Thursday, December 5, 2013

Benchmarking, Beyond the Theory

In the last post on benchmarking, we found that benchmarking is the process of seeking out those best practices that will lead to the superior performance on the farm. We also learned the Benchmarking method includes the following steps:
  1. Know your operation. Know the strengths and weaknesses of your farm
  2. Know your competitors and industry leaders.
  3. Choose to incorporate the best.
  4. Gain superiority by using best practices.
But how do you benchmark? 

Let me make some suggestions.

The Japanese sent droves of teams to the US to look for best practices in US industries. Farmers can do the same thing, investigate the best farms in your industry and area. Don't be shy they will usually be happy to spend some time with you. Especially if they aren't in your market area. Polyface Farm home of Joel Salatin hosts large tour groups each summer and you can get the whole story on their operation. But I think the real gems are the unpublished backroads of the farms around you. I would start at the local farmers market with a farm that is doing a great job and ask if you can pay them a visit. 

Look across other industries for best practices. Processing and manufacturing industries have often developed technologies that are useful on the farm. Medicine can also be a treasure trove of ideas. GPS technology started in the military and is now used pervasively in agriculture to map soil types, fertility and yields. 

Read, read and read some more. I have found ideas in diverse areas such as ancient history (fertile dark soils that sequester carbon in Central America formed by mixing biochar and compost from thousands of years ago), sea biology (minerals from kelp and algae from the sea), hydrology (water use), engineering (many technologies), military (GPS), optics (refractometers), the list is endless. Read other peoples blogs.

Organics seminars, classes and trade shows such as MOSES (Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Services) are great ways to benchmark with peers and get a great deal of information and a very short period of time. This is the largest organic trade show in the nation and it is about an hour from where we live.

Use your experience, your training, the best practices you have found, to create your own manifest destiny and other farmers will want to benchmark with your farm. 

Don't rush it, It sometimes takes years of digging, learning and searching to connect the dots in agriculture. An observation one year may only be clear years later when you read the next book or take that next class. 

Sounds like fun to me.

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