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Living in the town of your college alma mater has its perks. Writing as a Whitworth alum in Spokane, WA, I have participated in several activities hosted by the Whitworth’s Women's Leadership Network. This month, I benefited from attending a small group dinner discussion around the topic of negotiation.

Kristen Watts, Senior Vice President of Forest Products Lending at Northwest Farm Credit Services in Airway Heights, WA, was our discussion host and facilitator. I would like to thank her for an engaging discussion and providing her insight around the topic of negotiation. We all negotiate in our professional and personal lives. Becoming good at negotiation is a skill that must be developed, practiced, and performed. Here are some important things to keep in mind when considering a negotiation.

Negotiation vs. Persuasion

If you are simply trying to convince the other party that your offer, opinion, or idea is the best, then you may be persuading, not negotiating. Evaluate whether the parties involved have vested interests in the outcomes of the decision. Everyone must achieve something from the interaction. If your mind is made and you are unwilling to make concessions, you are persuading!

Determine Your Goals

Before a negotiation, determine your priorities. What are the most important “wins” that you want to take away? Next, think about the other party’s priorities. If your top priorities differ, you can leverage this. However, if your priorities align exactly, know that you may have to make more concessions, have a contingency plan, or be ready with some additional tactics in your back pocket.

Establish Your Tolerances

Before you go into the conversation, know your thresholds. Shoot for the ideal and determine how low you will go without “losing” the negotiation. Negotiations can be long and drawn-out, so knowing your bottom line before you start will be important to make sure you don’t cross it when a conversation gets complex or heated.

Start High and Focus on the Whole

Remember to start at your target goal so you have room to negotiate. If you don’t start high, you will likely walk away feeling unhappy with where you end up. Think about that acceptable middle ground being about half-way between your best case and worst-case scenarios. If you find your opponents beginning to nitpick every detail of the offering, direct the conversation to what they are receiving as a whole. Avoid getting wrapped up in a detail by moving onto the next point, then circling back around and framing it as a part of the whole package.

Prepare and Practice

Treat a negotiation like an exam. You might have some knowledge without studying that would get you a satisfactory grade; however, it’s unlikely you will ace the test walking into it without preparing and studying. Practicing will also give you the confidence you need to successfully promote the value that you have to offer and keep you from crossing your bottom threshold.

Three Things to Avoid

  1. Throwing in too many “freebees," it weakens your value proposition!
  2. Being too afraid of no, “You miss 100% of the shots you don't take” (Wayne Gretsky).
  3. Assuming a quick negotiation was a win, you may have left something on the table!


Finding sufficient farm labor has been a problem pre- and post-pandemic. Whether you have some, or a lot of difficulty finding permanent and temporary ag workers, a few tips could help you attract and keep qualified workers at your operation. We work with growers of all shapes, sizes, and crops. Here are a few suggestions from them that may help some of your labor pains.

Pay by Weight

If you are not paying by weight for your high-value crops, this may appeal to temporary workers who harvest fruits and vegetables. In 2020, a blueberry grower in Georgia implemented the FairPick scale systems for their harvest. After encountering some bottleneck issues (weighing does take a little bit more time), the grower decided to take the scales out of operation. Instead, they used the FairTrak app with handhelds to only log and pay by the bucket. Although harvest was smooth, it was not long before we heard that scales will be put back out in the field in 2022. Why? The pickers are almost demanding it. They like the FairPick’s transparency and its accuracy. No questions about full buckets, no favoritism, and still simple to use. Although there is an upfront investment, the system often pays for itself in a season because of the labor savings. Happy workers are a bonus, which leads me to…

Offer Bonuses

It is not new for growers to offer bonuses on top of regular piece wage or hourly earnings. Several growers went one step further this harvest to offer bonuses on piecework only if the employee stayed to the last day of harvest. This final day work requirement was a great incentive to stay at one farm. For the grower, picker reliability increased, and knowing that the same people would keep coming back each day was much-needed peace of mind. This attendance bonus was an extra rate per pound or piece harvested that was added onto the final paycheck, but only if the employee met the last day criteria. Employee turnover costs time and money and ready-to-pick produce just cannot wait on the bushes or trees.

Make the Job Easier

We have all heard the saying, “Work smarter, not harder.” Implementing time-saving tech and automation not only improves efficiency (you get more done faster) but makes the job easier. An employee is more likely to do a job that requires less know-how, less physical exertion, and is simple to do. For most of us, using a smart phone is second nature. In a time where “there’s an app for that,” it might be time to explore technology “shortcuts” that make a worker’s job easier to do, whether that be in the field or in the office. Minimize manual data entry, paperwork, and streamline communication. Even start thinking about new ways to make finding a job at your farm easier. There are several digital platforms out there now that better connect farmers with farm workers.

There is no cure all for the labor pains that the ag industry continues to face. Like any business, you can take small steps to make your farm more desirable—besides increasing base hourly and piece wages. Start getting creative and find the right tools and incentives for the job.


