Dean Heffta 1

August 1, 2013

3 Min Read


Tip of the iceberg, under the surface, more than meets the eye – there are plenty of phrases that speak to the fact that what matters most is often beyond what we first see. We experience this as reality on every day on the farm. Be it growing our crop, our business or relationships – what really drives our results (or our frustrations) is out of sight.

An example played out years ago as I walked a field with a client on an issue with his corn. “Above the surface” was an uneven and unhealthy corn crop. First appearances showed a seed or hybrid problem. But the best approach in the field is the best approach in our business, too – start digging. 

When we aren’t getting what we expect – especially around our business or relationships – emotions can run high. Our first reaction can be to search for culprits, for someone to blame. It can even feel better to have a “suspect” in custody, but that often doesn’t get deeply enough to fix the problem.

Sometimes wisdom tells us our answer to a problem isn’t usually the right answer – or at best it’s the right answer to the symptom we see – but not to the problem that caused the symptom.  So in those situations, stop and look at things differently. Symptoms could be potassium deficiency in corn (maybe the problem is compaction?), valves going bad in our sprayer (could be a maintenance issue?), or maybe we are short on cash (is it a business management deficiency instead?).

You get the picture – ‘solving’ symptoms just has us spreading potash, looking for new valve suppliers and trying to buy inputs more cheaply. Fixing the symptom often makes us feel better because we did something. Unfortunately, until the real problems are found and addressed – our ‘solutions’ won’t have long-term impact and we’ll probably end up even more frustrated than before.

Back to that cornfield…. for our investigation we used the most important tool a scout has – a spade. As we started digging plants and looking under the surface it became apparent that the problem wasn’t fertility or hybrid – but rather how the planter had (or hadn’t) been set prior to planting the field. The whole field was planted too shallow with some areas showing serious problems. While it was too late to replant, the weather cooperated and helped the field to have a decent yield.

So, what part of your farm could be served with more frequent use of a trusty spade?



1. When you run into a problem or disappointment, rather than jumping on the first solution or searching for suspects, start digging for as many potential causes as possible.

2. Bring in an outside perspective. People not close to the situation can see the issue in new ways.

3. Remember your spade!

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