Article Revised: March 28, 2019
Farms are getting larger and the processes are getting more complex with the addition of more regulations and the need to get more done with less money, in an efficient and environmentally friendly manner. According to a recent article from CountryGuide, it begs the question of farming operations: Is there room for improvement on your farm?
Yes, says Dick Wittman, an Idaho farmer and consultant and also a teacher of process improvement for Texas A&M University’s program for agricultural producers. He is just one of a number of consultants and experts who are turning to process improvement methodologies such as Lean Six Sigma in order to help farmers do what they do better.
Wittman’s program stresses the importance of formal, step-by-step processes through standard operating procedures. Not only do these formal processes help to prevent on-the-job accidents, but they also allow for evaluation. By breaking the processes down into these step-by-step pieces in order to determine if they’re valuable to streamlining the information, improving production or quality, or saving time.
Finding efficiencies, evaluating them, and implementing them are, in the words of Wittman, “the highest payback for management and time.” Wittman takes a class of farmers — a group that generally likes to grow stuff more than it likes writing stuff down — and helps them to realize the importance of formal processes. Through documentation, repetitive jobs can be evaluated to determine if the tasks can be done in a more efficient, safer, more economical way.
Standard Operating Procedures, the article notes, provide a great way to remember how to do tasks that are only done once in a while. Additionally, in a farming business, they can be used as a checklist for rewards and consequences. Some of the farming functions that Wittman recommends developing a list of operating procedures for include office functions; harvest and equipment operations and servicing; crop agronomic practices; fuel and farm supply and storage; worker safety guidelines; food safety practices; herd health and stock-handling procedures; and value-added market access and certification.
Does Lean Six Sigma work for farming businesses? Yes. It works for any business looking to improve its efficiency and reduce errors.