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One way to sharpen your ax is to to learn more at meetings like this one, the DIRT Workshop Dec. 9-11, in Fargo. (Abbey Wick, Special to Agweek)

Take the time to sharpen your ax

A good friend told me to "sharpen my ax" the other day. Now before go you and think that I'm crazy, I want to share the story she told me and put it in the context of soil health. There are many versions of this story, but I'm going to tell the version I heard, here goes:

There were two woodcutters, let's call them Sven and Ole to make this story fun. They were both very good at what they do, so much so that they entered a competition to see who could cut the most wood in a specific amount of time. They were given the same size log, the same ax, the same conditions ... ready, set go! They both started chopping, Sven's approach was to frantically swinging his ax and push himself hard. Ole's approach was a little different. At one point, Sven looked over to check the competition and he saw Ole just sitting down. Sven thought, he must be tired ... I've got this competition pretty much won. He kept chopping and looked over again, and again, Ole was sitting down. Well, the competition ended and they went to count the logs that were cut. Amazingly, Ole had won. Despite his sitting down during the competition, he had cut the more logs than Sven who pushed through and just kept chopping. Sven asked Ole, "How can this be? You took so many breaks?" Ole's reply: "Yes, you saw me sitting, but what you didn't see is that I was sharpening my ax."

After a hectic 2019 when it felt like we just had to keep pushing forward to stay in motion, no matter what, it's now time to "sharpen our axes."

We can take the time to maintain our equipment. For example, if you know you will be direct seeding into residue next spring, make sure your disk openers are sharp.

Follow the advice of Paul Jasa, with University of Nebraska, to make sure your equipment is ready for the correct down pressure and weight. He talked a lot about this at the DIRT Workshop last week. I'm certain if you search "Paul Jasa, Nebraska" on Google you will find plenty of YouTube videos where he's sharing his knowledge — watch those and prepare your equipment.

We can take the time to assess our operations — are there things we can change? Are there things we'd like to change, but can't right now? Are there things that need to stay the same? This is advice from Lee Briese, with Centrol Ag. He just delivered the keynote at the DIRT Workshop and he recommended that we think about what we are doing and then make a list of what we know we can change, what we'd like to change and what we probably can't change.

He also asked us to think about which fields we will plant first — the ones we know we can get into and the conditions will be OK — and prioritize our field operations this spring. Thinking through what we are doing and having a plan is important. Though it seems like wasted time because we are not physically doing anything, this mental activity will lead to greater efficiency and, we hope, less stress.

We can take the time to learn. There are so many opportunities to get information and we need to take advantage of that.

Going to a meeting to share ideas is just as valuable as doing work in the shop. We need to keep getting new ideas and sharing ideas, so that we stay sharp.

The Soil Health Café Talk schedule is now posted online: Catch one of those. Or there are plenty of other excellent meetings put on by my colleagues, seek those out and go to them.

If those types of meetings aren't your thing, get your own group together and share ideas. Keep thinking and learning.

Lastly, take the time to take care of yourself. Take a break, recharge, do something that has nothing to do with your profession. We can't stay in the grind all the time, so give yourself time to recover mentally and physically after a long year.

I encourage you all to "sharpen your ax" this winter. Take the time needed to make sure you are setup for spring — equipment, plans and learning. In the end, it will result in greater and more efficient productivity.