making and communication away from spring and summer, when time is scarce and emotions are high.


  • Put it in writing. Jot down the most common operational mistakes (getting lost, wrong thing done, etc.) or the questions that get asked repeatedly.
  • Include the staff. Discuss what you want to build and why. Find out the things they would like to have at hand or be more informed about.
  • Start simple. Your first playbook may only be a few pages long, but should include things such as field directions, descriptions and some basic plans or notes you want your employees to know.
  • Get feedback and adjust. Is the information helping employees and making everyone’s life better? The goal isn’t just to have a playbook – it’s to help people get great results.
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