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The cost of bad timing

There are many business planning resources out there that will tell you being able to do 12 things well and at high efficiency will always be more profitable than trying to do 36 different things at a lower efficiency. In the context of production agriculture, I think it more than makes sense. Maintaining a clear focus on crop production rather than trying to do too many things at once is more likely to result in maximum yield and profitability.

The nitrogen error

Last year, I found myself in a tight spot that ended up hurting our overall yield. In mid-summer we were looking to lay down some liquid fertilizer on our oilseed crops. This was accomplished on around 60 per cent of our oilseed acres. When it came to the last third of our acreage, I ran into a large problem. I could not find a load of liquid fertilizer within the time frame that was needed before the weather system coming through brought the rain I wanted to use to incorporate the nitrogen. Looking over the results over the last few years, not applying this extra fertilizer mid-season most likely cost us around five bushels to the acre. It is easy to see that this type of mistake can be very costly and can add up quickly.

This is just one example of an occurrence that happened to me this year that hurt the overall yield of the crop. There are many different things that need to happen within a certain time frame for maximum efficiency. This can include things such as placing the seed as soon as possible in the best soil moisture of the spring, spraying in-crop to allow the best weed-free environment for the crop and placing in-season fertilizer when the weather is the best for incorporation. There are some strategies that can be used to try and minimize these types of timing errors in a growing season.

Watch out for overextension

This is one strategy that I think has fallen by the wayside with the advancement in size and precision of today’s equipment. It gives you the feeling that you can extend yourself as far your equipment will let you. However this does not always equate to a situation where you can properly get to all your work accomplished within the proper time frame.

If you don’t get to your in-crop spraying in time, you can hurt yourself by having weed issues as well as trampling down crop. If you don’t have the time to get down needed crop nutrition in season, this can have a large effect on yields. As stated above, if you can do 12 really well within the crop year, you’ll see more results than if you do 36 things not so well.

Be Prepared

It’s always difficult to predict every situation that can come up within the growing season. It can be hard to get everything done exactly when you want when odd weather keeps you out of the field.

It obviously does not hurt to be prepared. This can mean many things of course, but in essence it means being ready to do your work when the time comes. Having the chemical you want on hand will mean that, when you need it, you don’t have to waste time going to town to pick it up, or find yourself in a situation like mine where you don’t have what you need to get the job done.

This can also mean making sure that the machinery is ready to go when you need it so you can minimize in-field stops. Obviously, mechanical failures will occur but being prepared for this type of issue and keeping things in good repair can keep you in the field instead of making stops to fix problems that could have been prevented.

Look at the big picture

Another technique I try to use is to roughly think about how much time each operation will take. This includes the number of days it will take, but I also like to break it down farther, to how long each tank may take to spray out or seed and how long it takes to refill from one of these operations. From these estimations I can accurately put together entire operations or parts of the season. This information is vital in making sure I don’t overextend, and I can complete all the tasks necessary for a great year. I can also create contingency plans for situations that might occur. Once you think about the big picture, you can make on-the-go decisions with more ease and efficiency than before.

This is where I fell short in my planning for last year’s in-crop fertilizing needs. I should have had a contingency plan — a way to store a large amount of liquid fertilizer, or a plan for getting delivery efficiently when I needed it. If I had done that and been more prepared, all the acres would have been covered at the optimal time and I would have had a more profitable situation.

By being prepared and understanding your bigger picture timing, you can schedule your work more efficiently to increase the profitability of your operations. †

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Jay Peterson farms near Frontier, Sask.

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