Plugged combines and poor communication stops now! - Elaine Froese | Canada’s Farm Whisperer | Your go-to expert for farm families who want better communication and conflict resolution to secure a successful farm transition


Plugged combines and poor communication stops now!

by | Aug 30, 2023 | Uncategorized

Many of you reading this wish you had a problem this year with plugged combines, your crop has not done well due to drought. I don’t operate a combine any longer, yet I like the word, picture, or vision of trying to shove too much crop too fast with a resulting thunk (technical term for plugging up).

Communication during harvest seems to have many volcanic events, and as I write this in early July, I reflect on the words of Alan Vayhnalek, Extension Educatory (now retired) University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Alan was part of my conflict resolution training in 2021.

Here’s Vayhnalek’s list of emotions that block negotiation and therefore also plug up communication. I’ve added my insights:

  1. Appreciation: the lack of appreciation in many farm cultures tells people they are not important to the work getting done. They don’t feel seen or heard. Encourage your team with sincere positive feedback in a timely fashion. Give feedback when you see things being done well and be grateful. Your mental health will also improve when you stop to write out 5 things you are grateful for before your exhausted head hits the pillow when the dew hits.
  2. Affiliation: Farm teams are composed of family members and non-family employees. Treat everyone well. If you are seeing family members or workplace colleagues as the adversary, the enemy, you are not going to show up with great behaviour. Why do the family members experience profanity, yelling, or blow-ups?  Drop what I call your “conflict filter” towards your brother. Ask them what they need in the moment, stay cool, calm and collected even if they choose to be hostile and abrasive. You always get to choose your response. Ask us for help in increasing your awareness of your hot buttons using the Conflict Dynamic Profile.
  3. Autonomy: Take time to train combine operators well and you won’t be making all their decisions for them! When folks have no autonomy to make decisions independently, they get frustrated from a sense of being micro-managed. How many decisions are you over-riding that can be handed over and entrusted to the next generation? If your excuse is “I am not a good teacher”, find someone on your farm who is!
  4. Status: Are members of your farm team treated as being inferior and not given full recognition of their contributions to the good of the operation? Great farm leaders are willing to do any job their employees are expected to complete. When the combine plugs, there is no blame or shame for the incident. Folks pitch in to create solutions and get the harvest in full swing again. Remember your intentions and feelings are hidden unless you share them verbally and ask for what you need. If you are feeling taken for granted, burned out from overwork, and pulling way more than your fair share of the farm workload, who else knows you are frustrated and what the cause is?
  5. Role: Negotiations and good communication are blocked when you are not feeling clear about your role, sensing what you are asked to do is unfulfilling. This strikes many aging farmers in harvest time when they are grappling with changes in capacity to deal with broken feeder chains and reverse the headers properly. Dick Wittman’s phrase “stepping back without stepping away” is helpful to internalize as you use the hours on the combine to figure out what next winter on the farm is calling you to do. Brene Brown says, “being clear is kind.” How clear are you with the rest of the farm team as to which roles you want to keep, and which roles you now need to let go of?
  6. Compensation: Here’s what my friend Lance Woodbury says: “There are a number of mistakes families make around compensation. One is a tendency to pay people what they need, rather than what they are worth. Another is to pay only what the business can afford. Another mistake is to pay all siblings equally regardless of their contribution to the business. Without a market-oriented compensation philosophy the business will eventually suffer.“ (source: When Family Businesses Becomes Dangerous DTN Progressive Farmer June 2023)
  7. Feedback: Your combined monitors are constantly giving you feedback. Unfortunately, many farm families do not take the time to talk with family member employees to let them know if they are meeting the expectations of management and ownership folks. When you don’t have regular performance appraisals like business managers typically execute quarterly or annually, you are in the “dark” not knowing what your strengths are, what your weaknesses might be, and what learning plan you need to follow to meet the expectations of your manager.  Think about ways to block time for a conversation and evaluation of your performance, and your farm family team members. Ask me for Jim Soldan’s performance review here.
  8. Track: Document your thoughts with voice texts to yourself so you can compile your learnings and make some changes when you have some down time. We can change what we measure. Use that shirt pocket notebook with your old school pen and do a brain dump before you get to your much needed renewing rest.

Harvest is my favourite time of year, when the entire farm family team and our employees are pulling in the same direction to reap what we have sown. I hope these reflections will spur some positive conversation and insights to improve the culture of agriculture in your fields.


Elaine Froese is launching a Farm Family Transition Membership site in October. Join the waitlist here. Her team offers free discovery calls for coaching queries.

Did you enjoy Plugged combines and poor communication stops now? You might want to check these articles out too:

How to Say “Sorry” at Harvest
Tools to get better at fixing farm fights…conflict resolution 101
How to be Seen and Heard at your Farm’s Decision-Making Table: Tips for In-laws


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