“You must be looking forward to your winter off?” or, “What else do you have to do all winter?” I hear these questions frequently. While it’s true that crop farmers don’t have nearly the amount field work that we do in the growing season, all farmers still have a lot of work to do in the winter. My whole life I have been raised to know that there is always something else to be done on the farm, regardless of the time of year. I don’t want to be “just” a farmer – I want to be the best farmer possible.

There are some key tasks that need to be done around the farm:

  • We maintenance all of the equipment so there are fewer breakdowns and the season runs as smoothly as possible.
  • We store a large portion of our grain, all of which needs to be sold and transported to market.
  • Plus, the inputs (seed, fertilizer, etc.) for the coming crop year are bought before we head to the field.

    Michigan sustainable farming

    Field maps show management zones we use to treat areas of fields differently (number of plants per acres, fertilizer rate) to be more precise

  • I also watch the markets closely and sell some of the coming crop before we even go to the field.

Francis Beck said, “Whatever you measure tends to improve.” The winter provides a chance to reflect on the past year and look forward to the coming year. Being the best farmer possible requires defining what a farmer means. To me it means being a continuously improving steward to the crops and to the soil. Continuous improvement means constant learning. I attend conferences to learn about new products and methods to produce better food. The winter is a time to analyze the data of past field trials, decide what to try for the coming year, and implement farm-wide practices (such as adding a cover crop to the rotation, or changing a tillage practice).

I’ll finish by saying that the farm may not be the beehive of activity in the winter that it will be in just a few months, but the time spent in the winter months is far from wasted.

Mike Milligan is committed to using evaluating sustainability on his family’s farm by using technology and stewardship practices.

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