Farmers say they remain busy in winter
LEMARS, Iowa (AP) — While Plymouth County farms may look empty and still without crops growing in the fields, farmers say their winter schedules are bustling with activity.
Dan Albert said he hears people joke about the meaning of the label “four-by-four,” which is often printed on the sides of some farmers’ pickup trucks.
Four-by-four refers to four-wheel drive, Albert said.
Sometimes the public projects another meaning onto the label.
“When farmers drive them, that means to the public you work four weeks in the spring and four weeks in the fall,” he said. “So we get harassed about that a lot.”
Albert, a farmer himself and past president of the Plymouth County Farm Bureau said being a farmer is a full-time job, contrary to the four-by-four stereotype.
“You can always find something to do on a farm if you look hard enough,” he told the LeMars Daily Sentinel.
Albert and his cousin currently farm grain during the growing season, and haul grain and machinery for people during the winter.
“I have to have a sideline business,” Albert said. “A lot of people do.”
Albert said he started harvesting his crop the last week of September and completed combining his fields by mid-November.
He said farming has its own seasonality.
Each month brings a new task that must be completed every year to run a farm smoothly, Albert said.
After harvest, farmers often focus on bookkeeping and preparing their tax forms for the year.
“You need to get all your bookwork done, and then have a pre-tax appointment so you can know where you are on taxes,” Albert said. “Farmers can buy ahead for their inputs next year and take it off this year’s income tax.”
Submitting tax forms involves crop planning for the next year, he added.
That involves going to dealers and buying supplies ahead of time.
If there is a time where things slow down for grain farmers, it is January.
“Yes, there are slower times,” Albert said. “And that’s when you do everything else.”
For instance, in January, farmers are in the full swing of pricing the next year’s crop, he said.
A report from the previous year’s grain marketing cycle is released that month, and farmers use it to price next year’s crop.
“It’s a big gamble how you price things,” Albert said.
January is also when farmers start hauling grain out of bins, he said.
They often sell corn and soybeans to merchandisers and ethanol plants.
Farmers who have heated shops also perform maintenance on their equipment for the upcoming spring planting season.
“We seem to stay busy,” Albert said.
He said during his free time he cares for and rides horses.
“My downtime isn’t spent sitting around,” Albert said.
Livestock farmers also work during the winter months.
They operate on a different seasonal cycle compared to crop farmers, said Craig Anderson.
Anderson runs a cattle feedlot for beef cows near Merrill.
He said raising cattle is a job that operates all year.
Anderson’s farm receives feeder cattle from out West during harvest.
“Montana, Wyoming and western South Dakota,” he said. “That’s the same time of year the ranchers wean the calves of the cows, and they send the calves off to a feedlot.”
In the winter, Anderson’s farm holds about 2,500 cattle, and in the summer, 1,500.
“We’re never empty,” Anderson said.
Through the winter, Anderson and his staff feed the cattle and inspect the pens twice a day to check for sick livestock.
They transport cattle feed from the farm’s elevator to feeding bins, distributing corn among bins to make sure the cows have enough to eat.
They also install salt blocks and check cattle water tanks to see they are not frozen.
“From a farming standpoint, our feedlot keeps us busy all winter,” he said.
Anderson also grows corn on his farm, which he uses as feed.
He bales some of his corn stalks, which can also be used for cattle feed.
Anderson sells off much of the cattle during April, May and June.
“The goal in cattle raising is to get them from the farm to your plate in one year since they were born,” he said.
He said his least busy time of the year is not the winter, but August before harvest.
In September, new cattle start coming in, and the busy winter season will begin again.