The Farmer’s Sixth Season Begins

The calendar identifies four seasons: Spring, Summer Autumn, and Winter. All farmers know that Ohio has a fifth season tucked between winter and spring … popularly known as “Mud”. The reality is that there is a sixth season for farmers, the longest in duration and (for many) the most difficult of all … “Planning”. Planning season begins when harvest starts winding down in November and actively continues till next year’s spring planting gets under way. While planning season may be dreaded, the successful completion of the planning activities foretells the outcome of the entire year’s production. It is far beyond the reach of this brief blog to identify all the critical farm planning activities that need to be successfully accomplished in this season, but I’ll hit on three important plans.

Tax planning is an important task. Now is the time to get your records together and make an appointment with your accountant or tax adviser to examine the potential tax consequences from your farm’s production activities. Look at your 2017 income and expenses. Take a look at prospects for 2018. Carefully examine business options that can impact the amount of tax you’ll owe, when you file next year. Cash based farm taxpayers have the opportunity to adjust purchases, late in the year to reduce potential tax obligations. You may benefit by purchasing production assets that won’t be used till next year. Likewise you may want to delay some purchases till next year. You may be able to adjust sales, as well, but you have less flexibility with income streams. You can only take advantage of those tax-saving opportunities if you know where you stand, while you still have time to make adjustments in your operation. Contact your accountant or tax advisor now, you can’t make tax planning adjustments after December 31.

Another important planning task for this season is the inventory and evaluation of the feed supplies for the winter feeding season and through harvest next year. A forage inventory includes counting and measuring all the stored feeds, hay and silage on the farm. A complete inventory includes a laboratory evaluation of each of the forage and feeds. Livestock farms usually have more than one class of animals, including heifers, dry cows, lactating cows, etc. The nutritional needs of each animal group are different, allowing for utilization of forages of differing qualities.

Armed with a complete feed and forage quantity and quality inventory, you are able to look at the nutritional needs for each group, for the feeding season. If there are expected shortfalls, you can plan how (and when) to get the needed forages and feeds. If you identify an abundance of some feed class, you may look to market the excess. The inventory gives valuable information that is needed to carry out your farm tax management plan, as well as the livestock nutrition plan. That’s a lot of result for the work it takes to do it.

The final planning activity I’ll highlight is “Winter Manure Application Planning”. Manure is an inevitable product for livestock producers. While manure is not a recognized profit center on most farms, the handling and utilization of it can significantly impact farm productivity and profits. The nutrients and their value as fertilizer for future crops can only be captured if you can get them on the soil, and keep them in place for future crop growth.

Winter manure spreading is problematic in that frozen and snow covered soils do not allow those nutrients to be quickly incorporated for future crop availability. If you must haul and spread manure in winter, because you don’t have enough storage to get you through till spring, you need to plan where the manure can be placed to best assure it will stay on the site. Winter manure application sites need at least 90% vegetative or crop residue cover. Ideally, the winter manure application site will have a slope of 6% or less and be as far as possible (200 feet would be ideal) from streams, ditches, ponds, and wells. The ideal application site will have a soil test Phosphorous test that is below the sufficiency level for crop production and the manure application rate will not exceed the crop removal rate of Phosphorous. Many farms will not have available fields that match “the ideal” of all those factors, but you need to identify the field (or fields) that meet as much of the desired characteristics as possible.

The final note is that the planned winter manure application site needs to be easily accessible. A field site near the barn might sound ideal except that on many farms, those close-by fields have already been “manured” to the point that the soil Phosphorous levels are already high, rendering those fields not to benefit from additional manure applications.

Now is the time to identify the sites that are “most nearly ideal” for those necessary wintertime manure applications …. Then keep them if/when you need to empty the manure storage during frozen and/or snow covered situations. Winter manure applications bring the risk that manure (and the fertilizer nutrients it contains) will run off the fields and pollute our streams and wasting valuable fertilizer nutrients. Making a plan and then sticking to it, will minimize the risks and maximize the fertilizer value of manure applications.

Planning season is about as welcome as frozen water lines on many farms, but the successful development and implementation of these plans will bring benefits that endure for the next production year. The results are usually less immediate than that thawed water line, but no less valuable.

I have no advice as to the benefits of “Mud Season”.



Dean Slates joined the Holmes SWCD staff in May 2006 as a part-time program assistant, having devoted more than 50 years to the Ohio State University and the furtherance of commercial agriculture in Northeast Ohio. Born and raised on a Carroll County, Ohio dairy farm, Dean holds both bachelor and master of science degrees in ag education from the Ohio State University. After spending 5 years as a vocational agriculture teacher at Norwayne High School, Dean joined Ohio State University where is served as an agricultural Extension agent for 33 years in both Stark and Holmes counties. He and his wife Carol moved to Holmes County in 1988 along with his two daughters, both of whom graduated from West Holmes High School and hold multiple degrees from Ohio State. He currently holds an emeritus appointment with OSU, working in the area of pesticide application technology.  In 2010, he was elected to the Ohio State Farm Science Review and in 2015, completed his 50th year of participation and presentation at Farm Science Review. In his spare time, Dean is co-owner and operator of Northeast Ohio Milk Quality Services Ltd. Contact Dean at 330-674-2811.