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Use post-season evaluation to assess the harvest

Chris Wacek-Driver Published on 30 September 2015

As summer slides into the cool days of autumn, the last tire has been placed on our bunkers and piles, and machinery is cleaned up and put away, it may be tempting to think all that remains of the 2015 harvest year is feeding it.

Hopefully, the season’s efforts have rewarded the farm with adequate inventory and quality feed for the year ahead and will be reflected in profitable milk production and healthy cows. Equally as important, we hope all this was accomplished efficiently and safely.

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Whether you are the manager or a member of the harvest team, it makes sense to believe that, once the crop is safely in storage, your work is done. However, that mindset can limit the opportunity to improve efficiency, foster communication and solidify teamwork.

One definition of teamwork is “the coordinated efforts of a group of people to obtain a goal.” Those coordinated efforts include an adequate plan of work. In a simple form, that plan may include these elements:

1. Pre-planning

2. Working the plan

3. Evaluating the results

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A significant amount of time, effort and skill is put into pre-planning and working the plan. For a team to operate efficiently and effectively, each team member must understand the individual roles and responsibilities required to achieve the desired outcome.

Thoughtful pre-planning helps ensure schedules, strategies and communication are in sync as the choppers are running.

The true test of pre-planning happens when you hit the fields. Even with the best people and plan in place, unexpected challenges are still often a part of the harvest. Despite – or maybe because of – the challenges faced during harvest, it is tempting to brush off the post-season evaluation.

But that means you miss the opportunity to improve communication and foster significant improvement for the next season. The time after harvest is ideal for discussing successes, concerns and disagreements that occurred.

The value of post-harvest evaluations

Harvest time is certainly busy and stressful. Working with any one biological system is complicated and, at times, highly unpredictable. During harvest, we work within three biological systems – the environment, agronomy and people. Certainly, we will have challenges.

Good communication prevents issues from simmering and re-emerging later. This involves listening to all team members and all ideas. Often one person’s idea, while it is still fresh in the minds of all, can lead to significant improvement for future years.

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Perhaps a misunderstanding or mistake can help reinforce why a procedure is done a certain way. It may highlight a real or perceived “failure” within the system.

Instead of dwelling on that perceived failure, use it as an opportunity to improve the next time. Work with teammates to develop a better plan to manage those unexpected or undesirable circumstances.

It is simply amazing to see creativity and solutions develop when egos are put aside, constructive feedback is accepted and provided in a respectful environment, and all ideas are considered. It is extremely effective to take time to reflect on recent performance and develop a better plan after “the heat of the battle” has passed – especially if it is carried out in a caring, non-threatening way.

Finally, if the failure occurred due to a situation beyond the team’s control, acknowledge that fact and move beyond it. Spend time developing a better plan if the situation develops again if possible, but don’t dwell on things that were out of an individual’s or team’s control.

Measuring success

Successful harvest operations and dairies likely agreed on common objectives and goals prior to the actual harvest. These objectives include a myriad of issues, such as forage quality and quantity goals, harvest efficiency and timeliness, storage plans and communication objectives.

These goals should be pulled out post-harvest and examined (hopefully with real data). The success or failure in reaching the goals should be shared with all members of the harvest team.

Common questions to start this discussion may include:

  • Did we meet our forage goals?
  • Were those goals realistic?
  • How can we do better?
  • What concerns and disagreements surfaced?
  • What situation developed that made reaching forage quality and quantity goals difficult?
  • Were the expectations realistic?
  • Were the equipment and amount of labor adequate?
  • Was communication and monitoring of set parameters and goals adequate?

Here’s an example of how this process may unfold. Let’s say the goal for corn silage moisture was 65 to 68 percent. For the uninitiated, target moisture goals may seem easily attainable and simplistic.

In the real world, when you add those temperamental biological systems, many farms and harvest teams fail to meet what seem like simple goals.

Post-harvest is the best time to examine why we didn’t meet an objective. In the case of our moisture content example, was the harvest window too narrow? Was the labor force or equipment inadequate?

Was an accurate determination of moisture at harvest done? What process can be improved? What process perhaps delayed the harvest process? How did the weather influence the outcome? Can we realistically develop a better plan or procedures to obtain a better outcome?

Post-harvest is also the time to gather the data to determine if meeting (or not meeting) the goal was perception or reality. As the year progresses, make the harvest crew aware of whether the forage is meeting the planned goals.

Summaries of the forage as it actually is fed out and how animals are doing should be reported back to members of the harvest team. Doing so can bring about a commitment to the process.

For our example, we can collect samples during feedout to see if moisture goals were met. Share this key data both when success occurs – and when it doesn’t. Too often, we look for the failures and fail to celebrate the successes.

Combine this data with the thoughts, ideas and opinions of your forage team. Use it to pinpoint the source of any problems that may have occurred as well as highlight strategies that proved successful.

These post-harvest conversations allow for brainstorming and solutions to develop outside the stressful time of harvest. They also provide the benefit of time for analysis and economical considerations. That insight often helps us understand whether the proposed situations or goals were realistic.

Ultimately, the decision to make changes to the system and plan may rest with a manager or a few key people. However, these conversations can help those individuals make more informed decisions, leading to better pre-planning and plan execution in the future.

As you reflect on the 2015 harvest, hopefully you feel it was executed efficiently, safely and effectively. Don’t forget to take some time out to celebrate the successes.  PD

Chris Wacek-Driver
  • Chris Wacek-Driver

  • Forage Program Manager
  • Vita Plus Corp.
  • Email Chris Wacek-Driver

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