What Do Farmers Do All Winter, Anyway?

Everyone knows that farmers work hard during the growing season. They normally spend daylight hours in the field, and late nights in the shop or in front of a laptop. Predictably, all that high profile summertime work can lead non-famers to make some general assumptions about farmers and their work schedules. Some are based on truth while others are not. Here’s a short guide to the myths and reality of what farmers in North Dakota do when the weather turns cold.

Myth or reality? Farmers spend winters on vacation.

Myth: Farmers are just like everybody else in the winter. They may get away to the tropics or spend a long weekend snowmobiling. They take their families to theme parks and sporting events. However, farmers do not spend the entire winter in the Bahamas or in an ice house. There is simply too much to do on the farm – even in the winter.

Myth or reality? Farmers don’t have a set schedule.

Reality: This is true. A farmer can set his or her own schedule. Unfortunately, that schedule often revolves around the weather. A farmer’s team has to work when the weather is fair because there may not be a chance if the weather turns ugly. For example, in a perfect autumn there would be time for tailgating, but oftentimes Saturdays are spent on the seat of a combine.

Myth or reality? The busy season starts with planting.

Myth: Farmers start working on spring planting almost immediately after the fall harvest is complete. They spend time selling the crops they just harvested, of course, but at the same time they begin meeting with their ag banker to strategize for the upcoming year. “A retail business doesn’t close for a month after their fiscal year ends, and neither does a farm,” says Matt Beneda, ag banker at First United Bank in Park River, North Dakota. “We start looking for a way to ensure that next year is better than the last.”

Myth or reality? Farmers are their own boss.

Reality: A farmer’s spouse may beg to differ, but for the most part a career in agriculture puts you in charge of your own destiny. In fact, that flexibility is one of the main reasons people choose farming as a vocation. Perhaps it is the pioneer spirit of those who choose a challenging career. 

Myth or reality? Nothing happens on a farm in the winter.

Myth: A visit to a farm will disprove this misconception very quickly. “Farmers spend summers working in the business,” says First United Bank’s Beneda. “They spend winters working on their business.” Not only do farmers manage their resources during the colder months, they use that time to maintain their equipment and educate themselves on new technology and techniques.

Myth or reality? Farmers spend winters tinkering.

Reality: No farmer can afford to pay a mechanic to fix and maintain all of their equipment and gear. It would cost too much or take too long – or both. They count on the local dealership for help with big issues, but generally handle small problems and maintenance themselves. That way, when a seeder has minor trouble at 11 p.m. during planting, the farmer can make the repair – or at least make an adjustment – without shutting down the entire operation.

Myth or reality? Farmers only work half the year.

Myth: Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only do farmers need to organize their finances, they need to re-evaluate their insurance, assess and purchase new equipment, plan out their crop rotation, review the books and pay taxes (almost a full time job in and of itself), order seed and much, much more. 

In many ways, a farm is like any other business. It does different work at different times, but it always stays busy. On the other hand, there are many ways in which a farm is different. All of a farmer’s rewards are not from the sale of crops, for example. A farmer is rewarded with the sight of a brilliant spring sunrise in the crisp April air, the smell of new growth as the summer soil yields plants for the first time, the deep rumble of a heavy truck during harvest, and the peaceful stillness of a midwestern January afternoon. 

What do farmers do all winter? They work, they play and they appreciate a job unlike any other in the world. What do you do?

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