February 18, 2015

Seasons of Farming - Winter

What do corn farmers do in the winter? Most people probably have asked or thought this as it's obvious crops are neither planted or harvested in the cold, winter months.

But that doesn't mean farmers aren't doing anything.

First, farmers have to keep their machinery in great shape, so they work on cleaning and repairs, from combines to tractors to semis, farmers try to do as much preventative maintenance as possible to ensure their busy season goes uninterrupted. The more our equipment is repaired during the winter, the less work to be done in the growing season, where finding time for preventative maintenance and repairs is almost impossible.

Hauling grain is next on the list. In years like the last couple with record crops and large volumes to move, crops were stored on-the-farm in bins, bags, and even on large piles on the ground while some grain was hauled to the local elevator. Farmers try to market their grain to their advantage, so that may mean storing as much as they can on-farm and moving it throughout the following winter and summer, and for some growers, even longer than that. Hauling grain can be a real project during the winter months, with cold, snow, and winds wreaking havoc on moving highway semi trucks around on back roads and in and out of bin yards.

It's also a time to keep up with paperwork and business planning. Winter is the time to crunch numbers; determining the profit (or loss) from the previous year, and compiling a budget for next year’s crop to decide which crops to grow and in what amount. Part of this planning is spent on booking and purchasing inputs. Once they have an idea of what crops to grow, many farmers pre-purchase and book the inputs they need, such as seed, fertilizer, and some chemicals.

They also take time for meeting with others in the industry. For many farmers, winter is "Meeting Season". This is typically when agricultural organizations hold their annual meetings. For farmers, meetings are the place to learn new agronomic, marketing and business trends, upcoming and innovative farming techniques, latest equipment, agricultural policy updates, media training and agvocacy messaging, community involvement, and professional development. Especially for organization and farm policy meetings, it's important for farmers to stay engaged to make sure that policies being decided on are good for them and their farm.

One such upcoming meeting that is important to famers from all across the U.S. is the Commodity Classic, Feb 26-28. It is America's largest farmer-led, farmer-focused convention and trade show held this year in Phoenix, AZ.

Many corn farmers also have livestock. Breaking ice out of water tanks, adding straw bedding, feeding hay, transporting to new barns/pastures and the start of calving means 24/7 care which keeps farmers very busy in the winter.

Last but certainly not least on corn farmer's mind in the winter is marketing. For the farm to stay in business, this is the most important job of the winter and ties together the other winter tasks.  The more accurate their budget is, the better they know what price to sell at to achieve a profit. They also need to know what their cash flow needs are to ensure they can sell grain at the right times to get the bills paid. Furthermore, they have to be able to actually get the grain moved to get their contracts filled, so keeping an eye on trucking capabilities is vital as well. Finally, after all these needs are met, they try to sell grain at the right times to capture a good price.

As you can see, winter is definitely not a "slow" time of the year for farmers!

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