Ode to Perseverance

As we wrap up harvest for 2018 and take inventory of our progress, I am reminded that more often than not, it takes years for a particular goal to be reached or a new strategy to demonstrate its value.

The Pinicon “Better Methods Discovery Quest” is littered with exciting idea’s discarded by harmful side effects, pessimism, unrealistic expectations and insufficient resources. Whether they were legitimate dead ends or game changing innovations a couple years beyond our limited problem solving abilities, we’ll never know.  This blog is about two times persistence was rewarded.

In the early days, poor soybean farmers we were. Despite our adoption of the prevailing best practices. We could not make money growing beans.

We experimented with numerous systems in our effort to improve profitability. Different row widths, planter configurations, tillage, varieties, soil amendments, and marketing strategies were tried.

Gradually yields improved but we continued to explore alternative production methods, often times at the risk of going backwards in the short run. When you only get one chance to grow a crop every 12 months, it can take years to recover a large single season setback.

In the last few years, trends became apparent. Row width is over rated. Lower populations outperform higher populations, to a point. There is a strong correlation with high yields and early planting. If soybean production was an Olympic sport, hog manure would be a banned substance.  Drainage, drainage, and did I mention drainage?

Utilizing this experience to fine tune our bean production system, the current emphasis is on timeliness, variety selection, fertility, identification of “never beans” farms, and farm specific tillage.

In 2018, using row width and tillage practices common in the 70’s, we smashed our previous bean yield record. This was accomplished on a larger total bean acreage than we have ever grown. 98% of the crop is in company storage, and 70% is forward sold.

Despite the trade war and burdensome oversupply, this works for us.

In 2014 we decided to hire two H2A workers from South Africa. Finding help locally that was willing to work extended hours during planting and harvest was becoming difficult. Competing with non ag job opportunities on a per hour level was expensive. We would be the first in our area to bring in foreign workers. Local backlash was a real risk.

We knew other farm operations had success with this option but every situation is different. Our expectations for our workers are high. Keeping the machinery going was not the issue. Could we find honest, hard working individuals who took pride in their work and embraced our culture?

Theo and John arrived in early April. It took several months to get them CDL’s, locally orientated, fully furnished houses (H2A rules employer provides housing) and personality conflicts resolved.

After the first year we determined it would take a season to get the typical H2A employee trained into our way of doing things. If we could get them to return a second year they would have the experience and local knowledge to be qualified for our Team.

In 2015 we doubled down and brought in five H2A workers. Turn over among this group was over 50%. By the end of 2015, only one of our original 2014 hires remained.

If this was going to be a sustainable strategy, reducing the drop out rate was essential for developing the skilled, quality workers who could meet our standards.

Fast forward to 2018. (already?) Our South African contingent of Gerhard, Deon, Dirk, Jaco, and J.D. are collectively the best class of H2A workers to date. Their productivity, job skills, and judgement rank them on the first team of Pinicon employees.

To paraphrase my opening statement, even good idea’s will probably take longer to reach fruition than you expect. In the absence of dogged determination, many successful remedies will never be realized.

Ironically, this truism comes with a caveat. While perseverance has been an essential aspect of our drive for improvement, we have also become quicker to recognize when to cut our losses.

Success in business requires finding that balance.

 

Jim

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