Traveling from Colorado to Detroit on Route 24 instead of I-80 is a little like going to the gemba. In fact, if you really want to go to a gemba, try tent camping in an Idaho desert state park with the bathrooms closed for the winter or a Kansas campground in the pouring rain. I did a lot of thinking about our whole camping process -- maybe more on that in a future post.
At one stop for gas and restrooms, I found a lean recommendation in the Woodford County News Bulletin's column "RFD News and Views - For Central Illinois Farmers and Rural Dwellers" by Tim Alexander. Bob Frazee of the University of Illinois said that farmers don't need to till soybean fields in the fall after harvesting. In fact, the practice is causing soil erosion in some places.
Data affirms this by documenting that yields of corn the following season are unaffected by either performing fall tillage or leaving the soybean stubble untouched. Leaving the soybean residue untouched on the soil surface throughout the fall and winter months provides valuable soil protection. Eliminating this fall tillage trip can cut crop production expenses and result in more profit.
He went on to say that this new philosophy adopted by Illinois soybean farmers has resulted in 60 to 75% of soybean fields being left untilled after harvest.
Think about it -- when you see massive equipment dwarfed by immense fields along miles and miles of highway, you can imagine how much fuel is saved by eliminating one pass in the annual process. Then you think about the wear and tear on the farmer's capital equipment. And the someone's time operating the machine along row after row of soybean stubble. (There's some work on running robotic tractors using GPS, but it hasn't reached the market yet.)
Questioning that one practice, conducting the experiments to determine that it amounted to waste -- that it even caused the waste of soil erosion -- can make a world of difference in an industry. Congratulations to Dr. Frazee and the Illinois soybean farmers who found a leaner way to produce a crop.