Data can help with complexities of farming

Greetings from the new banana belt -- Havre, Mont. It's 55 degrees on Dec. 10, and although I don't always agree with their burgers, McDonald's and I are lovin' it!...

Soil sampling on the Wade Swenson farm near Cutbank, Mont. (Lance Lindbloom/Special to Agweek)

Greetings from the new banana belt - Havre, Mont. It's 55 degrees on Dec. 10, and although I don't always agree with their burgers, McDonald's and I are lovin' it!

The one thing that is 100 percent predictable about the weather - no matter where you live - is that it is unpredictable. October began with record snow, record cold and was overall kind of a miserable month. Wet, cold, cold, wet.

OK, we experienced record drought this summer, so I'm maybe not complaining about the wet. But the 9 degrees was a shocker to me and my domestic lawn watering system. November was mild for November. Thanksgiving came and all of a sudden, it's like one of the kids found the controls to the furnace.

Usually, September and October are big soil sampling months for this area of north central Montana. However, we were shut down for a large portion of October and November. Usually December is more like Siberia with rock-hard soils that are very difficult to sample. This year, we are playing a little catch up; but when your livelihood hinges on Mother Nature and her finicky moods, ketchup is always good!

The following is a radical segue - we continue to see unpredictable and unexplainable positive results with cover crops in certain situations. It's really cool and hard to explain on many fronts. Moving from a crop chemfallow rotation to continuous crops and now continuous crops but multiple species - the biological side of this is working, but the exact pathway remains unclear and may never be fully understood.


I am OK with that - I am married and I'm pretty sure there are many things I don't completely understand. In simple terms, we are radically increasing our underground livestock population, attacking our weed issues in a biological manner and simply messin' with total numbers of creatures and diseases that are messin' with the plants we grow to eat.

I began this article with weather and intriguing comments about cover crops, just to draw the audience in so the following will be more palatable. In my former life as a farm/ranch manager in north central Nebraska, by far my least favorite activity was bookwork. By nature, I am a numbers freak; however, with my personality style, my mindset always was that there are more pressing priorities. I would characterize most producers as having a similar mindset. The reality is, on the farm there is no more important task or activity than understanding where in each field, cropping system, rotation, etc, the profitability lies.

When I viewed a graphic from Terry Aberhart, an agronomist, AGRI-Coach and producer from Langenburg, Sask, during a presentation at the 2017 Farm Forum Event, I had instant goosebumps!

The graphic was dubbed "Farmer Brain," and it's a flowchart to visually help us understand the complexities a farmer faces day-to-day. It's ironic that the public image of a farmer is someone in coveralls and a pitchfork, when in reality, farmers are CEOs. Many of them run multimillion-dollar companies making decisions while fully engaged in the farming process. Much closer to Harvard than Hillbilly!

For producers to be precise in their business, they have to own the task of making sure data is precisely applied. It will not magically happen, and it does take effort.

May you and your family and friends have a Merry Christmas! Until next time.

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