As we strive as grain farmers to cover more acres more quickly and efficiently, the emphasis is often on equipment when more attention might be justified on the labour side of the equation.
Newer, bigger equipment only gets the job done when you have enough people to keep everything running.
How often do you see a tractor and seeder sitting still in the middle of a good seeding day because there aren’t enough people to do all the related tasks? The list of associated jobs is endless from spraying fields to hauling water to going to town for more fertilizer or crop protection products to fixing equipment that needs some attention.
Ideally, all the people on the team are interchangeable and everyone can jump on any piece of equipment and run it effectively. In practice, this is rarely the case. Some family members might happily run the land roller, but they don’t know how to run the sprayer and it isn’t something suitable to their skill set.
On our farm, I’m the only one who runs the most recent sprayer. Not an ideal situation if I was ever to be incapacitated for a period of time.
If you have an interested family member or casual employee, how much time do you devote to teaching them the operation of more intricate equipment? How long does it take to trust their ability on the sprayer or the seeder? Can you put up with some mishaps and misapplications?
It may be easy enough to operate the seeder in good conditions, but sometimes plugging issues arise in heavy residue situations. And what about filling the seeder when it needs more seed and fertilizer? That’s quite a different skill set from sitting in the seat and pushing the right buttons.
At seeding time, a myriad of tasks are available for those not wanting to run equipment and this support contributes greatly to overall efficiency. Jobs exist for every aptitude.
Some farms share equipment and people. More of this should happen, but not everyone gets along. It’s surprising how many old grudges prevent farms from working together. Plus, there’s an unfortunate pride in self-sufficiency.
If you look around your community, you probably see more cases of increased autonomy than you do co-operation. Two brothers or cousins that once farmed together will often branch out on their own, even if this isn’t the most logical approach.
So far this seeding season, weather delays have been minimal. The lack of rain is a major concern, but seeding is advancing rapidly. In a spring such as this, it’s easy to get complacent about efficiency and how quickly the work can be accomplished. Harken back to some of the wet springs of the past and remember the scramble to get seed in the ground in a timely fashion.
The drive to enhance capacity often comes from more acres to seed. A bigger tractor, seeder or sprayer is where the mind typically goes when calculating how to cover more acres. That may be the correct solution, but it’s also possible that another person or two or some co-operation with a neighbour could achieve the same result.
Dealing with additional people or expanding the skills of the existing workforce can be frustrating and time consuming, but so can the purchase and commissioning of newer equipment.
Overall, there is often too much emphasis on equipment capacity and not enough attention to the workforce, be it family or non-family.
Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.