By Kelly Whiteman Snipes
It seems whenever we go to an agriculture-related conference, the hotel staff always enjoys talking to farmers and ranchers, asking questions about the industry.
Our most recent trip to Nashville, Tennessee for a conference was no different. In fact, I was asked a question by our front desk clerk that I have not been asked before as a grain farmer.
“Do you guys work all year round?”
Instantly, my answer from within was a, “Yes!” but I knew it would be hard to explain the kind of work we do in the wintertime since we are not in the fields, working on our soybean or corn crops.
We may not be in the field, but we are still working on our old and new crops all winter long!
Those in the livestock industry are obviously destined to chores 365 days a year regardless of the weather! In the winter they have animals to feed and issues to battle when the snow, ice and freezing temperatures arrive.
At one time, it was a stereotype that midwestern grain farmers would “winter” in warm places such as Florida or Arizona. Fortunately, winter work allows us in a nice, warm office or meeting hall, but there are some chores that involve being outside in the harsh weather.
Farms have grown in size, resulting in on-farm grain storage and the need to market and truck grain all year long. Sometimes younger farmers and seasonal farmers will take a job off the farm during the winter to supplement their income and even some seasoned farmers will do so as well. It really depends on one’s individual situation.
For us, my husband and I and my father-in-law all work full-time jobs, off the farm, year round.. Our farm is not large enough to employ us full-time. Winters seem like they should be a slow down for us, but we feel just as busy in the winter as we do in the spring, summer and fall. We just don’t have a lawn to mow or weeds to tackle, which is a nice break!
So what do we grain farmers do in the wintertime?
Book-keeping & Taxes
This is the time of year we play catch-up on our records from the previous year and prep all the necessary paperwork for our accountant. This is probably the most unenjoyable task on the farm!
With the option of on-farm storage, grain farmers spend winters filling contracts with local elevators and marketing their grain however they choose. With grain marketing comes grain hauling! Ice, snow and cold temperatures can often make this effort challenging, especially when pulling a truck loaded with grain. On-farm storage also means at some point in time, you have to get the bins and the grain pits cleaned and scraped out prior to the next harvest season! This can happen at anytime of the year but winter seems to be when a lot of grain is moved.
After all the paperwork and taxes are filed, it’s usually time to start pulling winter projects into the shop (Or, perhaps projects are pulled into the shop to avoid doing office work). Whether running old or new equipment, it’s important that we go through each piece thoroughly to prevent any breakdowns that would hinder productivity during planting season in the spring. If a piece of a equipment is too far gone, then some farmers will start talking with equipment dealerships on upgrades or travel around to auctions looking for a deal.
While we are working on equipment, we might as well work on the shop too! When we are in the fields, the shop is a revolving door. Tools get misplaced, parts are tossed all willy-nilly and the floor definitely gets roughed up a bit. Winter is the time to get everything put away, organize tools or parts and pamper the floor with a good deep clean so we can mess it up all over again in the spring!
I always joke with my friends that we have four seasons: planting season, growing season, harvest and convention season. Many agriculture organizations and companies hold their leadership conventions and conferences in the winter time. Conventions are back-to-back and many of them even overlap with one another. It’s impossible to make it to all the ones you’d like to go to. My husband and I especially enjoy the young farmer conventions where we can collaborate with other young growers all over our state and across the country. Connecting with other growers throws us outside of the same box we sometimes find ourselves confined to when we spend too much time on the farm. We find the connections we make inspiring and it helps keep us innovative and motivated.
Off the Farm Jobs
Many young farmers and even some more established farmers have jobs off the farm to supplement their income. They range from seasonal employment to full-time employment. My husband sells farm machinery for our local New Holland dealership and I do freelance work remotely from home or the local coffee shop.
New Crop Planning
Winter is the time of year when we analyze soil samples and yield maps. We also meet with our seed salesperson, fertilizer cooperatives, other input suppliers, our banker and crop insurance salesperson to start making plans for the next growing season. This is also a great time to seek out any un-contracted land and meet with potential landlords. Basically, preparing for new crop involves a lot of small meetings and signing lots of paperwork.
Field and Property Maintenance
One of the most dreaded jobs on the farm besides tax preparation is installing new drainage tile, cleaning fence rows and clearing out fallen trees. Most likely this happens late winter and early spring when the ground isn’t frozen. Some farmers contract this sort of work out, keeping local excavating and tiling companies in business, others find it more resourceful to do the work themselves.
The flexibility of winter often allows us a little bit more time to give back to our families, the industry and our community. Whether it’s helping grandma with a home maintenance project, planning a community activity with our local Farm Bureau or heading down to the State House to talk agriculture policy with legislators, it’s nice to get away from the farm for a small break and exert our energy into something much bigger than we are. It’s extremely important that we stay involved within our community and the industry to serve as advocates to help promote agriculture and rural America. It’s not always the easiest to do from the cab of a tractor.
Depending on the year, we could have little to enormous amounts of snow. Living in rural areas often means long driveways and multiple farms or properties. Sometimes it can be a full-time job making sure all the driveways are clear so the truck can get out to haul grain or in case there is an emergency and somebody needs to get to the elderly lady next door. When you have big tractors with snow blades, you’re everybody’s best friend.
Farmers work hard and play even harder! Winter is a great time to travel, catch up with family, make plans to go out with friends or maybe even sneak in a good book or long winter’s nap by a nice warm fire.