Learn from Our 70 acre Mistake

“Great losses are great lessons.”   ― Amit Kalantri, Wealth of Words

The lessons that lead to great understanding are not always evident at first glance. Such was the case this summer when we drove by our Deerfield Farms soybean field that day after spraying (what we thought was) a foliar fertilizer to discover an inordinate amount of leaf wilt. As the days and weeks passed, we realized a fatal mistake had cost us all 70 acres of soybeans on this field and potentially tens of thousands of dollars. 

Thanks to this mistake, we at Deerfield Ag Services and Deerfield Farms have put in place processes and procedures to make sure we never make a mistake like this that costs us or our farmer customers a great loss. 

Retracing Our Steps: What Went Wrong? 

It was a normal June day during which the Deerfield Ag Services agronomy team was fulfilling a request from our own farm (Deerfield Farms) for a foliar fertilizer. In typical fashion, Agronomy provided the fertilizer to be used on this field of Enlist soybeans. The product was delivered by DAS for application by our farm managers at the farm.  

“This was a unique situation because we had some extra product sitting around, which we thought was a foliar fertilizer,” said Justin Gibson, agronomy operations manager. “We took the liberty to use a jug that was already open, which we wouldn’t do with another customer. We would provide customers with an unopened jug if they were spraying on their own field in this manner.” 

The farm applied the fertilizer and noticed leaf wilt beyond what is normally anticipated by this product about 24 hours later. Each day, the wilt became more obvious until after about three days it was evident the entire crop was dying.

Upon further investigation, the agronomy team discovered the “foliar fertilizer” was actually dicamba, which is deadly to Enlist soybeans, and had been put into a mislabeled jug. As we now know, Enlist beans have zero tolerance for dicamba. 

“We don’t use dicamba as a general rule,” Gibson said. “We’ve mostly discontinued the use of it, unless a customer specifically requests it. We no longer stock it, but this one jug remained and got mixed up.” 

What Will Change? 

The biggest take-away is not to put anything in a container it’s not labeled for. We know farmers get busy and forget to label things. 

“The problem is that it’s too easy to make a mistake in the shop or on your farm that could cost you,” said Gibson. “At Deerfield Ag Services, this will now be part of our daily procedures and guidelines for all employees.” 

In addition to being more cautious of mislabeling, Deerfield will institute the following changes in the Agronomy Department: 

  • No more open containers of chemicals. All retailed chemicals must be brand new and unopened prior to mixing. 
  • Once mixed, products may not be dumped into other containers. 
  • No dumping or mixing products into containers for which they are not labeled.

You can prevent problems of your own by properly disposing of chemicals that are laying around your farm. The Ohio Department of Agriculture is bringing its Clean Sweep chemical disposal program to our Deerfield location on Tuesday, August 17, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Customers can bring their unused chemicals for disposal at no cost. 

“If you have unlabeled containers or containers of which you’re unsure if the labels are correct, please dispose of them,” said Gibson. “Don’t keep stuff around if you don’t know what it is. If there’s any question, get rid of it.”

At the end of the day, we want to be as transparent as we are, because what we just learned prevented us from doing this to a customer. We now have a process in place to prevent it from happening to somebody else.

And as Eleanor Roosevelt said, you might as well “learn from the mistakes of others because you can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”