Central Illinois spring planting 2019 04 (copy)

Signs are pointing to an earlier-than-normal spring.

These signs range from the silly – Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow indicating an early spring; to the more serious – birds are already migrating north.

We aren’t sure how they make the forecast, but the Climate Prediction Center also predicts above-normal chances for higher-than-normal March temperatures in the eastern two-thirds of the United States.

It’s time to get ready for the growing season.

Before heading out to the machine shed to start working, consider evaluating your farm team and determining if you need to make some changes to reduce stress.

Last November, Ted Matthews, a Minnesota Rural Mental Health specialist, began talking about a misguided thought pattern of farming. Many farmers don’t give themselves adequate time to complete the tasks surrounding planting or harvesting.

Matthews said a farmer may think it’s going to take 28 days to complete harvest (or in this case, planting). In reality, it may take 40 days or longer to complete planting or harvesting.

Why do farmers think it will take less time to complete planting than it actually takes? Many farmers have experienced the spring where everything went right and planting was completed very quickly. That’s not usually the case though. There are going to be problems with weather and there are going to be breakdowns. Life doesn’t stop just because it’s time to plant either. There may be voluntary duties that were signed up for long ago. There may be funerals, birthday parties and activities with the kids or grandkids.

We’ve seen how COVID-19 (novel coronavirus disease) has shut down services around the world, and while we don’t yet know if that will affect the 2020 growing season, farmers need to be prepared at least a little bit.

To get a more accurate idea of how long planting will take, consider each member of the farm team. Are Grandpa’s knees holding up all right to get into the tractor? Have there been other problems – perhaps cognitive concerns with a member of the team?

Is anyone on the team expecting a baby? It’s best not to assume they can return to work in a week or less. It is surprising how many new dads will take only one day off when their wife has a baby and return to fieldwork the next day. Working that hard with so little rest is a recipe for disaster.

It can be hard when family members have long worked together to see that changes are coming. It’s the responsibility of the farm owners and senior partners to realistically evaluate how well everyone can do their jobs.

This might be a great time to introduce new members to the farm team – perhaps there are young people in the community who can work with equipment and are ready. Perhaps there are Baby Boomers who have just retired and want to learn how to drive the tractor or perform other jobs on the farm.

In addition to the members who will be completing fieldwork, there are other people who you may want to list on your team.

Who are your contacts for your elevator, your implement dealer, your cooperative, your seed? Lining up these relationships and communicating before planting starts can help things run more smoothly during planting.

Developing relationships with local Emergency Medical Services is also helpful. It’s good to make sure your local dispatchers and emergency medical teams know where your farm is located if you need help quickly.

Maintaining cell phones and radios and working with partners helps keep everyone at the farm safe. Team members can look out for each other and help each person make better decisions for optimum planting and safety.

There’s a saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

Is unwanted stress a large part of your farming operation? Consider getting a calendar or notepad and making notes each time stress occurs. Developing a baseline of stressful events on the farm can help you make decisions on how to make things less stressful. Learning to reduce the pressure during planting season is an important skill that will greatly improve quality of life for every member of the farm team.