Lean Farming: What does Lean have to do with farming?
How can it apply lean principles to a farm? Farming is completely different to making cars isn’t it?
Yes farming is different – we have a lot more variables that perhaps are not as easily controlled – weather, cows health, global stock markets, environmental changes. However, we also have farm inputs, outputs and processes which we can have control of. Just like in manufacturing, we have people, cows, materials, resources, equipment and machines (our business inputs) that work together through various processes to give us our output which in the ideal world is high-quality milk, at the lowest cost, with zero safety incidents and minimal environmental impact.
Lean essentially helps us to convert our inputs as efficiently and effectively as possible through streamlined value-added processes into our ideal outputs (low cost, high-quality milk).
Lean Farming applied to Farm Processes
Our farms are full of processes – repetitive processes. Processes that repeat every year, every month, every week or every day: calving, crop management, mating, dry off, feed out, milking, shifting cows. This makes our farms ideal places to apply lean manufacturing methodologies. While our current processes may not be very well defined or possibly change depending on who does the particular task, they are still processes.
Lean helps us to define our processes, optimise them by eliminating all waste (non-value added components) from the process and standardise these processes across our teams and farm so that everyone is using the one best way of doing something. Lean principles then help us to continuously improve our processes so that we get better and more competitive every day.
Lean Farming and Problem Solving
Lean methodology and tools can help our farms with many of the key problems we face every day: improving our production results, reducing our cell counts and improving quality, improving cow health while reducing things like empty rates, creating better maintenance systems to stop unexpected breakdowns, eliminating waste, fixing problems once for good, creating more engaged, accountable teams, and of course saving our farms money.
Key Lean Farming Tools for the Farm
There are several key Lean tools that can help your dairy farm or any other farm immediately.
5S: Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardise and Sustain
5S is about ensuring that your workplace is very well organised. But it is more than just tidying up. It is a fundamental approach to the way you work and run your business. It is around have very clearly defined and standardised locations for all your items, tools, materials, medications, supplies, consumables, even equipment, machines and vehicles such as tractors. 5S helps to save your team significant time and money, but having and items exactly where you need it and when you need it. 5S wil prevent your farm from losing expensive tools, throwing out expired medications, treatments or other consumables and having equipment, tools, materials or other items at the point of use in a set location so that anyone in the team can find them immediately when they need to. It is one tool that can make a tremendous difference to every farm.
Standardisation is a key foundation of lean manufacturing. It helps to create a standardised workplace, where all key processes are identified, optimised, clearly defined and visualised and everyone in the team is adhering to the process, doing it right first time every time.
Having good standardisation on your farm can help to prevent many mistakes and avoidable problems such as cows in the wrong paddock, cow health problems not identified accurately, milk going down the drain instead of in the vat, fences not put up correctly, feed incorrect, effluent pump not being turned on when needed, tractors or wagons broken due to incorrect operation. Standardisation will again eliminate significant waste and cost from farms.
Visual Management can make a significant impact to your farm results if done correctly. Ensuring that your metrics are clear, visual, have targets and are regularly monitored and discussed, will help your whole team be focused and accountable to achieve the right results. It is probably one of the key tools to implement on your farm if you want to improve your metrics and farm results.
Visualisation will also help your farm and team eliminate waste by making things clearer for everyone working on or with your farm. It will ensure that everyone knows exactly what is required. It will prevent repeated, costly problems. For example, having clear visual numbers or labels on your silos will stop the incorrect feed going in. Identifying your paddock numbers could stop the wrong paddock being sprayed. Creating clear visual limits on gauges and other instrumentation will make it immediately apparent if a gauge is outside of specification.
Total Productive Maintenance
Is your farm struggling to keep machines and equipment maintained correctly and adequately? Do you have constant breakdowns that you weren’t expecting just when you need to use something? Lean manufacturing focuses heavily on maintenance activities and ensuring that equipment, tools and machines are maintained in a systematic and planned manner so that firefighting and unexpected breakdowns can be eliminated. This helps to make your work day more efficient and ensures that you have the tools and equipment you need when you need them.
When your team haven’t put oil in a motorbike for weeks and it eventually blows up it is more expensive to replace the motorbike then to buy the oil. Total Productive Maintenance helps you to prevent these often costly problems.