Just Thinking Out Loud

Adapt or adopt

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What’s the difference between adapt and adopt? 

Both are action verbs with the change of one little vowel creating a special moment. Think of this: Adapting old ideas by adopting new technology. One is an aaah moment, the comfort of familiarity of the past. The other generates an oooh moment of excitement for what is to come. We’ve had a few of those moments around the farm these past few weeks.

We are all learning lessons while we try to hang on to the comfort of, “It’s just how things are done,” coupled with the realization that there might be a better way. This is the first time in 50 years that Mark has not led the charge in starting the growing season. He was just 14 years old when his dad announced he couldn’t plant the corn crop that year. Mark hooked the tractor up to the planter and headed off to the backfields to adapt to his new job.

He has adapted from a 4-row plate planter to a 6-row narrow planter. He would eventually adopt a liquid fertilization system as his body refused to lift several tons of fertilizer by a bushel basket from the wagon to dump it into the fertilizer boxes on the planter. It was amazing how quickly he could get the job done by adopting one change — an oooh moment.

This year, Austin and Mark are adapting to their situation in life and adopting ideas along the way. Austin is generating oooh moments as he has installed a GPS system on the tractors and modified the planter to plant green. He has studied, read and talked with so many people using old ideas with new technology. It rubs on Mark’s vision of how to grow crops, but kudos to him for giving Austin some backfields to adapt his theories to work on our land

The equipment updates and planting strategies appear to be working. The cornfields by the road are marked with green dotted parallel lines running north and south. The rows are even straighter than Mark’s, and those very rarely had a weave in them. The fields closest to the road are always your straightest.

Austin tried growing a green field of corn by direct seeding into an alfalfa field and then spraying to kill the alfalfa growth. This is one of our sandiest fields, and he is hoping to generate more crop protection while reducing watering needs. He is trying to adapt his planting strategies to the land available to him.

It seems this next generation is adapting old ideas while adopting new technologies to create a successful result. The reduced, no-till craze in the 1970s was a novel idea that didn’t have the technology to support its success. Fast forward, and the old idea is new again. The technology has caught up to the ideas, kind of like bell bottom jeans. I wonder what will be the next old idea to become new again?

Once a new technology is adopted, it seems difficult to imagine what life was like without it. Mark was resistant to have a cell phone. He watched and grumbled as the kids fiddled, texted and chatted on their phone what seemed like non-stop. Once they were all on their own, he decided he needed to get one too.

At the same time, Austin lost his expensive phone down an ice fishing hole with no chance of recovery. Together, they went to find new phones which could withstand chores, dirt and a myriad of other situations on the farm that could shorten the life of any phone. They ended up picking out a couple of cheap phones from Walmart for $18 each. If it broke or was crushed by a piece of equipment, it wouldn’t be a big loss. Since it was such a good deal, they grabbed a couple of extra phones as a type of warranty plan.

It has been a good strategy. After several years, the camera on Mark’s original phone didn’t work anymore, so he shifted over to his backup phone. It didn’t last as long as the first one. The charging port was damaged, and his battery was losing life quickly. He needed to save all his pictures and contacts before they were all lost in space. For four days, he was without his phone. It was like going back to the Dark Ages. He couldn’t call anyone whenever he wanted to. He couldn’t see the milk or crop reports at his fingertips. He couldn’t laugh at shared Snapchats with the kids. He didn’t realize how dependent he had become on his phone. Eventually, he was able to convert Austin’s extra phone over to his number, and he has been reconnected with his world.

I had a similar technical loss. My PC has been going since 2009. It has become the B John Deere of the office. It still runs, but it just can’t do the work. I’ve been without my computer for a week as they update, revive and restore all my files. I didn’t realize how I write by typing. It has been interesting working on this article. Mark isn’t the only one who has embraced technology and can’t imagine how we ever survived without it.

As their four children pursue dairy careers off the family farm, Natalie and Mark Schmitt started an adventure of milking registered Holsteins just because they like good cows on their farm north of Rice, Minnesota.

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