Farming in the Winter

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Trent Sanderson is a seventh generation grain and livestock farmer. He raises corn, soybeans, wheat and a small herd of beef cattle. Trent and his wife and son live in rural Clare.

This time of year I’m often asked, what do farmers do all winter? Many, if not all farmers, have diversified income streams that are necessary to raise a family and put food on the table year-round. Time spent on record books, taxes and farm chores – Winter days are spent closing the books on the previous tax year, planning for the year ahead and daily chores. Some days are easier than others tending to livestock – keeping the livestock fed, watered, warm and healthy. Recently, we experienced a day with blowing snow and minus 30 degree Fahrenheit wind chill. That is hard on everything and everyone. A job that takes two hours in June will likely take two days in January.

On our farm, we spent two FULL days repairing the water supply, keeping it thawed out for our cattle. We are prepared for cold weather with water tank heaters, wind breaks and insulation, but when the wind blows and it’s that cold it requires more time and effort to keep water flowing. Do our hands get wet fixing the problem? You bet they do, and it’s cold!

Review of farm plan, input decisions important – Reviewing reports on the profit/loss of the farms’ crops and its investments is crucial to its success. These results have an effect on what the plan is for the year to come.

There are many different products a farmer can buy to raise crops. This includes equipment, fertilizer, insurance, seed and pesticides. And each individual product is constantly evaluated to make sure it is a wise investment since margins are slim today in production agriculture. Each field of crops is different from one another as to how it responds to the products we use. And as stewards of the land, we carefully manage each field. As we preserve the land and its resources, we want to also preserve profitability.

Off-farm income, part-time jobs common today – Some farmers have what we commonly refer to as “off-farm income.” These are income streams that come from anywhere other than the farm. Some examples include driving a snow plow for a municipality, working as an insurance adjuster, trucking commodities or using farm shops to provide local repair services. Most of these occupations are part time throughout the year.

But there are a handful of farmers in the community that work full time and farm! In many of these cases, the farmers use up the vacation days that they earn to come home in the spring and the fall, the busiest times of the year, to farm.

I think a better question for winter might be, “What DON’T farmers do?” The phrase “jack-of-all-trades” seems to be the common denominator for all farmers alike. Each one of us has a driving passion for agriculture that keeps us on the farm, even though we may have to diversify our family income.

So next time you see a snow plow, semi-truck, or a local agribusiness logo on a pick-up truck door, realize that there is a good chance that the person behind the wheel also may be a farmer, expanding their skillset into another blue-collar industry.

From the February DeKalb County Farm Bureau’s Connections publication

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