Some people think that the only busy times of the year are planting and harvest and the rest of the year farmers spend their glorious amounts of free time vacationing or tinkering with antique tractors. This may be true for some, but not the majority. Today is the tenth post in my one-year series which will give you an idea of a farmer’s workload throughout the year. Keep in mind that all farms operate differently and I am just providing one example of a year in the life of a grain farmer. There are several factors that contribute to the seasonality of the farm such as size and scale of the operation, crops grown, location, livestock, management style and general upbringing or personal work ethic! I hope this provides some insight to what versatile businessman farmers are.
Start at the beginning!
Harvest is in full swing! If you’re married to a farmer (like me), or have many farmer friends, you KNOW you won’t be seeing much of him or her this time of year. Even once they’re done cutting corn or beans, farmers are still up early and out late this month.
This year’s crop:
- Harvest: Combines are rolling through the fields with auger wagons following closely alongside. Grain trucks, grain carts, and semis are bumping down gravel roads. Wives, kids, or a spare hired man is following in the pick-up truck to help move equipment from field to field. Farmers are constantly moving during harvest. They don’t want the grain to get too dry before hauling it to the elevator, and they certainly don’t want a bad wind knocking a stand of corn down before they can get to it. Farmers have been investing blood, sweat, tears, and MONEY in this crop for the last 11 months and it’s time to cash in on the literal “fruits of their labor”.
- Money in the bank: September and October are busy grain marketing months. As the trucks roll across the scales at the elevator a farmer may choose to sell it immediately rather than storing it there. As you’ve learned in past posts, elevators charge a small fee to store grain in their facility. You can think of it as paying rent. A downside to selling it immediately, though, is that since there’s such an abundance of it available, the price the farmer is getting is typically lower in the fall. (Sometimes a farmer just needs some cash, though, or has sold it ahead for a better price).
- Manage Break-Downs: As mentioned last month, with all those moving parts there are bound to be breakdowns during harvest. Be it with combine, tractor, flat tire on a grain cart, an overheating truck, a jammed up grain auger or a miscalibrated dryer, breakdowns happen and then need to be dealt with in an efficient manner.
Next year’s crop:
- Looking ahead: With “this year’s crop” being hauled away, it’s time to implement next year’s game plan.
- Some farmers do fall tillage by working up the ground to break up plant matter and prepare the seed bed for next year’s crop, while others follow the “best management practice” of reduced-till, which leaves the ground intact, preventing soil erosion and compaction.
- Regardless of tillage decision, most farmers apply fertilizer and other dry products such as phosphorous and potassium (commonly referred to as P&K) and lime may be applied to fields. Some farmers may also apply liquid nitrogen in the fall, but The 4Rs of nitrogen management, per the The Fertilizer Institute’s 4R Nutrient Stewardship Program, recommends applying nitrogen as the crops need it:“By postponing a portion of the N treatment until the crop is better able to utilize the nutrient, plants take up the nitrogen more quickly and efficiently. That means growers get more from their fertilizer investment and fertilizer losses that can contribute to environmental concerns are lessened.”
- If farmers are using over-wintering cover crops such as cereal rye, it may be applied post-harvest, depending on what is being planted.
- Finally, this is the time of year winter wheat is planted in order to harvest the following summer.
Enjoy this beautiful season and be thankful for all that is sown, Happy Harvest!