Thursday, June 13, 2013

Simple vs. Easy | by Kelly Downing

I (and I am sure many others) often blur the meanings of the terms “simple” and “easy.” We are all familiar with the adage “the best plan is a simple plan." I think most people inherently find this principle sound. Where it falls apart is the reality that simple does not equate with easy. There are many activities that are relatively complex, but we view as being easy. To use a couple of extreme examples, things like tying your shoes, riding a bicycle, or brushing your teeth require some relatively complex motor skills. Most of the time, though, they are considered easy to do (except with a broken wrist!). On the other hand, if we consider Omaha Beach on D-Day, the strategy for our heroes was relatively simple—jump from the landing craft, advance past the beach, and continue inland. Nothing could be farther from easy.
Valmont Irrigation Territory Sales Manager and
Valley dealer with crew

I was reminded of this difference recently while visiting a new rice operation. This was a brand-new development, growing rice in a desert area never before tilled. In theory, the process is relatively simple: plant, fertilize, irrigate, and control weeds. In practice, this is a daunting challenge. Our friends have made a lot of progress, but there are problems. As we toured the field and looked at conditions, I was reminded how difficult it is to start an entirely new enterprise like this. Building the infrastructure to supply water, installing the pivots, and getting the crop in the ground required a big investment in money, effort, and will.

Nevertheless, they were able to build the water supply system, install the irrigation equipment, and get the crop planted. They also have been diligent in irrigating and doing various field operations—herbicide application, fertilizing, etc. Unfortunately, a couple of “simple” things are causing some big headaches. The primary issue is weed control. As we have found in other areas, desert soils can grow many things quite well, if irrigated. This includes weeds, of course. In fact, with great water and fertility, they grow like… well, like weeds! Now the weeds have almost taken over the crop. The farm operators are working to battle this issue, but it is a tough slog. They decided to hand-weed and continue the fight.

Taken at sunset from my hotel room
As we all realize, there are a few factors that contribute to this issue. One is equipment, as they use hand-held sprayers to apply herbicide. This really limits the uniformity, concentration, and timeliness of the herbicide applications. Probably the biggest factor, though, was the limited number of products available. Relying on only one or two herbicides can really limit options. It appears that, in this instance, they “brought a knife to a gunfight.”

Fortunately, these are bright, motivated people, and they are working diligently to solve their problems. I am confident they will find and implement the procedures necessary to succeed with future crops. It will not be “easy,” but then, how many worthwhile accomplishments are? We will certainly revisit this project in the future, and I am sure there will be better news to report. It is important to remember that the first time any of us try something new, we never produce our best results. So, even when things look daunting early, we observe, learn and adapt to achieve success.

Now, I just need to remember these principles the next time I hear some goober (like myself) look at a situation from the outside and ignorantly say “It’s simple. All you need to do is…” Yeah, it may be simple, but that doesn’t mean easy. If it was easy, anybody could do it!

So, as you go out and face the challenges of your own operation, keep your chin up and keep fighting the good fight. It is a new growing season, and already there have been unique challenges in different locations. Keep working the situation, make good decisions and do what you can. Have a safe and prosperous growing season, and stay in touch!

For more information on the Valley Circles for Rice project, visit

Kelly Downing
Global Irrigation Specialist

Kelly, Nebraska-based Irrigation Specialist, spent 10 years working on soil and water research projects for a major agricultural university, involving a variety of crops. His work focused on irrigation management, but also included other topics. 
Since joining Valley Irrigation, he has worked in the fields of Service, Product Management, Product Reliability and Sales. Kelly focuses on developing projects in irrigation field management and providing recommendations for the Circles for Rice project. Kelly has traveled to several countries providing technical support, such as soil moisture monitoring and irrigation management training.