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One of the funniest jokes we ever heard was intended to be serious. After the harvest one year, someone asked what we would do now that “the farming was done.” As most of us know, even when we’re not planting or harvesting, there’s still plenty for grain farmers to do. Winter is when you analyze data, take a look at the budget, see what crops worked this year and decide if you want to make changes for the next growing season. While work still needs to be done, that doesn’t mean it can’t be made easier. Multiple old and new practices can make winter farm planning and chores less of a pain than in times past.

Where does the soil stand?

Were you disappointed with this year’s crop? Before making a switch, let’s look at the soil. With some adjustments to soil nutrients or pH, the same material that struggled this season could succeed the next. You can raise the pH, for example, by adding lime and lower it by adding sulfur. The question is how can you tell?

Some farmers use a method that dates back to pre-1700 Europe. In those days, farmers would taste their soil to get answers. If the soil was acidic, it would have a tart taste, while mild soils were bland, and fertile ground had an almost sweet taste.

How Do You Test Soil Today?

Then there’s the method recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If you have areas with different crop growth or soil color on your farm, divide your property into segments and take a soil sample from each. Now it’s worth mentioning, as the University of Florida does here, that you need to steer clear of sampling some spots. If you have burn piles, sand boils or any other “problem areas” on your farm, don’t collect samples from them, as each can be tainted.

The USDA advises using a sampling tube and taking a 6-inch-deep soil sample from all the segments you created. Label the samples, so you know which one came from which area. Then drop them off at your local Cooperative Extension office. It isn’t done for free though. The Extension will charge between $7 and $10 per sample to do the testing, but the information is invaluable for winter farm planning.

Do you have a drainage problem?

The 2019 season was wetter than normal, with early flooding and a rain-filled summer creating problems for farmers. Some of those problems stretched beyond the harvest, making landowners wonder if they now have drainage issues. Winter farm planning is the time to think about solutions. The good news is that the USDA has a test for this type of situation.

In 2019, farmers have had to deal with wet grain at all stages of the growth cycle from planting to harvesting to storing. GrainTrac remote bin monitoring and fan control can help preserve stored grain quality.

How Do You Solve a Drainage Problem?

First, dig a 12-by-12-inch hole and fill it with water. You have good drainage if water drains from the hole in an hour. Your drainage is adequate if it takes several hours or up to a day to drain. But, if water stands in the hole for more than a day, the ground is oversaturated and requires action. What do you do?

“Drainage can be improved by installing a French drain or perforated pipe, redirecting the flow of water or breaking up compacted soil,” the report from the Department of Agriculture says. A French drain is a trench that you fill with gravel or rock, redirecting surface water and groundwater alike away from your field.

With the perforated pipe option, you also dig a trench. But this time you include a pipe to guarantee the direction of the water flow. Finally, you can break up compacted soil by tilling it lightly. As for which method to choose, that depends on site conditions and available resources.

Where do you plant?

So, you’ve checked soil acidity and examined your drainage conditions. Now it’s time to use that information in your winter farm planning and determine where to plant. Just like farm equipment, you must let a field rest for a season. This goes back to a practice the Romans called “food, feed, and fallow.” Farmers split their property into three sections, planting corn and wheat in one, barley or livestock feed in a second and leaving the third empty.

The idea is one that can still help farmers today. By leaving that third spot empty, it restored nutrients in the soil. They rotated these three sections each year, giving all portions of the farm time to rest in turn. It’s an idea that can help both your farm and your wallet. In the 1950s, farmers made the switch from rotating fields to using fertilizers, weed killers and pesticides to increase production. At a time when farm expenses are rising, going back to rotations can help you save money.

How Do You Set up Your Planting Chart?

When it comes time to split the property into sections, the farmer has to decide how big or small each one is. It depends on the yields you’re planning for in the upcoming season. As this planting chart shows, an acre of ground is 43,560 square feet and currently, the national average is 40 bushels per acre. The record meanwhile stands at 160 bushels per acre, set in Missouri in 2010. If you expect big yields in 2020, it’s worth it to get a quote for monitoring your stored grain.

Do you have adequate grain storage?

Assessing on-farm grain storage is an essential part of winter farm planning. Start with thinking about next year’s harvest. Do you have enough storage space for the coming year’s crop?

The best way to protect your assets is to control the condition of your stored grain. And the best way to do that is with grain temperature monitoring. Temperature control is essential to grain condition. The better your grain storage environment, the longer you’re able to store your grain without any spoiling.

Call us at 800 438 8367, contact us here, or live chat with us to discuss winter farm planning, on-farm storage strategy, and adding temperature monitoring to your new or existing grain storage facilities.