Farm Horizons, February 2012

The law of the vital few

By Lori Brinkman
Assistant Carver County Feedlot Administrator

On a recent balmy winter afternoon I was sharing in a conversation with an area farmer when the topic of the unusual weather surfaced. When asked if he was concerned with the lack of snow, he shook his head “no” and responded, “I don’t get paid to push snow.”

His comment regarding pushing snow stuck with me and I’ve thought of it many times this winter as my own chores continue to get completed with relative ease. While snow lovers mourn the lack of snow, the farmer was looking at things from a business perspective – less fuel use, less wear and tear on his equipment, and more time to devote to details that make money for his farm. After all, it’s a small percentage of details that make all the difference, and those details are easily forgotten when the snow gets deep.

It ties into the 80/20 rule, otherwise known as the law of the vital few, which states that just 20 percent of focused effort can yield 80 percent of results.

Interestingly enough, the 80/20 rule, or something pretty close, recently surfaced in the results of a watershed study. It turned out that 90 percent of the water quality improvements could be tied to just 10 percent of practices implemented. If you consider your own farm, what small percentage of practices could you implement to improve the quality of the water that leaves your land?

If you’re in need of suggestions, you may want to note that a recent study conducted by the University of Wisconsin Discovery Farms program confirmed that right now we are entering the most critical window for manure management of the entire year. It’s just a few months long – February, March, and April – but it inflicts a huge blow to water quality each year. The ground surface is still frozen or very saturated, snow is melting, and rainfall is abundant. Farmers are trying to get as much manure hauled as possible before the frost leaves the ground. That combination of events, coupled with a lack of attention around sensitive areas, and disregard for setback requirements, spins the perfect storm for manure contaminated runoff entering surface waters and drainage systems.

Here are some details you might want to add to your spring manure management plan:

1. Identify fields that are away from surface waters and have a minimal risk of runoff to surface tile inlets.

2. Pile manure in an area that has a low probability for runoff.

3. Avoid spreading when there is a high probability for rainfall.

4. Assess your surroundings before you haul. When the ground is frozen or saturated, setbacks may not be enough. Once runoff has become channelized flow, there is no treatment.

For more information on the Discovery Farms program, visit

Happy hauling!

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