December 23, 2012

Winter also a season of growth

Peter Hagar

---- — While I made the trip out to check the cows this morning, I realized that it was time to change my daily and seasonal routines. There was a dusting of snow on the ground and a layer of ice on the water tub. It has gotten off to a slow start, but winter seems to have finally arrived.

The next few months will be kept occupied by a lot of shoveling, warming up by the stove and planning for a better harvest, bigger apples and more milk in the tank. I realize that on March 20 the weather will not suddenly turn mild nor thaw the ground, but as we start to see colder weather arrive, I can hope the end of winter comes sooner rather than later.

Winter is a time of dormancy for the plants we grow, but dairy farmers still have to milk their cows, livestock growers still have to feed and water their stock, apple growers have to prune their trees and all farmers have to plan for next year.

Benjamin Franklin once said that “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Because our growing season is so short, farmers need to plan well ahead to ensure timely planting and harvest of next year’s crops. Even while closing the books on 2012, many farmers have already been calculating their future needs, ordering seed and fertilizer and, as always, trying to keep an optimistic view of the future.

Farmers are, by nature, forward looking. While this year was filled with ups and downs, next year could be better — or worse. While you can’t bank on success, you can start planning for it now.

One of the reasons that farmer’s keep an upbeat outlook is farming is a long-term endeavor. Farmers have a lot of history to look back on for encouragement. Since humans first started cultivating crops and domesticating livestock thousands of years ago, farming methods have continued to improve and production has increased year after year.

In the last 100 years, agricultural production has increased at an unprecedented rate. Farmers are also under ever increasing pressure to produce more and more food for our growing populations. These recent increases can be attributed in large part to advances in farming methods, machinery and modern technology.

The long winter months are an ideal time for farmers to explore new ideas and learn about new techniques and methods of production. During summer, it is almost impossible to get away from the farm, with a steady workload of planting, mowing, harvesting and routine chores filling up almost every hour of the day. Winter is the perfect season to get off the farm for learning opportunities, meetings and workshops.

Kicking off this season of learning was the recent Dairy Day at Miner Institute held in early December. Dozens of dairy farmers from northern New York, Vermont and Quebec attended the event and learned about the economic benefits of feeding high-forage diets, transition cow management to reduce diseases and the role of the dairy industry in our national food security. As dairy herds get larger and proper management becomes even more critical, continuing to learn and improve practices will make farmers more successful.

Cornell Cooperative Extension and Miner Institute have several other events coming up in the near future. Kim Morrill, CCE regional dairy specialist, begins a series of on-farm meetings to discuss calf management and other topics of concern to local farms, and Miner Institute will be holding their annual Crop Congress in February. Since winter is a “slow” time for most farmers, there are learning opportunities across the board for all interests.

Many other meetings, workshops and conferences are also in the works. For more information about other upcoming programs, look for announcements in the Press-Republican Farm Briefs section, our North Country Ag Newsletter or check the calendar on our website at:

In addition, feel free to contact your local office of the Cornell Cooperative Extension at 561-7450 or email me at 

Peter Hagar, agriculture educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension Clinton County, 6064 Route 22, Suite 5, Plattsburgh, 12901. Phone 561-7450, fax 561-0183 or email