Mid Winter Report

Winter has finally arrived in North Iowa and I am almost ashamed to admit I was secretly hoping for the “Polar Vortex of the decade.” This is all my fault.

When brutally cold temps and accumulated snow conspire to turn every day into “Arctic Survival Boot Camp” life in this part of the world can be a struggle. A mild winter should be a thing to celebrate.

Yet, it is the contrast of the seasons that makes living at this latitude special. For me, the joy that comes with that first green grass, blue sky, seventy degree day is born in the depths of winter.

I have also seen sufficient evidence to persuade me the climate is changing. If in the next 50 years, our weather starts to resemble Kansas City more than Rochester, there will be adverse consequences to our farming operation.

Possibly, researchers predicting dire climate change impacts in the near future are catastrophizing. Maybe the rate of global warming will be gradual enough that technology will give us the tools to adapt with out creating widespread disruption and suffering. Or maybe I should adopt the “not my worry” advice of John Maynard Keynes who famously remarked, ” In the long run, we are all dead.”

So it gives me a sense of relief when the National Weather Service predicts 6-9″ of snow and potentially record cold. This is the kind of January I grew up with.

As I head out for my Sunday afternoon, five below zero, snow jog, I will be encouraged by the cold sting on my cheeks, the shiver in my limbs, the crunch of the snow on my boots and the visual clarity of the frigid air.

Old fashioned winters are OK with me.


Making Every Day Good

It has been said that every day is a good day, if you know what to do with it.

At Pinicon, it is relatively easy to do this nine months a year. From April to November, the feasible and worthwhile project list exceeds the supply of labor. The more difficult decision is recognizing which effort has the most value.

However, in mid January, when the days are short, the ground is frozen, and your ambition wants to go on sabbatical, keeping the entire Team constructively employed can be a challenge.

Fortunately for us, potentially beneficial initiatives are so numerous that improvement is a year round activity. Besides, the guilt we would feel for temporarily “punching out” would be severe. ( Guess my spiritual tradition.) Working on that.

As most of our operators work up to 3000 hours annually, cutting back to four, 9.5 hour days per week is the first step in increasing the value of our time during the winter. By the end of the week we still get 90% of the work done on 80% of the hours.

The existing shop has six separate, distinct work areas plus a wash bay. With coordination, 8-10 men can share this space with out getting in each others way.

Our equipment fleet gets bigger every year. Combines have more capacity, tractors have more power, planters and tillage machines go faster and get wider. Yet we need more of all of it.

My point is not so much the expansion of the fleet but the need for upkeep. Whoilla! We just happen to have the trained full time staff and a facility to accommodate them.

Fourteen years ago when Calvin started, he was sole administrative person with an office. He spent 60% of his time in that role. He was also head tile repairer, fertilizer tender driver, ammonia hauler, and dryer chief.

In 2019, there will be seven personnel with significant administrative duties and dedicated work stations. They have some outside responsibility as well but their primary duties are administration and accounting.

The day is coming when desk jobs outnumber machine operators at Pinicon. We are not there yet but we do have functional space for the current needs with out moving Ben into the corner between the north shelf and guard rail of the mezzanine.

As the volume of on farm storage has grown, it has become impractical to deliver all our grain during the summer. With a minimum of 100K bushels getting shipped every month, there is steady work for a handful of drivers. This essential task helps fill the daily assignment plan with out dictating priorities.

Education and staff development is easily the highest value off season effort. The affect this has on safety, retention, quality control and the bottom line cannot be over stated.

Thursday, January 10th. 18 full time staff in attendance, 1.5 hours of classroom instruction, proprietary Pinicon Farm, Version 4.0 content, followed with shop tour and Q and A. Back to work afterwards with a renewed sense of purpose and professionalism.

It was a good day.