Answer: We prepare for the next crop year making decisions about seed, land, and crop insurance. We also work on equipment, market and ship grain, and expand our knowledge of our trade.
This is a question that I encounter typically when I don’t expect it. I’m usually engaged in some mundane day-to-day task getting groceries or picking up our dry cleaning. Inevitably, when whomever I encounter learns that I farm I get a typified response: “What do you do all winter?”
At its root, grain farming is a seasonal occupation. The bounty we receive is the fruit of the labor during the growing months. We do the best job we can to ensure that we do everything in our power to give our crops the best chance of success we can.
Today our farm is a grain farm, aside from our 4-H livestock. My explanation of grain farming is one explicitly different from livestock farming, or more prevalently, livestock and grain farming combined. For those with livestock on the farm, the daily obligation knows no seasons.
So, as it most representatively stands, I am a grain farmer which whom seasons dictate my schedule. It is a dictation that will not waver. This is our lot. My wife Amy has become accustomed to this reality growing up on a farm and I am blessed for having that understanding.
It is true that in-season, farmers do work and sleep, and sleep and work. This is what our passion is, and it is because we know that every second we waste will shorten the growing season, or force us to harvest in poor conditions if we just could have beat the rain.
What do we do all winter? We prepare. For every acre of corn planted there is a farmer planning that acre. What seed will be used, what fertility has been placed, what outcome can be foreseen. From borrowing money from the bank, to purchasing the seed and renting the land, to making sure that you bought insurance to make sure this year of farming won’t be your last.
Farmers are dependent upon the machines that we use to do our work and rely upon their fastidiousness to help make our jobs doable. The off-season is the time when farmers evaluate, test, prepare, and replace their equipment so that there is no regret once the “wheels get turning.”
Many farmers also store their grain in their own grain bins to be shipped to markets later. This also employs considerable time moving crop to market in the winter and spring.
When the ground is frozen and grain farmers are idle from all field activities, we make our most contributions to our trade. Universities, lending institutions, seed and chemical companies, equipment manufacturers, and agronomists all offer meetings in the off-season for farmers to glean new knowledge and confirm their teachings to ensure that the next crop will be better than the last. We also delve into our own data we have collected through our various trials to improve our methods.
Farmers work with their accountants and lenders to exhaustively evaluate their last crop year and seed plans for a new one. Stepping from one season to the next does not feel as if it is this year or next year. It feels as if we are undergoing seamless improvement. I joke from time to time when everything is going sideways, and I turn to the people who are there with me working the problem that seems hopeless and I say, “I quit!” It is reassuring to see their look for just a second that I might be serious. This is my life and I am proud to have it. Through thick and thin, through good times and bad, this may not always be the easiest job, but it is one I am blessed to have.