The harvest season kicked off in earnest early in the month of May. Most of the necessary harvesting preparations were done quite in advance for most crops across all farms, picking from lessons of the previous seasons. Indeed all farms attempt to get better every year in meeting the demands of the harvest period which is denoted by strict delivery deadlines and strict quality requirements by the various seed companies as well as other open market customers.If I was asked whether the harvest project has been a success and be requested to give a “Yes” or “No” answer, I would struggle to give a straight answer. I would look at the whole issue looking at the different farms, the different crops, the different harvesting approaches and priorities. I would break down different harvesting objectives for every crop at each farm and apply different measuring yardsticks to accurately determine major successes and failures at every level. This would be a deliberate approach on my part so as not to rob the farmers and support services of various good aspects of harvesting where they jointly scored major successes.Just to single out one measurement yardstick, is the target of getting all the major crops off the fields and to the sheds by end of August. This as one measurement parameter was grealty achieved across farms to large extent except for commercial maize and pigeon peas. In the preceeding years, we have seen groundnuts on mandela cork as late as November which the CEO demanded a stop to and I am sure all farmers are proud to have complied with this requirement amid great effort and implementation of groundnut harvesting innovation approaches of different types across farms. This has been an essential milestone not only as a requirement by the CEO but as an important quality and yield preservation move.Getting back to the reality of our harvesting intentions and all purposes, overall quality challenges continued to manifest themselves across all farms in different forms, crop turn-around from harvesting to delivery continued to take too long overall, with transport challenges adding their face to the whole delivery turn-around matrix from the day of booking to the day when transport actually became available. Seed Companies cannot be spared either as some of them kept trucks with produce un-offloaded for up to five days. This did not help the situation either.This kind of narration can go on and on but what is important are the lessons picked and what can be be done to continuously improve the harvesting process.I figured out the following :-
- Need to continuously work on mechanizing the harvest processes for all crops where practical and possible.
- Need for the Engineering Division to re-invent themselves and be alive to the mechanization demands of the harvesting process of the different crops in a pro-active manner and institute innovative solutions in collaboration with farm management staff.
- Need for farmers to be driven by a psychologically burning desire to deliver on obligations of labour productivity, yield obligations, costs management, profitability, quality obligations and self-pitying against poor performance and mediocrity.
- The need to focus more on farming science than work. One Isreali Prime Minister once said that agriculture is 95% science and 5% work. Any farmer who focuses more on activities than the laid down scientific obligations is bound to fail. As an observation of this harvest season, I consider this a turning point in our approach as to how we farm going forward. This is a long story that can be parked for a separate discussion for another time.
“Paying Attention To Detail” and “Customer is Key” , which we cherish so much, remain quite elusive fundamentals of the three things that we have got to think of daily and in some instances, it is threatening to degenerate into mere rhetoric in some staff quarters. Something has to be done and the rhetoric has to stop. All staff at all levels need to live and practice these fundamental issues. We need to change the way we do things if we are to realise significant change in our business outcomes.
As we take stock of the gains and losses, we have experienced over the growing and harvesting period, let us critically reflect on this and check if we are maintaining an upward performance trajectory. In areas where we have done well, let us pat ourselves on the back but in areas where we have experienced negative backward performance trend, let us feel bad about it and feel challenged to take corrective steps and do better in the coming season. It is inevitable that in the business of farming, we will always encounter extraordinary challenges but as such they cannot be solved by ordinary solutions. Our success will to a large extent depend on our ability to marshal out extraordinary solutions to prevailing extraordinary challenges of the day. Failure should always never be an option.
Together We Can!!
Farm Operations Manager – Mchinji
27 September 2017