Lessons we can learn from farmers about Windows of Opportunity.


Martin Gommel via Compfight 


How do you use your windows of opportunity?

Do you exploit them to the maximum, be bold and take huge action to make the most forward progress while they are open? Or do you make excuses, take tentative steps and wonder why the windows close too quickly?

Some seasonal businesses are beginning to see their windows of opportunity opening with the Christmas holiday period less than 2 months away. Others, like summer sports goods suppliers in the Northern Hemisphere are seeing their’s close. The weather can provide excuses for staying dormant for the next few months or looking for new windows of opportunity. The change in seasons can provide the opportunity to change speed, catch up with maintenance and administrative work so that we are better prepared for a new season of opportunity.

Here in South West Ontario, we hardly felt the effects of  hurricane Sandy, we were very fortunate. We have had more rain in the last week than in the whole of summer, but no flooding and only minor damage from moderately high winds.  A few days later, it is still raining, with grey skies and dropping temperatures. The weather forecast calls for the first snow flurries tomorrow.

The trees have lost most of their leaves, even the evergreens look drab today. The fields are either brown from being freshly worked or grey brown with dry corn still to be combined. For an ex African from the tropics like me, it is an exceedingly bleak time of year,  only the occasional field of refreshing green from newly emerged wheat or rye to inject a splash of colour into the gloom.

The cold I can manage, snow does not worry me, but the lack of sunlight and the short days sap my energy. Now I understand why snakes, lizards and other reptiles slow down in cold periods or when they cannot feel sunlight.

With that backdrop, I visited a farming contact this morning. As I drove up his farm road, I noticed how tidy everything was. All the verges on the side of the road mowed, fallen branches from the wind cleared away, no sign of the litter thrown from passing vehicles that infuriates country dwellers so much. Irrigation pipes taken out of the fields and neatly stacked in the yard, equipment parked around the barns and sheds ready to be moved inside for winter storage.

This farm is a big vegetable and berry producer, it does not grow corn or beans that are the most common crops in this area. Because of the specialised crops, it depends on a big, mostly migrant, labour force. The offshore workers left yesterday for their homes. The date of their departure had been set weeks ago, their seats on aircraft booked and paid for. Very difficult and costly to change their departure date.

That meant that all the work that needed to be done by the end of  October had to be done. No excuses, no additional time for delays caused by weather, sickness, equipment breakdowns, unforseen emergencies. The farmer was committed and he had to honour that commitment.

The same goes for much of what farmers do. There is a window of opportunity for preparing the land, planting crops, applying fertiliser or insecticides, for harvesting, conditioning, curing, transporting to market. Miss that window of opportunity and the impact on the bottom line is huge.The consequences of doing it again can mean bankruptcy.

Livestock farmers also have to contend with the extra problems associated with living animals. Feeding, milking, providing bedding, veterinary services, training in some cases, transport. Animals have to be fed and looked after every day despite the weather, no excuses, no allowances.

I have been a farmer for many years in two separate periods in my life, I know the discipline required, the heartbreak of seeing crops shrivel up and die in a drought. The joy of a good harvest, the satisfaction of coordinating many different people and activities to produce something worthwhile.

How many of us have that same commitment and discipline if our businesses or even our lives?

Anything worthwhile in life is worth making that extra effort, grabbing that window of opportunity and doing our absolute best with it while it is open. Once it’s shut, all the wishing in the world won’t get it to open again until the season is right, or we find a different window.

How do you use your windows of opportunity?


Peter Wright

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