By Patricia Grotenhuis, Lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate
Fall is a great time to be on the farm. The smells, the colours and the activity of harvest and preparing the seed bed for the winter make every day different.
After months of work, it is finally time to harvest the crops. The animals born during the winter and spring months are also either ready to be sold, or are strong and hardy for winter. Everyone waits expectantly for that first frost (now past) that signals the end of the growing season and the start of harvest. It also serves as a friendly reminder from Mother Nature to begin readying barns for winter.
While winter is a time of expectation, spring is a time of promise, and summer is a time of anticipation, fall is when everything comes together on the farm, culminating into a time of gratification. Finally, there is a chance for realization of all of those goals formed during winter and spring months.
For many farmers, it is also the time when most of their revenue for the year come in. While young animals and crops are growing, it takes a large amount of time and money to keep them nourished and healthy. However, they do not bring returns until they are sold in the fall.
Farmers have to budget and find ways to delegate profits from one season through an entire year’s worth of expenses. It is a tough juggling act. To help make it slightly more predictable, some farmers sign contracts guaranteeing that they will have a certain amount of something (for example corn) to sell for a set price. Contracts are normally signed while planning for the year, so there is still risk. What a farmer hopes will happen in February while winter is raging and they are making plans for their fields and animals is sometimes very different than what actually happens as spring and summer progress.
No matter how farmers find ways to lower their risk, the fall is a very important time for them. Days can be long, and the work has to be done no matter what is happening. With the weather this year, a frost came overnight, which made the corn ready to harvest sooner than expected. The result was that one Sunday, my husband found himself out on an open tractor in six degree weather with a cold wind blowing and a light rain. It was not the way he planned on spending his day, but it was what had to be done to make sure the cattle had feed for the year.
The Indian summer that followed that cold snap more than made up for it with beautiful weather to complete a number of jobs around the farm and in the fields to prepare for winter. It is a busy time, but in reality, all times on the farm are busy, just in different ways.
Changes in season always bring with them a new list of jobs and a new schedule, but it is always worth it at the end. When the animals are healthy or the crops grow and yield well, it more than makes up for long hours worked.
And an interesting sidebar: If you’re interested in following farmers’ fall progress on twitter, search for the hash tag #harvest11 You might gain a new appreciation of some of the work being done on farms across North America.