While it may seem like winter farmland is lying fallow, there is never any ‘resting’ in farming.
As winter settles into the country, many wonder what is going on with farmland and the farmers who own the land. Is everything done until next year’s planting time? Are both the farmer and the winter farmland alike resting and whiling away the free hours? Are some making a beeline for vacation and tropical shores during the winter months? Ask any farmer if he or she spends all winter resting and you’ll get a big laugh. Read on to find all the ways that farmers—and winter farmland—are busy during the colder months.
The Work of Winter Farmland
Winter farmland is doing anything but taking a break. Many farmers choose to plant a cover crop, which is any crop that is grown to amend the soil rather than to be sold for a profit. Depending upon where in the country the farmland is located, the cover crop grows right before or during the winter months so it can put all its nutrients back into the soil, according to a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) publication on cover crops.
During the winter months, a cover crop is either growing or degrading, working towards amending the soil so that it will produce better crops once the growing season approaches in the spring.
A cover crop will keep nutrients from leaching out of the soil, can release nutrients that are stored in unusable forms, and help the soil itself from being lost to erosion. Then, the cover crop is tilled under the ground or left as is to put all those nutrients back in the soil for the cash crop to use the following spring and summer.
Letting winter farmland have a rest from growing cash crops is common in regions where multiple plantings can be achieved. Generally, resting winter farmland is part of crop rotation techniques, and a cover crop is often used to replenish the nutrients in the soil.
However, some farmers let their winter farmland rest beyond just a season. Some let their fields lay fallow anywhere from a year to five years. Cover crops or natural grasses and weeds grow on the land, replenishing the nutrients in the soil. Similarly, those with livestock may use this field as a forage field while it is fallow, having the animals add to the nutrients delivered to the soil.
Farmers’ Winter Work
Farmers may not be in the field on the tractor during the winter, but they’re still busy. Farmers spend the winter months on any number of tasks. Winter months are a good time to get business paperwork in order and ready for tax time. The compiling of facts and figures with this task also means planning for the coming year. Farmers also use this time to repair broken tools or machinery and do maintenance on all the rest.
Lastly, farmers attend a lot of events in the “off season.” From local grower co-op and Farm Bureau meetings to state or regional expos and trade shows, the winter months are a time for farmers in the same ag sector to come together, ‘share notes’ and make important decisions. AgAmerica will be in attendance, too.