Friday, January 8, 2016

Farmers Don't Work In The Winter, Right??

What do farmers DO all winter?? I mean, in southwest Minnesota, we aren't exactly well suited to any kind of double cropping or anything...I don't think anyone is pulling any tractors out of the shed to head out to the field! (Disclaimer...this post is just about OUR farm. And it definitely does NOT include farmers who have livestock. Farms with livestock are 24/7/365. There is no reprieve for them! And they MAY be pulling tractors out of the shed for spreading manure or feeding animals.)

Out our front door this week. Not looking like a field work day!
So this time of year is all fun and games for the farmer and other in the same situation, right? Um, no. Granted, we relish this time of year to have dad back to play, eat supper together and for bed times at night. But that doesn't mean the guy isn't still doing work...and I argue some of the most important work of the year. Even though it's not field work/manual labor.

Most days you will find Bryan out in his "office" in the garage. There are hours upon hours going over maps. For example, soil sampling and our GPS technology allows us to capture huge amount of information about our fields. Technology is truly an awesome thing. Yield results from last year and many measure of our soil can be captured and mapped to use for the next planting year. We can measure things like N (nitrogen), K (potassium), and organic matter...just to name a few. It's extremely valuable information and allows us to do a better and more efficient job of applying fertilizers and making hybrid/variety choices for seed. 

The "office"

Example of one field map that shows organic matter in our soil

There is a plethora of decisions that are made over the winter. Hours and hours going over seed plot results and consulting with seed dealers on which corn and beans to order and where to place them. And which combination will give us the greatest potential for maximum yields while not breaking the bank either. Along with seed, there is a chemical program to research and price out. Lots of end of year book work and tax consulting to be done to figure out where we sit with income and expenses for the year. Bryan keeps tabs all year long on fuel, but revisits the situation during the winter also if he hasn't already filled the barrels. Thinking about any machinery changes or tweaks for next spring. Hauling grain if need be too.

Some of the variables that have to be considered and decided upon

This work is all so important as it gives us the chance to estimate a break even cost/acre for our crop. Another ongoing job with farming is the constant monitoring of the markets to take advantage of good opportunities to sell our corn and beans. And to know if we are making a good sale or not, you have to first know your cost of production. We are, after all, a business. And being profitable is part of being a successful business. These decisions have always been crucial, and we don't use much different criteria than we always have of the "get the biggest return on our investment with the least inputs possible." We have always operated by that, but these decisions and planning carry a little more weight and importance when corn is now $3/bushel versus the $5-7/bushel it has been in years past. Every decision has an impact on our bottom line.

And I must say all these decisions take a lot of time to comb through all the information, but we are lucky enough to not do this alone. Every farmer has a "team" whether they realize it or not...and having a good team can make ones job a lot easier and allows a farmer to do a better job! Our "team" consists of our crop consultants, financial consultants, tax consultants, seed dealers, chemical dealers, equipment salesmen, the guys at the coop, the guys at the elevator, people we deal with at the bank, our landlords, people who help in the field, the guys who deliver the fuel, the people who wash clothes, solely care for children when times are busy, and cook meals, and most importantly, other farmers! They are probably some our best resources! There are many others who help us run a successful business too. A farmer never does their job alone!

On top of all this, moving snow at two places (which is a lot of time if we have a real Minnesota winter!) and all the honey do items that have collected over the previous 7-8 months. He doesn't seem to lack for things to do. I enjoy winter as the time being able to restore that work/life balance for these few months. So much I greatly insisted on vacation this winter. We didn't get to do vacation as a family last summer due to starting the cover crop custom application business, and next summer doesn't look any more promising! So California here we come....even if it's short, it's time away as a family of 5 that we've never really had. We're all super excited and Aubrey is just positive she will see sharks and hump back whales in the ocean (which they have never seen before - so I'm looking forward to seeing their reactions to the ocean and beach!)

So while this time of year is definitely more relaxed - not the harvest/planting/spraying type of busy - never think for a minute that there isn't always something farm related going on or to be done!

No comments:

Post a Comment