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Better Quality Controls at Seeding

When farmers make their crop plans, they typically include what will go into each field for seed, fertilizer and pest management.

But something that isn’t generally included is a plan for logistics, execution and follow through. Including these things makes sense to me, especially when the optimum seeding window for each crop is only about 10 days.

The focus of a logistics, execution and follow through plan is the technical procedure of the operation. Successful farmers have the advantage of having learned to be able to do this, and they are reaping the rewards.

A crop plan that includes logistics, execution and follow through is a system of quality control — a way to ensure that all the details of the seeding operation are effective.

The “logistics” part of the plan describes how everything is going to happen. Execution is how things are happening. Follow through is making sure things happened the way they were planned.

Logistics plan

The logistics plan is a plan of how things will happen and who will do each job. Look at logistics as the supply chain of resources required to keep the seeding equipment going at peak efficiency. There are several things to consider when you’re developing a detailed logistics plan.

  •  Calculate the capacity of the air cart tanks in volume and weight, so you’ll know how many acres you can seed with each tank with the seed and fertilizer rates you’re planning.
  •  Know the density of the fertilizer you’ve chosen, and how many tonnes of each blend or product you’ll have capacity for. Then check rates to establish acres per fill.
  •  Check cereal 1,000 kernel weights (TKW) on the seed lots (seeding rates will vary from year to year based on TKW and target plant stand counts).
  •  Plan your seed treating. Look at hiring a custom treater to do the job if you’re not equipped to do it properly yourself.
  •  Larger operations have certain people tasked with specific jobs. A good logistics plan has a description of those duties. This will be helpful if someone else has to step into that job for the day.
  •  Maps can be used in a logistics plan to show everybody ahead of time where the loading and fill locations areas are and how to access them with trucks and other equipment. Good maps show field locations and routes for operators. These are especially useful if you might be working at night, when it’s easy to get turned around and waste time backtracking.
  •  Logistics plans should include fueling and in-season maintenance requirements. The first day of seeding is not a good time to learn the fuel gauge doesn’t show “empty” when the tank is.
  •  GPS equipment and subscriptions must be current for spring, with application files arranged ahead of time on the rate controllers.
  •  Prepare a quick start list for using rate controllers and monitors, so operators don’t miss anything.

These are a number of items that may be included in a logistics plan but each individual farm manager will have their own list of the most important for their farm.

The execution plan

The execution plan details who will do each actual operation — including setting the equipment, making adjustments and fine-tuning for field conditions. The crop planning part is the easy part — the execution is the real work, making sure everything is happening according to plan and that, if things change, the work can get back on track.

Here are some items that could be included in a detailed execution plan.

  •  Establish a procedure for documenting seeding depth checks while seeding. Consider how often you want seeding depth checked and how you want it done.
  •  Some farmers like to fine-tune settings across the field; others are comfortable leaving things alone once they’re set. Each operation is different.
  •  Some farmers like to plan to make adjustments on the seeder as soil temperature and moisture levels change. Determine when you are going to want to plan to make adjustments.
  •  Making sure that the weeds are in check at seeding time and doing the pre-seed and pre-emergence burn off application is part of a good execution plan.
  •  Know how and when to make adjustments to closing furrows and packing pressure based on soil conditions and equipment settings.
  •  The execution plan could details fertilizer rate settings and calibration. Know how to check the actual density of the fertilizer you are using when you’re loading the air cart to make sure if settings don’t need to change or recalibrate.
  •  Is seed treatment application equipment doing the right job and treating the correct amount of seed with the right amount of product and getting the best coverage?
  •  In the execution plan, implement a system that ensures information is entered properly into the rate controllers. If using precision placement technology and rate control, check that prescription maps for the correct year and crop are loaded accurately for each field.

In every farm operation, there are some tasks that are that are critical to accomplishing the seeding operation. Include these in as much detail as you think is required for your farm.

Follow through

The follow through plan is a quality improvement plan to check that the seeding operation happened as it was supposed to. It’s a way to find out what adjustments should be made to perfect and simplify seeding in future years.

Here are some things you may want to include in your follow through plans.

  •  In the follow through plan, it may be important to implement a system for keeping seed tags and seed samples from each lot for future reference. If there’s a problem with seed in the field, you’ll have a reference to refer to.
  •  Storing seed tag information from each field is a quality control tool to make sure that the seed variety planned for that field was actually seeded.
  •  Keep a sample of seed as it comes from the treater to verify proper application and coverage.
  •  Record fertilizer load information by field to help with inventory and application data.
  •  Check seed bed condition after seeding. Ensure there are no lumps, clumps or piles, to make sure that the seeding equipment is handling stubble and crop residue as expected.
  •  Review application monitors and rate controller records to check that any application changes were flagged in the as applied data.
  •  A follow through plan can include field maps marking areas where changes were made to rates, varieties, treatments and settings in the field.
  •  Look at any problems you may have had during seeding. Then plan ahead to make sure these issues are addressed for next year.
  •  Talk to operators and other people who worked with you through the season. They may be able to identify areas of your operation that could be modified or improved.
  •  A strong follow through plan includes a system for obtaining feedback on what worked well and where there are opportunities to fine-tune performance.

The follow through plan is done right through seeding, and is a check on where you are, compared to your plan.

Successful farmers manage the details of logistics, execution and follow through. When you’re working on your crop plans, I recommend putting some effort into a solid quality control system for your cropping operation. †

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