Farm Journal

Field Notes

On April 16, the first day we entered the field this spring, we were already several weeks behind. Rainy weather had kept us from turning a wheel. Then, in the following month, field work was halted by two week-long spells of rain. Still, we finished corn planting on May 12, only two days behind our goal. We wrapped up soybeans on May 17 (except for one field waiting for the tiler to arrive), which actually was a few days earlier than usual. To get planting back on schedule, we worked slightly longer days than usual-from about 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., rather than 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The real keys, however, were having access to extra equipment and a pool of dependable part-time employees who were willing and able to pitch in. Having extra equipment stored on our farm was one of those situations in which even a blind squirrel manages to find an acorn. The last few times we upgraded to bigger machines, we kept the old equipment; we weren’t satisfied with what the dealer offered for it as a trade-in.

Thanks to our new shop, it’s easy to recondition machinery. So, we thought the extra implements might be good insurance-and they were, much sooner than we anticipated. The mothball fleet. Out of mothballs, we were able to pull a 44′ field cultivator, a Phoenix harrow and the 15′ no-till drill that we had replaced with an air seeder. We rented an extra tractor from a neighbor who farms fewer acres than we do and had finished planting-a good deal for both of us. We had recently traded sprayers, so we rented the old one, which was still on our dealer’s lot.

Throughout the years, we have hired many part-time employees. Most of them must have liked working for us; when we explained we were in a bind, they were eager to help. They even developed an esprit de corps-I think they saw getting us back on schedule as a challenge. Although we ran a few hours longer than usual, we did not attempt to run 24 hours. That can work for a father-son operation when they take turns running a single planter, but it doesn’t work with employees-and their spouses-who are used to more normal hours. We thought carefully about how to use every part-time employee as efficiently as possible. We designated one as a “gofer” and assigned another to pick up rocks, so planter and sprayer operators would not have to stop.

Although we do some no-till planting, we didn’t do any additional no-till this year. Our variable and light soils respond well to no-till, but our heavy black soils perform better with tillage.

To find dependable part-time help, we have used numerous sources. The same sources may work for you. Many blue-collar companies like UPS make it difficult for employees to work full-time. These “36-hour” employees tend to be safety minded, able to follow directions and are looking for extra work to round out their income. They have a high rate of return because it may take them three or four years to move up to a full-time position with their primary employer. College students who grew up on a farm but live too far away to commute home for weekends are often looking for work. You’ll find them in ag schools, as well as in other ones. All you need to reach these people is a classified ad in a newspaper. If someone is looking for work, he or she will see it. We find truck drivers among recent graduates of vo-tech schools who need driving experience in order to get a full-time job. Last year’s employee often knows a student who is looking for experience this year.

Networking with farmers has paid off for us. At a farm management seminar, I became friends with a farmer from Idaho. Every year, we help him harvest wheat, and he helps us harvest corn and soybeans. The extra part-time help in the spring will make us money from the higher yields in the fall thanks to timely planting.

 

Background: Riensche graduated from Iowa State University in 1984 with a degree in farm operation. After working in banking for three years, he earned an MBA at the University of Chicago. He joined Swiss Bank Corporation (now United Bank of Switzerland), working in New York, Switzerland and Chicago. In 1993, after his younger brother died in an accident,Riensche returned to the family farm. “Because of my banking experience, I love the record-keeping and business analysis-the part most farmers dread,” he says. “My background gives me confidence with financial decisions.” He and Lisa have four children, from five to 14 years of age.Riensche chairs the board of trustees for a local hospital, serves on the board of a producer group that explores alternative crops and has held various offices in his church.

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