Taking notes makes farming easier

For someone that hasn’t been farming long, there are lots of things to remember. Notes can help

crop sprayer

I play the fool sometimes, to illustrate the simpler yet important points of farming that an expert may no longer consider. And I’m guessing some of you, the ones who didn’t grow up with smartphones and GPS, need constant reminders of the potential efficiencies clipped to your belts.

It was supposed to be too cold. The soil an inch or two down wasn’t much above freezing. But we did it. On May 16, we planted soybeans after checking the soil temperature. It was the morning after a cold night. But the sun was out and we weren’t about to let such an ideal day slip away from us, especially over just a few degrees.

I recorded the date, variety, drill settings and tractor speed. And took a picture. The whole process took seconds, and felt good.

May 16 — seeded Syngenta soybeans at drill setting 17. Fourth range, second gear.

soybean seedlings
On May 29, six days after they were planted in soil that was arguably too cold, a solid covering of soybean plants could be seen above the surface. photo: Toban Dyck

It was at first a relatively unfamiliar dilemma. Conditions were otherwise perfect. There was good moisture below the surface, the days were warm, and it was getting into May. We seeded wet patches on June 13 last year, and they survived, but that was way too late, and too risky. It was time to go. And, besides, the soil temperature thresholds people were tossing around seemed too varied to keep us from the field on good, sunny planting days.

Here’s some hard science I’ve learned from my father: plants will find a way to live.

And they did. On May 29, six days after they were planted in soil that was arguably too cold, a solid covering of soybean plants could be seen above the surface.

I recorded the date, field, and took a couple of pictures. Again, it felt great.

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This note-taking phase started with the drill fill. I had no idea how we got that thing on our tandem last year. And I was starting to get tired of asking what range and speed we cultivate, seed, and spray at. It’s embarrassing. I should know all this stuff by now. No more asking. Well, once more. I had to call up a year-old YouTube video of me seeding to remember which tractor we used to pull our drill. Few know about that one, so please keep it quiet. I’d hate for it to get out.

The drill fill is easy, but getting it on the truck requires a few precarious steps. And instead of puzzling it out every year, I’m at ease knowing that next year I’ll just have to pull the process up on my phone. Yes, I’m not using a pad of paper. It’s a shameless plug for smartphones, but farming is all about efficiencies, isn’t it?


There are too many finicky procedures on the farm not to keep notes. Too often I’ve stood over a machine or implement trying to recall the fuzzy details of how we dealt with it the year before. And year-over-year data on something that fluctuates as much as farming seems like a good idea, at least until my ag instincts develop.

a young soybean crop
By June 14, it looked like a great crop photo: Toban Dyck

Then it was time to spray. This, full disclosure, is not the most fun for me. It’s the combination of pulling something that’s 90-feet from end to end, which is the widest implement on the farm, and doing so at over six miles per hour.

I made my first pass on the sprayer with one boom wheel tracking in the middle of our driveway, killing the grass between it and the field. I turned, abruptly, and was soon leaving a swath of beans unsprayed. Then, nervous, because I was doing all this on the field in front of my parents’ house, I clipped a hydro pole.

After that incident wrapped up and I was back on the field, the day got a little better. And my notes include such pearls of wisdom:

June 5 – Sprayed soybeans. Second range, full hydrostat, 2100 r.p.m.s. p.s.i. 42. Slow down at ends, turn slowly and make sure no wedges are left unsprayed. Don’t turn sharp with sprayer. If near an obstacle, turn off booms, stop, and back up.

The chemicals intimidate me. They smell potent. They are potent. And I can’t help but feel the line between helping the crop and destroying it is thin. What if I’m killing the beans? What if I’m killing my neighbour’s crop? Round Ready soybeans won’t burn too easily, I’m told. And the little bit of Reflex we added to stress the young beans into a stronger, higher-yielding plant won’t kill them, either.

But my notes are exhaustive. More so than the excerpt above. When we spray a second time, shortly before the rows close up, I’ll be that much more independent. And that’s the goal: to be a comfortable, intuitive, and independent farmer.

I’m getting there. And taking quick notes is helping. I recommend it. Next spring, when we’re puzzling over seed-rate settings and depth, these notes will be worth it.

It may seem easy, but if there are others like me, who fret about things they can’t fully explain or remember at any given time, the peace of mind that accompanies having a record of dates, procedures, and settings more than justifies the few seconds it takes.

June 14 was the last time I recorded notes on our beans, and the photos I snapped while doing so captured what looks like a great crop.

About the author


Toban Dyck is a freelance writer and a new farmer on an old farm. Follow him on Twitter @tobandyck or email [email protected]



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