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Do farmers have the winter off?

I had someone tell me the other day "it must be nice to be a farmer and have all that time off in the winter." Wow, that's sort of a sad impression but I guess not unexpected if one doesn't have anything growing in the fields and doesn't have livestock then we must sit around eating bon-bons right? I wish!

Once the equipment has been cleaned up and put away, we dive into the long neglected piles of paperwork that we didn't have time for during the growing season. While the winter is a bit "slower" as in we may actually sit down as a family in the evening and eat dinner together, I would say that we are finally able to keep "bankers hours" like a lot of people working "9-5" so to speak. We can do a regular 8 hour day, instead of a 12 or 14 hour day.

So what's going on on the farm right now?

1. Crop Insurance: compiling the paperwork and all the years of records that the insurance adjuster needs to verify our claim on wheat, corn, and grapes. Yes, we have claims in all 3 crops this year. Which is better than last year, when we had claims in 5 crops. Crop insurance requires demonstration of all your harvest records, amounts planted vs amounts harvested... for 4 years so they can determine your "average" to calculate your "loss".

2. Field records: particularly here in Maryland where nitrogen and phosphorus are regulated nutrients, all your applications must comply with your mandatory nutrient management plan so we dot our "i's" and cross our "t's" when it comes to filing our annual implementation report. Also, we are analyzing our field data to show what areas of various fields were productive, what areas were under-productive and what can we do in the coming season to improve our farming operation. Farmers do a pretty indepth "self-analysis" of how the year went and what they can improve upon it each and every year. We look at what we did to that field, from how we prepared the seed bed and what type if any conservation tillage we performed, to how many seeds we planted per acre, to what type and amount of fertilizer that field received, to the yield data where we try to connect what we did to the performance of the crop.

3. Bookwork: especially this year with the "fiscal cliff" we are trying to plan our family business so as to protect ourselves from the whims of the government and the policy makers who don't understand farming to begin with. Yes, I know that's a jab, but frankly, its the truth. Secretary Vilsack said in an interview recently on AgDay that the rural population is being marginalized. This is so true. We don't have the population base to influence policy makers or the votes. We have little representation in government particularly at the state and federal level who "get" rural America. So this bookwork I speak of is to plan our finances as best we can so that we can continue to farm inspite of the policymakers and government officials.

4. Volunteer service/ meetings: Here is a list of the agricultural organizations that my husband and I serve as volunteer board of directors: Maryland Soybean Board, National Association of Conservation Districts, Maryland Association of Soil Conservation Districts, Queen Anne's County Soil Conservation District, Maryland Farm Bureau Specialty Crops Committee, Queen Anne's County Farm Bureau, Chesapeake Fields Farmers Cooperative, Maryland Grape Growers Association, U.S.Wheat Foods Council, Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board, and Queen Anne's County Right to Farm Committee, and the Governor's Commission on WineGrape Industry. Between December 1 and mid-March, we have multi-day board meetings or annual meetings to discuss the business of these organizations.  This list doesn't even touch upon the community groups we are involved with or the groups who ask us to come be a speaker at one of their meetings because they want to hear from a farmer. Service to others is a core value for us.

5. Professional Development: yes, we farmers do pursue continuing education to further our knowledge about our businesses. As a dietitian, I'm required to get a certain number of credits in order to maintain my credentials. While farmers don't have a required nubmer of credits, we typically attend several  courses or conferences to keep up with what's new in agriculture.  My annual training has been to  attend the Executive Women in Agriculture conference in Chicago where I get to learn with other farm women how to improve our family businesses. We try to find areas of learning that we would like to improve on such as no-till farming techniques or our knowledge of computer software that helps us be more technologically advanced on our farm. We are intentional about continuing to learn so that we are practicing continuous quality improvement on our farm.

6. Vineyard pruning: winegrapes get dormant pruned in the winter so we are actually in the field pruning our grapevines which prepares them for the next season's crop. Our goal is to have all the vines we have and those we are hired to prune, done by the end of March. This level of diversification helps us keep our employees working through the winter as well.

So in fact, we have very little slow time on the farm during the winter to eat bon-bons...

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