This is tough because there are so many different types of farmers and there are a variety of different jobs that have to get done in the winter and late fall months. Depending on the farmer, they could be busy with any of the following in the “off-season”.

Data Review and Decision-Making
Equipment Maintenance
Risk Assessment
Caring for Your Livestock
Tend Winter Crops
Analyzing the Market
Touching Base with Others

Data Review and Decision-Making

Data is only numbers if you don’t know how to read it. Data must be compared year-over-year and to other operations. In other words, it must have context. To understand your data, you need to benchmark it, and then use it to discover and address problems, inefficiencies, and target areas for improvement.

To make the most of your data, adopt what’s known as the Four Vs of Big Data. These are volume, velocity, variety, and veracity. Using the Four Vs will help ensure your data is accurate and useful.

Volume

It is important to have a large amount of data to compare and identify patterns. For example, knowing the temperature for one day doesn’t tell us much. We need weather data over a long period of time so we can see patterns. As the volume of your data increases, it’s likely to get more complex so being able to sort and filter will be critical. Having yearly weather records can provide you with useful data for nearly every infield decision. For example, having data for average daily temp can help you decide when you’re going to plant, if you need to change seed variety, when to spray and when to apply nitrogen. This will allow you to better predict your growing degree days and schedule other activities accordingly.

Velocity

You could also think of this as timing. For your data to be relevant it needs to be on time. Using aerial imagery, you can provide information such as ground and crop temperatures, crop health, weed pressure, and expected yield. This data isn’t useful if it comes to you a month late. Collecting timely data and delivering and interpreting it is critical to success. Taking a little time each week to look at your data will be more beneficial than looking at it only once a year.

Variety

The variety of data you can collect has increased with the advancement of technology. Previously, if you had a low yield spot, you might not know why. The more data points you have, the more you will be able to see the whole picture. Having data about ground temperature, moisture levels and nutrients in the soil can help you pinpoint what’s causing issues and then address it. You won’t have all the pieces of the puzzle if you don’t have a variety of data.

Veracity

The final V is veracity, also known as the quality of the data. In order to make informed decisions, you must make sure your data is accurate. Your equipment must be calibrated correctly in order to perform this function. Using multiple machines to collect data requires accurate data as well. There is a good chance that the data is not accurate if one machine gives a different reading than the others. The data you get could be filled with anomalies that aren’t explained if your equipment isn’t calibrated. Another reason you need accurate data? Your data is used for benchmarking and seeing patterns. If you’re collecting a lot of inaccurate data that information is not valuable. Lastly, make sure that you aren’t comparing apples with oranges when comparing data. The timing, duration, location, and equipment used for collecting data can cause great variances. When trying to set benchmarks it’s important that you’ve considered potential variables.

Equipment Maintenance

Machine malfunctions can be expensive, so it is imperative to take steps to minimize unnecessary expenses. As with many other industries, farming relies on various types of machinery and equipment to run. The assets need to be maintained properly to remain in working condition. You can keep your farm more efficient by keeping a well-organized, practical and handy maintenance checklist. Here is a quick farming equipment maintenance checklist to follow and refer to often.

1. Inspect Equipment For Potential Damage

  • Leakage from the valve stem
  • Oil or hydraulic leaks on the ground beneath the tractor
  • Corroded battery terminals
  • Dirty cab windows that obstruct your vision
  • Headlights and warning lights

2. Change Fluids Frequently
3. Survey All Equipment, Regardless Of Size
4. Safely Store Equipment And Machinery

Risk Assessment

Farm Safety Risk Assessment – Animal Handling

You can assess potential animal handling risks in many ways:

  • Walk through all animal-handling areas and look for hazards, such as broken gate latches, broken posts, or restraining equipment not working.
  • Consult with WorkSafe Victoria’s advisory service or visit WorkSafe’s farming information page.
  • Reflect on injury records to pinpoint recurring dangers, including less obvious ones like lacerations and sprains.
  • Talk over safety issues with family members, workers and other animal handlers.
  • Make sure at least one person on the farm is trained in first aid.
  • Remember that inexperienced workers and bystanders are more likely to be injured.

Yard Design, Equipment and Safety

General suggestions for improving yard safety include:

  • Yards, crushes, cradles and sheds should be suitable in size and strength for the animals being handled.
  • Avoid blind corners and sharp turns in the design of your yard.
  • Keep the walkways and laneways dry and non-slip wherever possible.
  • Make sure your gates, footholds and access ways are well positioned.
  • Keep all equipment in good repair: gates moving and hung, latches working, hinges greased.

Caring for Your Livestock

Farmers and farm workers can easily be injured by livestock. Cattle, pigs, horses, sheep, dogs and other farm animals can be unpredictable and should be treated with caution at all times. It is possible to injure animals by lifting them or pushing them, and animals may also transmit certain diseases if they are handled in this way. Get help if you need it, plan ahead, and maintain a barrier between yourself and the animals.

Feeding and Nutrition

Diets for all classes of cattle should meet the recommendations of a nutritional consultant. For local recommendations and advice, contact your state agricultural extension as a potential resource. Like other species, cattle are susceptible to infectious diseases, metabolic disorders, toxins, parasites, neoplasia, and injury. In order to reduce risks and maximize efficacy, control programs should be based on risk assessment and available products. By implementing health management programs early, economic losses are reduced. Healthy herds are more productive. Check out some more agricultural and management practices for the care of farm animals.

Tend Winter Crops

Farmers may grow crops throughout the year depending on where they live. Cover crops are also being planted by more farmers these days. There are a variety of root structures in cover crops, and they can also leave nutrients in the soil when they are harvested. Working on soil improvement during the winter is a good choice, and it doesn’t require going outdoors in the cold.

By planting a cover crop in summer or fall and letting it overwinter, you can:

  • Improve soil organic matter and soil fertility.
  • Suppress cool-season weeds.
  • Prevent soil erosion.
  • Create a better seedbed for spring planting.

For farmers in more moderate climates they may have vegetable crops they are growing.

Analyzing the Market

A lot of the winter months are spent looking at market trends, pricing structures, crop demand, current loan packages, insurance policies, etc. The budgets of farmers and ranchers are constantly evolving, just like any other business. It is particularly important for farms to pay attention to details during times of high volatility, like we are experiencing today, and to do so on both the revenue and cost sides. When farmers regularly evaluate their budgets, they can anticipate expected profits and losses and implement risk management strategies if crop damage or revenue decline occurs.

Touching Base with Others

Farmers meet regularly – locally, regionally, nationally – to discuss new technologies, the horizon for politics, new crops, processes for transferring ownership to younger generations, etc. The local co-op is also a great place to grab a cup of coffee and hear a story. Find a local farm.

It doesn’t matter if a farm is one acre, 100 acres or 10,000 acres. Food producers who dedicate their lives to putting food on other tables are not fooled by below-zero temperatures, frost, and blustery winds. For farmers, winter serves as a reminder to tend to the tasks that will help them reach their goals—whether they be social, environmental or economic—in the seasons to come.