No winter break for farmers

A tractor sits covered in snow after a big snowfall on Dec. 22, 2013. (File Photo by George Walker | The Collegian)

As winter gets closer and temperatures drop, the last crops are cut and harvesting equipment is put away. The harvesting season may be over, but for farms across the state, this does not mean a three-month vacation.

“Generally for farmers, winter is from mid-November ’til about the end of February,” Larry Hoobler, local farmer, said.

Just like many other farmers, the Hooblers use the cold weather as a time to make preparations for the next harvest, including getting soil tested, ordering herbicide, fertilizer and seed and analyzing the past season’s results to predict the results of the next one.

Hoobler, a first generation farmer, and his wife Diane’s operation is located southwest of Manhattan. Hoobler said he has been involved in agriculture most of his life. While in school, he worked on farms and in college he would help with the wheat harvest. Hoobler went on to teach vocational agriculture at Council Grove and Wabaunsee high schools. Now retired from teaching, his primary focus is caring for his farming operation.

Hoobler is on the Frontier Farm Credit board of directors, for which about half of the meetings take place during the winter. In addition, he is a senior sales representative for Seitz, a company that provides fruit and meat products for fundraisers. He was introduced to this company while teaching and has been employed with them since 2002.

Hoobler said this job requires him to travel across the state to help groups prepare for fundraisers. He said there are three weeks during December when the majority of the products are delivered to the groups, and he helps monitor the deliveries and the quality of the products.

“I don’t really notice much of a difference in workload during winter, other than you get to pick and choose what you do,” Hoobler said.

Michael Wehkamp, junior in agribusiness, said the coming of winter also brings winter projects.

“Projects are mostly just catching up on stuff you need to do that you just don’t have time for during the summer and spring,” Wehkamp said.

At his parents’ farm in Ingalls, Kansas, some of Wehkamp’s projects have included rebuilding irrigation wells, repairing combines and fixing up a semi truck.

Another area of focus for the Wehkamps during the winter is their cattle.

“We have to feed the cattle and make sure they are taken care of in any weather conditions that might arise,” Wehkamp said. “It is especially important to make sure they are cared for when they are calving.”

During the winter, Wehkamp said he also often spends time shoveling snow with a scoop tractor to make areas more accessible.

“I really like winter because it is normally when we get to work on equipment,” Wehkamp said. “I have always enjoyed (working) with my hands and figuring things out. I also like caring for the cattle.”

Bob Mertz, local farmer, said that on his farm between Wamego and Manhattan he and his brother spend time repairing not only their machinery, but also the land.

“We experienced some significant rain this year — about three times more than average — so I will be spending some time repairing washouts and checking on terraces and drainage systems,” Mertz said.

During the winter, Mertz said he will also be doing other maintenance jobs around the farm, such as tree trimming, repairing irrigation pivots and running tests on water wells. He will begin preparing for the next harvesting season by meeting with a local agronomist and will start looking for a fertilizer plan based on the soil testing.

“Crops are complex,” Mertz said. “They are a 12-month operation.”

Between repairs, maintenance and preparing for the next harvesting season, farmers continue to have a steady workload until it warms up enough to begin the process of planting and harvesting again.