The field work is done and the crops are hopefully sold, or being consumed by livestock, but the farmers are not sitting idle. There are, of course, the farmers that have daily operations and livestock who continue to milk, feed and care for animals year round. But for the crop farmers, winter is time to strategize and plan for spring.
Winter is when fertilizer deals are the best, so if you did your soil test last fall, you are ready to wrangle with one or both of the area fertilizer salesmen. The results of your soil test will determine the best mix for which fields, what crops, and pounds/tons per acre. Farmers order fertilizer in one-ton bags or in bulk if they are set up to handle large quantities. For tobacco it is more common to see pallets of 80-pound bags to be used in drop setters. Farmers try to limit bags that need to be handled by men because it is so labor intensive.
Crop rotation needs to be thought through and acres of each product needed. Tobacco likes land that corn was grown on last year. Veggies like new fields, and there are those acres that just need resting every few years. Planting a grain crop on a resting field can help enrich the soils by plowing the waste back into the soil.
Farmers who do not own land or don’t own enough land for all their crops are out renewing leases this time of the year. The cost of rental land varies by the quality of the soils. Tobacco sheds are also leased out for the summer harvest. You need to get started early lining up land and sheds because there are many famers after the best available.
Then there are those dreaded repairs that you put off from last summer. That fence and half-rotted fence post you patched up last August needs to be fixed right. The tobacco rack that busted a center plank needs attention. And let us not forget the tire on the hay wagon that we filled with Slimme (leak plugging gel) that now has green goop bubbling around the valve stem. On farming operations it is not uncommon to have 200 or more tires to keep inflated at all times. Tractors and implements come and go in and out of shops, and everyone is out looking for parts. Some parts are easy to locate at a dealership but when you need a clutch for a 1947 Farmall H, life gets a bit more difficult. Yes, there are still lots of 1940s tractors used on local farms.
One farm in town has made a huge stride in their dairy operation. They are now milking many of their cows with robots. That story will be in a future issue.