Farming from my office during winter
Once snowfall begins in Illinois you won’t see me in the fields, but you won’t see me lounging around, either. During the warm months, I spend a lot of time in the field planting, nourishing, protecting and harvesting crops. Once that work is done, I need to focus on the other part of farming – the part that happens with a pencil, paper and calculator.
As I review and wrap up one “growing year,” I end up with a lot of information that I can use to strategically plan the next one. The planning of “what, where, when and how” part of my job all happens during the winter months when my fields are resting under the snow.
A Year in Review
Before I begin planning for next year, I always take a good look at what happened this year. Asking questions like these gives me a good snapshot of the year so I can decide what to keep the same and what to do differently next year.
- What crops grew well?
- What pest or disease caused the most trouble this year?
- What happened to market prices for different crops?
- What impact did fertilizer applications have?
- Did individual fields have specific challenges?
First I decide what crops to grow based on my farm’s crop rotation, market prices, and data. Data is collected by computers in our tractors and combines that track yield (i.e. what crops grew well), topography (specific field challenges), and soil health.
Once I decide what to grow, I consider all of my other inputs and what impact they would have on my crops and my bottom line. Fertilizer and crop protectants (pesticides) both cost me money, so I am very careful about how much and when I plan to use those in my fields.
Farmers are price takers, not price setters, so watching and predicting market prices is a skill every farmer needs to have. We do have some control over our input costs as I discussed earlier, but predicting our income in a given year is a bit more challenging.
Equipment and the materials needed to farm are expensive and many farmers take out a bank loan. We have to show the bank that we’re continuing to make money so they feel comfortable continue to loan us the funds we need to run our business and grow and raise safe food.
Farming is a balancing act, and some years are more successful than others. At the end of the day, I farm because I love it, not because it’s easy or makes me a lot of money. I’m a steward of the land, but I’m also responsible for my balance sheet and need to keep myself in a position to continue doing this work that I love.