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Rolling boulders uphill

Progressive Forage Grower Editor Lynn Jaynes Published on 31 January 2017

If you’ve Googled “productivity” lately, you’ll find articles on 10 habits you should break to be more productive, 11 ways to make this your most productive year, the physics of productivity, maximizing focus to master priorities, eight things you should do before 8 a.m.

(those of you who milk cows can stop laughing now), seven things to stop doing to be more productive, 70 percent of your time could be used better, the disciplined pursuit of less, how to schedule your day for peak performance, how to work 40 hours in 16.7, 12 powerful habits of ultra-successful people, throw out your to-do list and double your productivity, and my personal favorite: the secrets of highly efficient napping.

Society is apparently suffering from an obsession that informs us we’re not doing enough and, whatever we are doing, we’re not doing it well enough. There are tips on productive dating, productive parenting and even American hotels wishing visitors a “productive stay.”

There was even a float in the Rose Parade this year titled “Do more with your 24,” for crying out loud. It’s the Sisyphus problem.

Sisyphus was king of Ephyra in Greek mythology. You were daydreaming about the next football game during that discussion on Greek mythology – admit it, you were fascinated only with the togas – so pay attention this time.

Many Greek myths were filled with death and evil intrigue. Sisyphus was no exception, and for his self-aggrandizement and deceitfulness he was consigned to roll an immense boulder up a steep hill – only to have it come back to hit him.

He was consigned to push that boulder up the hill for eternity. ETERNITY. No matter how hard he pushed or how well he pushed, he could never reach the peak.

Do you ever feel like that in farming? Like you’re pushing a boulder up a steep hill for eternity but never gaining ground? Like you can never do enough or never do it well enough? Well, don’t believe it. It’s not true.

January and February always feel like the start of a Sisyphean task with tax filings, loan processes, seed and chemical purchases, and budget preparation with profit margins that leave you scratching your puzzled head and wondering how to squeeze in a line item to repair the barn roof.

Look how far farming has come. The farm productivity trendline from 1910 to 1939 was charted at 0.4 percent growth rate. Then farm productivity trendline changed dramatically during the ’30s and ’40s, and from 1937 to 2000 shot up to 2 percent.

That doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you visualize that charted on a graph, it’s the difference between rolling a boulder up an anthill and rolling one up Mt. Shasta.

WWII apparently had a lot to do with it. War rationing in the U.S. pushed the development of canned meat products (Spam) and dried food products. Conversion of these plants after the war for domestic use spawned new consumer products.

When refrigerated trucks made fresh foods more available, consumers drastically changed their diets, and farmers were forced to change what they grew to meet these demands.

The upshot is: Output of crops and livestock per unit of input increased dramatically, and the intense trend has continued into this century. This means today farmers are better at their jobs and are using more and better technology than ever before. That productivity has increased farm income and, at the same time, lowered consumer food costs.

Sometimes our vision is just too narrow, and we only see the boulder (or blood, sweat and tears) in front of us rather than appreciating the total gain over the years. Just for a moment, broaden your vision.

Not only has productivity increased dramatically, but you love what you do and you make a living at it. There’s something soul-satisfying about working with the earth. You’re part of the solution, not the problem.

And bonus – you don’t have to wear a toga. Life is good.  end mark

Lynn Jaynes
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