Early Production Planning: What Are Farmers Doing in the Winter?


What a corn field looks like after harvest. You can see there are some stalks still standing in the distance, but the land in the foreground is what you’ll probably see on this plot for the rest of the winter.

By Troy

I hope you guys enjoyed learning about some of the ways you can earn scholarship money to start your career in ag. Though we spent a couple of posts going through info that isn’t directly related to your plots, that doesn’t mean we haven’t been doing much here at the Learning Center. The same goes for farmers. While it’s cold outside across much of the U.S., farmers are working hard to prep and plan for the season ahead.

In the Midwest, the corn growing season starts in roughly 8-10 weeks (depending on the weather). With technologies changing or updating every year, a lot of farmers spend the winters going to educational conferences and learning about (or investing in) what’s new in the world of agronomic technology. It’s also an opportunity for farmers to connect with other farmers and talk about methods, the market, and plans for the year ahead.

Many farmers are likely browsing seed catalogs or talking to seed dealers to decide what seeds they want to plant this season. In corn, there are a lot of choices out there: conventional, biotech, and organic; and there are a number of different brands, companies, hybrids, and more from which to choose. It’s a lot to wade through, and farmers want to make sure they make the best decision for the outputs they want.

Another season that is fast approaching is tax season. Farmers are nearly always in business for themselves, so like any business owner, they need to figure out their profits, deductions, and what they owe in taxes for the previous year. (Career alert: accounting in ag!) With some farmers working with large-scale farming operations – more than 1,000 acres, several crops, thousands of dollars of inputs and outputs, insurance, rent, and more – their taxes might make the taxes from your summer job seem tiny!

Of course, we can’t forget the work that happens on the farm. To start, equipment and machinery need quite a bit of TLC after a long season of use. Just like a car needs regular maintenance to ensure it runs well, so does all of the equipment on a farm. A lot of these repairs and regular maintenance can be done by the farmer, but some work might need to be outsourced to mechanics. (Career alert: farm equipment mechanics!) Getting a head start on equipment maintenance is smart because a part might need to be ordered, or a mechanic’s schedule might be booked.

Farmers’ plots need a bit of work, too. Over the winter, it’s likely you’ll see a lot of dead stalks, dried-up leaves, and pieces of husks littering corn fields. In the past, to prep the field for planting, most of this plant material was tilled away. Tillage breaks up and clears away the weeds, insects, and plant diseases that have built a habitat on the plot.

However, the dead plant material, called detritus, has been found to be beneficial for subsequent crops. The detritus contributes to the organic matter in the soil, providing nutritional benefits for future generations of plants grown there. Plant detritus also helps build more soil content as the plants break down. Ever importantly, allowing the dead plant matter to stay in the field helps the soil to stay put – it is less likely to erode in wet conditions or be blown away by wind pressure.

Somewhat recently, more and more farmers are using no-till or strip-till methods on their plots. These are methods that, just like with any decision a farmer makes, have risks and benefits associated with them, but with the development of effective, targeted pesticides, extensive tillage has less of a place in modern ag. We talked about no-till and strip-till in this post last year, but this is a topic we’ll explore more in depth in the next post.


Troy is formerly a high school Agriculture teacher and FFA advisor who is passionate about teaching Agronomics, Ag Science, and Plant Biology. Now the manager of the Monmouth Learning Center, Troy has led the Fantasy Farming Challenge for the past three years, helping hundreds of high school students to understand the choices farmers make against the challenges of weather, disease, weed management, and insect pressure.

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