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If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it

Date Added: 18/01/2016

 Blog: By Richard Elsdon Technical Consultant, United Oilseeds

This quote from Dr W Edwards Deming is, as I have found, not the whole story and it has been the subject of several blogs and articles explaining how, as a ‘mantra’ of using data to improve management, it has been mistakenly applied to many business situations. For the sake of accuracy, I should point out that the quote goes on to say “there are many things that cannot be measured but still must be managed."

In an agricultural situation, arable farmers initially measure crop responses by looking atthe number of trailers of produce coming off the field at harvest time. The produce may well then be subjected to further analysis to see if all cropping goals have been achieved. Here I am thinking of milling or malting quality in the case of cereals - or oilcontent in the case of oilseed rape. Quality and quality are then jointly assessed to see if the crop has attained the criteria necessary to satisfy the end user.

Compare this measuring and analysis of output with what, too often, happens where grass is grown. Grass grown to produce silage and hay is measured, up to a point, by the number of trailers coming off each field. However, more often than not the quality of the final product when analysed is often assumed to be the result to the weather during the growing season, with little consideration given to the makeup of the grass sward. Grazed grass output is often never measured, except when the level of milk in the tank drops.

I am going to suggest that this approach cannot be allowed to continue. The value of almost all aspects of ruminant output has fallen dramatically - in some tragic cases to the point where livestock production is either severely curtailed or stops altogether because costs outstrip income. Grass land must now be measured as carefully and perhaps as ruthlessly as the output from a manufacturing process.

Let me give you two examples of what I have in mind. Last summer, I was privileged toattend a farm walk on a dairy farm. The group walked around the paddock grazing system,stopping at pre¬determined points to discuss the pasture management. The grower wassingle minded in his determination to extract the utmost output from the grass under hismanagement and consequently the margin he made from his sizeable dairy herd. Every paddock was assessed with a plate meter (a sward stick can do the same job) continuously throughout the season. The cows went into each paddock when it contained 2700 - 2800 kg  of dry matter per hectare and were taken out at 1500 kg of dry matter per hectare. Don’t let the numbers alarm you. The plate meter or sward stick can do the measuring for you. Incidentally, this particular grower used his records to spot the poorly performing paddock(s) and then set about reseeding them.

The second example concerns grass quality. There is a perception that late autumn grass is ‘green water." However, when grown as a crop under the management I am alluding to, this autumn grass can be as nutritious as grass produced earlier in the season if grazed at the right stage. Another grower I heard of would send off samples of grass to be analysed through the season to check that the quality was still present.

Grazed grass is and I believe always has been the cheapest feed for all classes and types of sheep and cattle. It must be managed. Poor or disappointing output is inevitable if it is not measured and then managed.

Did I mention we sell a superb range of grass mixtures under the Hubbards Seeds brand?

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