The Lean Farm

Rick Bohan

I just came across an article, “What Can Small Farms Learn From a Car Company?”.  The article reports, briefly, on a small farm that has been implementing lean concepts successfully.  The farmer in question has written a book about his experiences that I just ordered from my local library (one of the very coolest examples of the manner in which modern tech does, in fact, benefit us is the ability to find and request a book one has just learned of from a wide network of libraries across the country and have it delivered to one’s local library, all free for nothing), entitled The Lean Farm.

I actually didn’t learn much from the article as to just how the farm is implementing lean concepts and methods (I hope to get more of that from the book).  There was an example of moving some tools closer to where they were being used that was interesting…I guess.  I always worry about that sort of illustration…it’s the sort of thing that any auto mechanic or woodworking shop operator can impart. My fear is that “lean” gets reduced to a set of “productivity tips and hacks”.

That said, the article does mention the idea of “value is whatever the customer says it is”, push vs pull thinking, and reduction of inventory and overall complexity through reduction in number of crops planted, number of acres planted, and overall inventory.

I’ll let you know more when the book comes in and I’ve read it.  I like that the article and book are devoted to an arena in which we don’t usually think of applying lean methods and concepts.  In fact, for some, the idea of “lean farm” brings to mind “factory farm”, a less than appealing image.  (One the more cringe-worthy such monikers, I always thought was “lean hospital”.  Would you take a member of your family to an institution that billed itself as a “lean hospital”?)  But, as we all know, “lean” isn’t about getting “lean”.  It’s about analyzing one’s business and the operations within it that produce value, then making changes in those processes so that the value delivered to customers is increased with as little loss as possible.  It’s about maximizing value by maximizing the utility of the resources and inputs we use.  That thinking can be applied to a hospital, a hotel, a farm…or a car company.


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