Driving home from Rock Island, last weekend, I couldn’t help but think of my experiences visiting Illinois family farms last year. As is normally the case in the winter, the fields seemed empty. It was hard to believe that just a few months ago, all you could see were rows and rows of full corn and soybean fields. As if she knew what I was thinking, Lulu commented how lonely everything seemed when you get out of the “Chicagoland” area and into the more rural counties.
If you just look at the fields, it’s as if all of a farmer’s work ends once the crop is brought in and the harvest is over. But, as I learned during my experiences with the IL Farm Families initiative, winter is hardly a time to rest.
It’s not surprising that farmers are often asked: “What do you do in the winter?” Looking at the fields it would appear that farmers might sit in the house and watch television all day. So, what’s a farmer to do when he or she can’t be in the fields or tending to crops during the cold winter months?
One word: Planning
After hauling the previous year’s crop from the grain bin and selling it at the elevator, where crops may be converted to other products or exported overseas, Illinois farmers concentrate on completing end of the year documentation and begin planning for the next year. Some may consider the winter to be considered “down time,” and yes, many families take a break from the daily grind to spend time together.
Winter is also the opportunity to attend agricultural trade shows, conferences and collaborate with other local farmers to exchange best practice learning or learn about the latest technology and equipment. It is the time that farmers plan their strategy for next year’s successful planting season. During the winter months, a smart farmer is studying the stocks and commodities markets for projected trends as well as learning about the newest seeds on the market for the coming year. While I am studying the Burpee’s catalogue to decide which hybrid tomato plan will thrive in my garden next summer, Farmers are also exploring their options–only on a much grander scale.
Finally, through out the year, farmers invest thousands of dollars in their equipment. So it makes sense that, over the winter, most farmers are concentrating on repairing and maintaining their machinery to make sure its ready for the following year.
After a long growing season, farm equipment needs the same type of maintenance that many vehicles do, just on a larger scale. A large part of the annual maintenance schedule is actually preventative. Farmers examine every piece of farm equipment to make sure that it is working as designed. Many start outside the shop door, by blowing the dust and crop debris off of the machine with an air hose. Next, large equipment, like tractors, are examined and routine maintenance, like oil changes, are conducted.
So the next time, I drive by a barren field in the winter, I’ll remember that there is a good chance one or two family members are working on his equipment, exploring seed catalogues, placing orders for new tools or attending education seminars and conferences. The one activity he or she is not doing: resting. There’s jut no time to stand idly by when there is so much work to do.