Grass is always greener elsewhere – or is it?

The ‘grass is greener syndrome’ can be destructive to good management. Keep it at bay. But when you feel an attack coming on, go take stock of how others in the same field are doing.’
Issue date : 03 October 2008

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I’ve never been able to understand the human psychology that drives the perception that the “grass is always greener on the other side”. Yet when I go fishing, I always seem to think that my bait’s not quite in the correct spot and find myself casting to the far bank. My sons, fishing from the other bank, cast to my side. It’s nonsensical, but it’s human nature. We all know people who are never happy with their lot and in management, it’s a highly destructive characteristic.

It results in continual and draining self-assessment, vacillation in direction and policy, and it often leads to odious invalid comparisons being made between “us” and “them”, with “them” always doing a better job. A nother symptom is the tendency of management to appoint outside consultants to tell them what members of their own team are quite capable of doing. It’s seriously demotivating for team members. I had two early lessons on the subject that I’ve never forgotten. The use of airblast sprayers for crops such as fruit trees, cotton and veggies was new technology in the early 1970s.

Pesticide was always mixed with water, but we were trying to mix it with air. I was fortunate to be chosen as the farmer working with a small research team comprising a local equipment manufacturer and Malvern Georgala, one of SA’s outstanding commercial citrus entomologists. While we were getting good results, there were questions in our minds. How could we best measure effectiveness of coverage? What was best droplet size and how to best measure it? What about concentration rates, air speed and air volumes? We had our own techniques and ideas, but knew that the Californians had been working on it for years. We automatically assumed they had all the answers.

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As we became more and more obsessed with the “grass is greener syndrome”, I was duly nominated to undertake an expensive and time-consuming trip to meet the wise men of California. It was a revelation. We were way ahead of them. Our machinery was better, our methods of measuring were better, our understanding of the key issues and their impact was better. They had much to learn from us, not us from them. Some years later, Phytophthora root rot was causing havoc in the avocado industry.

Trees were dying in their thousands and we were all mesmerised by the brilliant and prolific publications being generated by a large team of California scientists. They were spending millions travelling the world searching for a resistant rootstock, and were sure to find the solution. The SA Avocado Growers’ Association, a voluntary organisation funded by its members, decided they had to do something themselves and employed Prof Ballie Kotze of the University of Pretoria on a part-time basis to assist in their research. Together with Joe Darvas, one of his brilliant students, they cracked the problem in a few short years. Once again, demonstrated that the grass is actually greener on this side of the fence.

If you’re human, you too will be afflicted by the “grass is greener syndrome” sometime. Keep it at bay, and whenever you feel an attack coming on, get off the farm and take stock of how others in the same field are doing. If you find that you are lagging, call in the consultants and do some benchmarking. As for me, the next time I go fishing, I’m determined to ignore the distant bank and cast right at my feet. – Peter Hughes ([email protected] or call (013) 745 7303). |fw