Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Unconscious Incompetence

Unconscious incompetence was a term I was introduced to last week at a sales training course.  It has taken a while, but over time I have come to appreciate training.  Training, or practice, as sports types know it, is not easy.  It is not meant to be easy.  It is meant to make you uncomfortable and I have learned to embrace being uncomfortable.  At least being uncomfortable in practice, or training, because that is when I learn the most and the mistakes I make do not count.
Farmers are quick to embrace production type training because it is easy.  I suggest they should embrace training in other areas, like business or human resources or presentation skills.  Some of you have done this and it shows.  I would humbly suggest a sales skills course as well.  I don't mean a skills course that teaches you how to sell refrigerators to Eskimos, but a skills course that deals with the physchology of selling, because we all have to sell something.  If you disagree, you may be unconsciously incompetent.

If you haven't guessed already, unconscious incompetence means that you really stink at something, but you have no idea how badly you stink.  If you want to find out what you are unconsciously stupid at, ask your spouse.  Prepare to feel uncomfortable.
Raising the bar one notch puts you in the category of being consciously incompetent.  At this level you at least understand what you stink at and can take action to correct it.  The next step in the improvement process is to become consciously competent.  You have now become competent, but you have to concentrate to complete the job well.  The ultimate goal is to become unconsciously competent.  You no longer have to think about the task at hand, you just do it and do it very well.

I saw a clear example of this process when I attended a Detroit Red Wing vs Vancouver Canuck hockey game last Thursday night.  The two best teams in the NHL put on a great show.  Vancouver won in a shoot out.  The thing that impressed me most was, even at times during the game when ordinary hockey players would be in full panic mode, these players never showed a hint of panic.  They were fully unconsciously competent at playing hockey for the best teams in the world's best hockey league.

It involves much more than skill alone.  They achieve this level because they practice more than they play.  They also practice hard, the same way that they play.  They understand the value of practice and work hard to stay good at what they do best, while improving specific weaknesses. 
Practice or training, to use a sales term, is something we could all embrace more.  I only wish I had embraced it more when I was younger.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Problem With Wheat

The wheat crop never gets a break.  If the weather doesn't kill it, the farmers' minds will make sure the weather kills it.
Farmers all have a self defense mechanism which re-inforces the instinct to not count the bushels until they are in the bin.  With the wheat crop this mechanism goes into overdrive.  When you plant a crop in October and harvest it in August there is too much time to worry about what can go wrong.
Every winter I get asked many times about the impact of the weather on the crop.  There can be too much snow, not enough snow, too cold, too warm, too wet or too dry.  Every time, every year I give the same answer.  RELAX, the wheat will be fine. It doesn't matter because the wheat plant does not watch the weather forecast like we do.  The wheat plant does not care.  The only exception to this rule is severe icing, which strangles the plant, and that is a rare event in these parts.
This year the concern is the lack of snow and temperature fluctuations.  A typical question is "Isn't this weather hard on the wheat?"
The answer is absolutely not.  The wheat plant goes dormant in December and stays that way until March.  Winter wheat can stand temperatures from -9 to -25 degrees at the crown of the plant and still survive easily.  The crown is the home of the growing point.
Where is the crown?  If you plant at 1.5 inches deep, the crown will be 1 inch deep.  I know there have been a few frosty mornings, but there is no way the soil temperature came close to -9 at the 1 inch depth.
It takes a week of -10 to -15 degrees to drive soil temps to the dangerous level if there is no snow.  If there is snow it will never get that cold at the crown. 
"But won't the freezing and thawing pull the plant out of the ground?"  No.  The amount of freeze thaw action has been very minor.  A wheat plant anchored in the ground is not susceptible to heaving injury. 
So the next time you start to worry about the wheat crop, remember one thing.  The wheat crop is not worrying about you.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Out With The Old, In With The Almost New

This is old news because it happened over a month ago.  Thanks to my buddy Ivan at Port Perry, who just had to have a new sprayer, the dominoes fell.  

Brian traded his Case IH 3310 in the picture above, for Ivan's 2010 model 4420, simliar to the one in the picture below.

Like so much of agriculture, spraying is a technology driven game.  You either are in the game or you are out.  Despite being a reliable, trouble free machine, the 3310 was 7 years old. When technology is involved, 7 years is ancient. 
The 4420 has 120' boom, 1200 gal tank, automatic boom height sensors. auto steer and most importantly, up graded GPS capability.
Giddy up!!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Scared? I (We) Should Be

I have been asked to speak next week at a meeting sponsored by Stratford Farm Equipment.  They are promoting the successful Trioliet feed mixers to their customers and have asked me to be part of the program.
I am not a gifted public speaker.  While attending school I would avoid it at all cost, but after a couple of spectacular crash and burns I have learned that I can overcome the fear of sounding like an idiot.  A sense of humour is a good defense.
The best thing about preparing a presentation is that it forces you to research your topic, even when it is a topic that you know very well.  You still learn new things that either help to support or cause you to change your point of view. 
One of the things I am addressing next week is fertility and soil testing, which can be really boring unless you have a strong message. 
I came across some interesting data presented by two friends of mine, Allan McCallum and Paul Sullivan, at the Southwest Ag Conference in Ridgetown. 
A concern among all practising agronomists is the decline in soil test levels for phosphorous and potash.  We see it regularly and agree the trend is alarming.  The following graphs help explain why.

This is a graph of phosphorous usage in Ontario.  You can see fertilizer application peaked around 1980.  High interest rates, low commodity prices and agronomists advising to reduce phosphorus rates all caused the usage to decline sharply.  The vertical bars indicate the amount of phosphorous that is removed by the crops we grow.  Today we are taking more phosphorous out of the soil than we are putting back. 

This is the potash graph.  A little complicated, but the trend is the same as phosphorous.  More being trucked out of the field than coming back.

A different way to look at it is to compare the nutrient removal by crops over the last 25 years.  We are taking a lot more nutrients out of every acre with our high yielding crops than we were in the 80's.  The following chart indicates the amount of nutrients removed by a 3 year crop rotation of corn, soybeans and wheat.  If you want to see the numbers for rotations that include corn silage and haylage, come to the meeting next week. 

Our fertility programs today need to be tailored to reflect this change.  Unfortunately, this is not happening.  I know fertilizer is expensive, it hurts to write the cheque.  But the extra dollars needed to keep up are not huge and if you drain the fertility bank, you lose the farm.  We have been blessed to be able to live on the fertility reserves that our fathers and older brothers handed down.  What are you going to hand down? 
And the next time your buddy complains about the price of fertilizer, instead of agreeing with him, ask him how much he is willing to pay for land rent.