Dear friends, you manage a complex biological system. Look out your window and into your fields—even now, in the dead cold of winter, that statement must be easy to understand. You might even think that I’m putting it mildly.
Maybe it’s quiet enough now that if you sat and pondered on it, you could get your head somewhat around that notion. However, when the earth starts to warm and the little bits of green start to replace the brown, you know that it gets loud real quick, and pondering your complex system, well, ain’t nobody got time for that!
In anticipation of that loudness, let’s take it down to some basics. Instead of considering the whole system, let’s consider one plant. Instead of considering the tower, let’s consider single blocks. Humor me. Look out your window and imagine just one plant, one perfect representative of the tens of thousands soon to stand in your fields.
Any decision you make about your operation will have a positive or negative impact on this plant. Good decisions will make this plant bigger, stronger, greener, fuller. Less than good decisions will stress it or leave it cold or hungry.
You know already that whatever happens to this plant will happen to the rest of them (give or take). Your acres of course are a collection of plants, your fields a collection of acres, your farm a collection of fields. If we keep going with this, your county is a collection of farms, your state a collection of counties. You know this, but consider it again from the standpoint of your one plant. What is good for it is good for your farm, for your state, in fact. What is bad for it is bad for your farm, and again, beyond.
I think that when we look out over our fields full of plants, our vision can be blurred. We start doing some funny math that tells us losses in these plants or those can be offset by the thousands of others growing out there. But when your brain takes this turn, remember your one plant and adjust your calculus accordingly. Will your decision leave it cold? Hungry? Unhappy?
I don’t expect that you have a day to day understanding of what’s happening with your single plant. If you had that, you would be an agronomist rather than a grower, and I believe that that’s a trade you’d rather not make. However, an understanding of your single plant at important waypoints during the season will serve you well. Understanding your single plant at germination, ear initiation (V5-V7), kernel determination (V9-V12), the beginning of grain fill (VT-R2), and the finish of grain fill (R2-R6) will help you make the kind of good decisions that will benefit all of the plants under your watch.
Successfully managing your complex biological system is much like successfully producing a very good rock song. Think Eric Clapton. Yes, he produces very good rock songs, and he does so by successfully attending to each little block, things like tempo, chords and such. You’re the Eric Clapton of growing. To successfully manage a system, you attend to the blocks: fertility, irrigation, pest management, genetics, and plant physiology.