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Let’s hold a pre-mortem

Date Added: 22/07/2016

By Richard Elsdon, Technical Consultant, United Oilseeds

 You could be forgiven for thinking that what I meant to write was ‘post-mortem’, but my choice of phrase was intentional. The earliest reference to pre-mortem I could find was in a paper written by Gary Klein and published in the September 2007 issue of the Harvard Business Review. The other term for this is ‘prospective hindsight’.

 So what am I talking about? The pre-mortem is the opposite of a post-mortem where medical professionals gather round and examine why a patient died, so that lessons may be learnt. The scenario I am suggesting is one where those involved in a project imagine that they are meeting after the event has taken place and are trying to work out why it didn’t go as planned.  Then, armed with this information, participants go ahead with the project and make it a success.

We are now in the early stages of harvest with a small amount of oilseed rape already combined and some winter barley also cut. Establishing the new oilseed rape crop is fast approaching. Why not use the pre-mortem approach to help make it a success? As Jeremy Clarkson frequently used to say: ‘What could possibly go wrong?’   Judging by the area of oilseed rape that is sometimes re-seeded in the autumn after an establishment failure - there are some key questions to address. Let me suggest some.

Drilling: Whilst you may intend to sow a certain number of seeds per metre square (m2) do you have a backup plan if sowing is delayed or the seedbed isn’t quite perfect? Do you remember the time when a field wasn’t rolled because it was assumed the weather was set fair but a sudden sharp shower made rolling impossible? Perhaps this year it’s a good idea to consider rolling tight up behind the drill.  Finally, have you checked the drilling depth in the field at the start to ensure the seed is deep enough to allow the use of a pre emergence (pre-em) herbicide but not so deep that it will never emerge?

Fertilizer: There seems to be a move towards using 30kgs of nitrogen per hectare as a starter fertilizer. To be of most benefit, this needs to be applied to the seedbed before drilling. In this way once the seed germinates it can scavenge the nutrients and grow. Application after emergence rarely works as well but the cost will be the same. And whilst on the subject, have you considered using a source of water soluble phosphate such as diammonium phosphate to aid rooting and early autumn growth?

Herbicide: Unless you are going to plant a Clearfield variety, you are no doubt considering using a pre-em herbicide. Have you had a conversation with your agronomist to decide which combination will do the best job on your fields? Once that has been decided, who will actually spray the chemical within a day or two of the field having been drilled and rolled? On some farms, the combine driver is also the sprayer operator. Do you need to train a backup combine driver to enable the spraying to take place?

This list is by no means exhaustive, but I hope I have highlighted some areas where a little planning and, dare I say it, a quick “pre-mortem” may allow the whole process to run smoothly. This, after all, must be better than holding a post mortem in November?

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