Hops Composting on New Zealand Farm

In this blog post, I have the privilege of sharing insight about composting from Brent McGlashen of New Zealand's Mac Hops Farm, Brent is a proponent of using PLA or bioplastic twine in lieu of traditional plastic string or coir in hops production. Several years of collaboration with a PLA manufacturer has produced string specifically for the hops industry. According to Brent, this string is, "exceptional in our compost system. I have turned this year’s pile twice and after 30 days, about 80% of it had vanished." Brent, knowing well that many hops growers in the Pacific Northwest use coconut coir for twining, noted that if growers in "[that] part of the world" change to bioplastic string, "then they really will appreciate how much of an asset this exceptional compost is.” Here are Brent's words of wisdom about the benefits of composting for a hops operation and why choosing the right twine is important for the process. 
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Composting has been an important part of our farming system ever since machine harvesting first started. We purchased a guillotine chopper component to our Bruff Hop Picking machine back when it was installed in 1963. The only problem was, we didn’t have a powerful enough tractor to turn the compost, so it took a long time for it to completely compost. Nowadays, we have our big 20-ton digger that turns our full year’s crop in a couple of hours!

At the time of the first hop machines, often it was the last thing to think about in the process was what to do with the end product termed ‘The Waste’. A majority of growers would just spread the material green back out onto their fields. This practice is still done today as growers perceive that the benefit to having compost doesn’t add up to the land use for your composting pile or the cost of doing it. Over the many years we have certainly proved to ourselves and others who have seen what we can achieve by utilising this so called ‘Waste product’ and turning it into a big benefit for our farming system. Some of our hop fields have been cropping hops continuously now for 70+ years, and still producing towards the top end in the yield statistics. You don’t get these results by mistreatment of your plants and soils.

The hop bine, as everyone knows, is a very bulky plant that has a relatively low yield in weight of cones vs greenery. All this material has had to use an extensive amount of soil nutrients and applied nutrients to sustain its rapid growth rates to carry the crop through till harvest. Now just think about it, these nutrients don’t just disappear into thin air as soon as the hops are stripped off the bines when going into the machine. So why not capture as much of that goodness as possible to use in the future as a merry-go-round of the nutrient cycle.

The biggest challenge we have faced in our composting system has been the string. After years and years of manually pulling the sting out by hand after each tractor bucketload, things had to change as we got more compost. So, we acquired a screener. This works very well to separate the earthy compost material from the string, but the compost needs to be relatively dry. Here in New Zealand, we get a lot of rain so some years we can only process the compost for several weeks. So, we needed to find a hop compostable string. We (Mac Hops) have been trialing different string products from all around the world for many, many years now. Little did we know, the best product was about to turn up on our doorstep from here in New Zealand.

We have been working with Joe Wiid from Extrutec Ltd. for the last three years now. We have never had the actual producer of the string spend time on our farm with our stringing crews learning what they like and don’t like about the string. Then, to go away and give us several prototypes that we can trial and evaluate, and even follow this through to the compost pile to test composability. We now string our whole farm in the product that Joe has made us.

In New Zealand we have three string products on offer:

  1. Plastic Type Twine: Very strong and holds up to many of our New Zealand weather challenges but doesn’t breakdown in composting.
  2. Coir: Expensive to buy in small quantities for the smaller farm sizes in New Zealand, doesn’t suit our thinner grade wire when we use vine pullers for machine harvest, requires a lot of labour to erect, takes a very, very long time to breakdown to the point the compost is getting too old to be effective.
  3. Extrutec Ltd. Hop Compostable String: Breaks down in the heat from the compost pile (within 30-90 days!), the easiest string to apply for our hand tying crew.

   


Day 1

Hop Compostable vs Coir

 


Day 59

Hop Compostable vs Coir


Cost for just the raw product in a ratio:

  • Plastic 1, Hop Compostable 2.8, Coir 3.3

Cost for application

  • Coir leaps ahead in labour expenses

Cost in composting system

  • Hop compostable wins hands down

 

3 Tips for Anyone Wanting to Start or Better Their Hop Composting System

 


Tip 1

Use a guillotine type chopper as opposed to a rotary or shredder chopper. The guillotine style chopper cuts the bines into ‘straw’ lengths which shuts all the goodness in that part of the bine down into that length. Over in the compost pile, these ‘straw’ lengths allow for micro air pockets that maintain oxygen in the pile but still contain the heat and composting spores.

 


Tip 2

Store your hop compost in a high windrow type pile. This contains the heat as best as possible especially after harvest when you head into the winter months. It is vital that you keep the bulk of the pile as close to a composting temperature of 60-70⁰ C (140-158⁰ F) for as long as possible for rapid break down.

 


Tip 3

Turn your pile at least once within the first month of harvest and before the cold weather starts to set in. This helps aerate those locked-off oxygen areas and mixes the composting spores that have started. It will depend on the equipment you have and your farm size, but regular turning after that will help speed up your composting but you need to maintain that heat. Full breakdown (to become a soil type product) can happen within 12-18 months.

 

Summary:

Compost is a highly valuable resource, not a waste stream.

Photo credit: Brent McGlashen, Mac Hops

 


 


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