Many producers I talked to before spring seeding said they were going to run hard and put in long hours to make up for the late start. From a risk management perspective, the No. 1 priority every spring should be your health and safety.
Over the past 10 years, advancements in equipment and technology have given producers the ability to accurately seed, spray and harvest around the clock. Many of these advancements have helped reduce the time required to complete operations and reduce errors, such as overlap or missed seeding, that previously may have occurred due to operator fatigue.
These advancements have no doubt helped improve operational efficiency, but they have also brought new demands.
In conversations I have had with producers, many talk about the need to go to seeder or sprayer or combine school to learn how to operate this new generation of farm equipment to maximize efficiency and improve farm profitability.
The side effect of this new technology is the need for the operator to have to constantly watch all the monitors, maps and cameras needed to keep the unit is running properly. This crates mental fatigue, which I have heard many producers say is harder on them than the physical fatigue they face during the busy times.
So how do you go about managing the health and safety risk aspect of your farm business?
This is where I am going to reuse a phrase I use often: know your numbers!
Your health numbers
In this case those numbers are not your farm’s cost of production or your break-even numbers, which I would normally be referring to, but rather your numbers for how many acres you can optimally seed in a day. How many people does it take to make that happen? How old are you and your farm hands? How many hours a day can you realistically work?
This planning process is similar to the process you go through over the winter to prepare your seeding plan.
To get the best results from your health plan you need a baseline to start from. When it comes to your seeding plan, you would start with soil sampling. When it comes to your health and safety plan, the baseline you need is a set of your personal health numbers. Blood pressure, blood sugar levels, cholesterol, PSA and anything else your doctor suggests needs to be tracked. Once you’ve had these tests done, commit to following up at least once a year, if not more, so you can see how the numbers change. Then, make sure everyone working with you does the same thing. Monitor your health and know when “enough is enough” of working consecutive days of long hours.
Once you have a baseline for yourself, ask a few more questions: If you or one of your farm hands were unable to work is someone else in your operation is trained to do what you or they did? If not, look at what you can do to ensure you have some cross training so operations can continue if one of your main operators goes down sick. Can you find extra hands elsewhere to help fill the gap or is everyone else expected to pick up the extra load? Is that realistic?
Many hired hands on farms are retired and only want to work a limited number of hours a day. Asking them to take on additional work when someone else is sick may not be the best option, as it may increase their own health risk. Knowing the capabilities of your work force will help you manage a situation like this without upsetting the entire operation and losing more than one worker.
Take it from me as one who experienced a cardiac event four years ago, brought on by stress from working too long and too hard, not eating properly, and not getting enough sleep. I ignored my doctor’s advice to slow down and take care of myself and eventually my body said, “This is too much.” It sent me one hell of a warning signal.
You are no good to anyone dead, and if you are incapacitated, you’ll be an added burden and stress on those who love you, so look after yourself and make the right smart health choices!