The corn had been planted for about three weeks and was nicely out of the ground. The farmer I was talking to is approximately 32 years of age and he and his wife have been in the transition process with his parents of assuming the ownership and management of the farm. (I will call him Joe) They milk over 180 cows and Joe’s parents are starting to move into the background as far as the workload and management goes.
Joe asked me whether spreading dry fertilizer on the standing corn would be a better option than side dressing liquid 28 percent nitrogen. Joe’s father had always used dry fertilizer in the past and their crop yields were some of the best in the neighbourhood. There was no doubt the dry fertilizer program had worked in the past. I asked Joe what he thought would be the best for the corn crop. He said he would like to side dress the 28 percent nitrogen but his father wanted to spread dry fertilizer because it could be done a lot quicker. The culture on this farm is that they do all of their own fieldwork and custom workers are very seldom hired. With a lot of cows to milk, extra labor is a short commodity.
I asked Joe if there would be a big difference in the yield using liquid 28 percent nitrogen versus dry urea. He said the concern he had was that spreading dry fertilizer on ground that might not get moisture could cause a loss of nitrogen. We stood looking at each other for a few moments and then I asked him what he thought the decision should be regarding liquid side dress nitrogen versus spreading dry nitrogen. There was about 20 seconds of silence and then he said, “I think we will spread dry nitrogen this year”.
I think Joe made an excellent decision that day and this is why. He did not agree that his father’s choice of fertilizers was the best, but he also knew that it had worked very well in the past when father was the sole decision-maker and that using dry fertilizer for another year would not have negative repercussions for the farm.
In Joe’s case, his father is giving him a significant amount of responsibility in managing the herd. Father has given up almost all input into what goes on in the barn. However, when it come to managing the cropping program, father’s confidence in Joe’s ability is increasing, but in the case of the dry fertilizer versus the liquid, father still wanted to have some input – yes he still wanted control.
Joe decided not to argue over how to fertilize the corn this year.
As I walked across the yard to leave, I thought to myself, “Joe is a young person who is willing to set aside what he thinks is the best decision this year for the cropping program, and not challenge his father”.
In Joe’s case it has been amazing how he and his father have transitioned the management of the herd – it has been almost seamless. Production has continued to rise as Joe has assumed more responsibilities.
Joe’s secret is that he never forced his his views on to his father if they were contrary to what he knew his father wanted to do. On the other hand, his father has felt respected by Joe and has continued giving Joe more responsibility.
Next year I will be surprised if Joe is putting dry fertilizer on their cornfields. Dad will have had another year to think about the value of side dressing and with Joe’s enthusiasm for that type of fertilizer dad will probably be making the suggestion to go liquid himself.