Moe Russell: 7 Warning Signs of Stagnation

October 8, 2018 10:19 AM
Moe Russell

The crop we’re harvesting has the potential to be the fifth-consecutive largest on record in the U.S. No one thought we could produce three record crops in a row much less five. One of the factors to producing record crops even with too much rain in some areas and too little rain and record heat in other areas is the remarkable advances in technology.

From auto-steer to variable-rate seed and fertilizer to high-speed planting and new seed genetics, technology helps farmers increase yields and be better stewards of their land and resources. However, technology adoption and success can lull us into a stagnate state if we’re not careful. Are you approaching stagnation in your technology advancements or production practices? If you hear yourself or your employees say any of the following statements, it might be time to reboot:

  • We have never done it that way.
  • We are not ready for that.
  • We are doing OK without that.
  • We tried it once.
  • It costs too much.
  • It’s not our responsibility.
  • It wouldn’t work for us.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the warning signs of stagnation.

We are doing OK without that. Change is hard—but it’s impossible to know what works and what doesn’t without trying. For example, I once asked a client of mine who converted to open pen gestation for his sow herd if the switch hurt production. Interestingly enough, he said no and went on to explain his production increased to 30 pigs per sow per year thanks to animal comfort.

Improving organic matter can be one of the greatest contributors to soil health. On our family farm we have nearly doubled organic matter from a little over 3% to 6% in the past 14 years. It is estimated every 1% improvement in organic matter allows the soil to hold another 17,000 to 37,000 gal. of water per acre. That reduces water runoff, nutrient loss and improves profit.

It costs too much. I’ve heard a number of farmers, for example, say cost is a barrier to applying fungicides to corn or soybeans. Or, they say their lender doesn’t want them investing more money in the crop. Even with today’s prices there could be a $2 to $3 return for each dollar invested in a fungicide application.

It’s not our responsibility. It’s estimated $420 million of lost nutrients from Midwest farms end up in the Gulf of Mexico each year. Even with a focus on stewardship and managing nutrient loss, there are still $50 per acre per year nitrogen inefficiencies in corn production. If we don’t stay on the cutting edge of technology advancements, we will be regulated into doing so. Tiling, drainage water management, buffer strips and cover crops can all lead to better yields and lower costs.

I recommend farmers develop action plans in the following four areas: water management, nutrient management, soil health and animal comfort, if applicable. By doing so, the environment and your bottom line will both benefit.

It wouldn’t work for us. When I was growing up on our family farm in the 1960s I recall my father, who was a leading technology adopter, was one of the first in the county to quit using the moldboard plow. Today they are about extinct.

I agree, not all technology works for everyone and on every farm. Avoiding stagnation requires a lot of thought, work and trial and error. I think we can be certain of several things. First, technology improvements generally pay off. Second, the pace of technology improvements will not slow down; in fact they will most likely accelerate in the future. The bottom line: Avoiding these seven deadly pitfalls will improve your bottom line.

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