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Soil Health Minute: Strive for progress not perfection

I've had a lot of conversations in the past couple months with farmers interested in, just getting into soil health building practices or those who have been using them a long time where the phrase, "I didn't want to do XYZ, but I made the decision and moved on." This is often in the context of using a shallow tillage pass to get the crop in, not seeding cover crops because of a late season, baling straw because the residue spread wasn't what you wanted, changing rotation because time was short or any other number of things.

You name it, we've experienced it in 2019. My response to this, "shoot for progress, not perfection." In a challenging year, let's not be hard on ourselves, do the best we can, make decisions and move on.

Sometimes, perfection is not the end goal. As a recovering perfectionist (ok, well, not really recovering, I'm still deep in it and wish I could lighten up), trying to do things according to plan or perfectly even when conditions may be stacked against you at certain times, can be paralyzing and lead to unnecessary criticism of ourselves.

What we can do is look at what we did differently or better in a challenging year and focus on that. Asking ourselves, did we still learn something, good or bad? How can we take our experiences and modify? And most importantly, are we still moving forward in a positive way? This sort of self-evaluation can help us see that we don't have to be perfect as long as we are making progress.

That being said, make sure that the practices you carry forward that helped you get through a challenging year in a newly adopted soil health system or one that's been in place a long time do not become habit.

Some of the rescue and transitional tools need to be evaluated on a yearly basis. For example, make sure that your system "needs" that shallow tillage pass by assigning a valid reason for it. If you have a valid reason, then go with it, it's part of your system that works for you. If you can't assign a valid reason each year that you assess the practices you're using, then look to the data (lots of info at NDSU on this stuff) and do a side-by-side and give yourself an opportunity to learn or gain confidence that the practices being used are what is needed for your system. Then modify based on environmental conditions and other constraints you may have. When approaches become habit without a good reason for being a habit, that's when we can get stuck and compromise our ability to make progress.

Overall, focus on how you've moved forward, pat yourself on the back if you've done some things differently despite external challenges, learn from your system and re-evaluate, continue to take care of yourself and invest in those important relationships that encourage progress not perfection.