One of the common misconceptions with row crop farming is that we tend to take the winters off and basically sit around doing nothing. I would say a decade or two ago if you were purely a grain farmer, there was a lot more time off than now, however, most farms twenty years ago had a livestock presence also. It seems we finish harvest, start fall fieldwork, ground freezes, and you tackle the continual pile of bookwork and planning for the next year along with working on equipment for the next few months so it performs with minimal breakdowns.
We used to have a cow/calf herd on this farm and I will tell you that when it is snowing and blowing I do not miss the cows a bit, but many in our area who farm also tend to a livestock herd year round. I can tell you that if you have livestock, there is no downtime on the farm. I remember calving out heifers (Cows who are having their first calf) and waking every two to four hours for two months to check on them in cold weather. I also remember rolling bales in blizzards to try to keep them warm and give them a dry place to herd along with some energy from the feedstock. Carrying a half frozen calf through snow while the cow head butts you in the rear because you took the calf. Having a cow jump in the back of a pickup because you are tagging her calf. The days of raising livestock on a larger scale are not something we intend to do again, but we will have a small herd again someday to teach my children the responsibility of caring for food animals and understanding the purpose they serve.
Another thing that has changed over the years for our farm is that there is a tremendous amount of management and bookwork that goes into a farming operation. We have become more like a full fledged business. We have moved from written accounting ledgers, to quicken, to quickbooks, and now to managerial accounting which allows us to analyze data from a cash or accrual basis on individual field levels. We have changed from, well I think i will plant this because of rotation or preference to hard financial analysis of what crop will provide the best return while also properly nurturing the soil that is the living organism that our farm depends on each and every day to make our living. We spend days in the winter analyzing yield data, soils maps, soil fertility tests, and hybrid data to pull all of these things together and go to the field in March or April with a plan that rests on hopes of a good weather year.
You all know the sayings about farmers. “Three and three, three weeks in the spring and three weeks in the fall”, Keep the hat rolled so it will fit in the mailbox”, etc, etc. Agriculture has become a full time, highly management focused business. It has adapted and changed to meet ever increasing needs both domestically and globally while maintaining the “Family Farm”.
Do we slow down a little in the winter compared to the growing season, yes, but do accountants slow down other than year end and the tax season early in the year? Yes, they do. Is winter “downtime” on our farm? I would say, no. Is winter downtime when raising livestock on a farm? I would definitely say NO!