In last week’s Build A Better Crop Plan workshop, Katie asked this question:
Any thoughts on best practices for crop notes? Tracking observations about disease, pests, weather, etc. Do you keep very technical notes about that, or maybe just a simple running journal of observations
At the moment, I didn’t have as detailed an answer as I would have liked. I focused on harvest data and field records but there are so many more kinds of notes that you’re probably continuously taking.
Over the last week, I’ve been thinking about how I take notes during the growing season and thinking about how I could share this system with you,
If you’ve spent any time around Getting Things Done or other productivity systems, you’ll recognise some of the language.
Capture Crop Notes Quickly and Easily
Note taking starts by taking notes. (Is that too obvious?)
You should have a way to do this directly in the field when you have a thought or observation that you want to capture.
This should be easy without much hassle. If it’s too hard to do, you won’t take that many notes.
When I first started farming, I always had a notebook and pen on me. I would write one thought per page.
Nowadays, I use a notes app on my smartphone to record quick observations. I usually dictate my notes rather than type them. Dirty farmer hands put a lot of wear and tear and mud on that phone.
I also have a google form set up where I keep track of plant breeding and selection notes. There is a drop down menu with the current breeding projects in the field. I choose the project and then fill out another field with my notes.
Organize Notes Weekly
This is the missing part for most farmers.
You need to sit down every week and go over your notes.
There are some notes you need to act on right away and that you will use to set up next week’s to-do list. These are probably easy for you to deal with and make it onto whiteboards or into texts or however you share information with your team
And there are some notes that you will want to think about in the winter when you’re planning next season.
These are the notes that you probably don’t know what to do with.
Start a Google Doc (you can also do this in a spreadsheet), and write down the crops in your field. Transfer your notes by crop into this document. Write down the date of the note and the note itself.
At this point you can forget about the note for now!
There are also notes that were interesting at the time you recorded them but you don’t care about them any more. Don’t waste time transferring those to your long term systems. You don’t need a record of all your thoughts ever. You want he most important stuff
to rise to the top.
And I know I’m repeating myself but the secret for this to work is that you need to review your new notes every week and only transfer the important stuff to your master list.
This is where the process begins. We place containers of roughly cleaned seed onto the receiving pallets. They wait there until we have time to deal with them.
Season Review Time
Let’s tie this all into your annual season review.
Sit down near the end of the season and open that Google Doc with all your crop notes from the season.
Go over your notes, highlight the notes that resonate with you the most. Make a shortlist of the 3-5 most important/interesting things. These are the items that you especially don’t want to neglect as you plan for next season.
(If you haven’t already watched it there are 5 season review videos to help you highlight other things to improve and celebrate on your farm.)
Use Your Notes As You Plan Next Year
There are a few important planning pieces you need to get ready for next year. I’ll highlight two of them here: 1. The big picture and 2. Your crop plan.
When you’re planning out The BIG Picture, focus on that shortlist of notes you’ve created. Addressing these challenges will have the biggest impact on your farm. Don’t get too bogged down by all your other notes.
But when it’s crop plan time (my favourite time) – that’s when you can open that master list again and review each crop as you start to plan that crop for next time. You might even go back to the previous year’s masterlist!
The Trick Is To Not Get Bogged Down
Taking notes is good. Taking a lot of notes is not a bad thing.
The bad thing is when you don’t process them during the growing season and then get overwhelmed by their sheer volume when it’s planning time.
So, review those notes regularly and only keep the best!