When thinking of winter in Minnesota, many thoughts immediately come to mind. Crisp air, twinkling lights, hot cocoa, inches of snow, snowshoeing and so many more activities that encompass this season. But what does agriculture and farming look like in the winter? What is it that farmers think of and prioritize during the winter months? We asked our volunteers just that! Here’s a little sneak peek into what winter is like for our volunteers.
What doesn’t happen in the winter? Crazy enough – it’s probably some of the most important tasks. Winter on our farm looks like hauling grain, farm shows and meetings, and agronomist meetings. In addition to taxes, adjusting purchases and spending as necessary, looking at last year’s data and planning for next year. We spend time planning, purchasing, and getting discounts on seed, fertilizer and chemicals. As always, hopefully spending a little more time with family too!
We spend time doing book work, planning, playing with many spreadsheets with different options, as well as moving snow and spending extra time feeding the cows! We try to keep the cattle as warm and comfortable as possible – along with trying to keep ourselves warm!
This time of year my fiancé and I are planning for the coming year’s garden by ordering fruits, vegetables and/or ornamental produce. We typically order a majority of our items from Johnny’s Seed catalog but we also buy select items from local greenhouses. Eventually, it would be more ideal to grow from our own seeds we obtain from our previous year crop but until we can have a more ideal set up we will continue to buy new seed each year. We plan to start seeds indoors this year to achieve a head start, then plant them in the spring time in our garden when the soil climate is ready.
On the larger crop production side, my fiancé, myself and our farming partner are working out the budget and organizing funds for the year end taxes. We are also calculating how much seed we will need for the upcoming planting season and the day of seed maturity each field will grow best at as well. Maturity is the amount of time it takes the crop to grow from a planted seed into vegetative and generative growth then finally the day it is ready for harvest. Calculating the amount of soil inputs, seed treatments, seed traits, and weed control are also important data we need to figure during the winter months. We gather all this data from soil tests we have obtained from either the current or previous year and weather conditions previous year(s). These soil samples show all the different levels of minerals and nutrients that are in our soil which help us decipher the correct amount of inputs.
Last but certainly not least, this is the time of year we try to repair and maintain our equipment; this ranges from calculating fluids and repair costs to actually repairing and maintaining each piece of equipment. It is important to maintain each piece of equipment in order to create a efficient planting season.
Farming in the winter can be like reaching into a can of mixed nuts with your eyes closed, you never know what you are going to get! It is nearly 2:00 pm and as I look out my window after the big storm, it is simply beautiful – frosty trees with boughs heavy with snow. My guys have been busy shoveling out the houses, barns and yards of all the family members. Our gravel road still isn’t plowed so they made a pass to help the neighbors get to the main road. The phone rings and my brother-in-law is stuck and need a pull….life on the farm.
Hands down the most difficult thing we do in the winter is haul pigs to market. We book our loads 3 weeks in advance, so not a real good feel for what the weather will be doing in three weeks. Pigs have a very short optimal window of time to get to market; they continue to eat and gain weight each day. No matter the weather or the road conditions, the pigs go to market. The trucker (our son) may be a nervous wreck, but the pigs are toasty warm in the mostly enclosed trailer.
My favorite time of the year is lambing season, there is just nothing like bring new life into the world! Lambing requires you to use your senses, not just your eyes. You need to listen – to the cry of the new lambs and make sure they are fed and to their breathing to avoid pneumonia. You need to feel their mouth to make sure they are warm and check their momma’s udder to see if it is warm or hard which can indicate mastitis and a reduction in milk production. Your sense of smell will alert you to ketosis, infections and other issues. January through mid-March is a pretty busy time for us in the lambing and nursery barns and we all work together to make the season as successful as possible.
We had started with our business planning for the year before harvest was over and now we are looking at the numbers and making more firm plans. It also incudes doing our taxes. Winter planning incudes what we will be planting and in which field. What we hope to sell our crops at and what we need to sell at to breakeven. Planning for equipment upgrades and repairs to farm buildings. We are also planning some rather expensive soil and water projects to improve the land we already own. Additionally, it is meeting season for farmers in the winter so we will be attending meetings and learning about new seeds, equipment, etc.
On the personal side this is also the time we gather with family and friends. Like many other people we try to find a bit of time to travel to warmer weather locations. Cheer our favorite football teams, eat some great food, or just get caught up. Lately with all the snow I have been shoveling and watching the cats and dog play in the fluffy snow.
As an agricultural lender, winter is my busy season. Winter is spent putting together cash flow budgets and renewing lines of credit for the next year. Producers are bringing me quotes for their seed, fertilizer, and chemical for the upcoming year. They are doing tax preparations and running scenarios to see if they can afford to make capital improvements they may need on their operation – from a new piece of tillage equipment to adding additional beef cows. It takes a lot of paperwork and research to farm and that is what winter is full of! Making plans for the next year, crunching the numbers, and setting up a game plan for the year ahead.