Winter on the Farm

ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va (WHSV) — While this time of year might slow down slightly for some farmers, the winter is far from a break.

"It's not near as much work, but there's still a never-ending list of stuff to do," said Calvin Nolt, a farmer and owner of Wood's Edge Farm.

Frank Will, an owner of Mt. Crawford Creamery added, "It's a 365-day-a-year job."

For farmers with livestock, the work doesn't slow down. It actually takes more time.

"Of course we always have cattle to feed. When you have livestock, you have to be there all the time," said Will.

"It just takes so much longer to get the cows fed and the equipment around and feed out," said Gordon Driver, the President of G&W Farms.

Farmers across the Valley have to keep roads clear of snow to be able to get to the livestock. Snow and ice cause more frequent power outages, adding on additional work.

"In the winter time, if you lose your current, stuff can start freezing up on you," said Will.

They have to prevent pipes from freezing and keep ice out of the cattle's water supply.

But the winter does offer a time for farmers to carry out bigger and less time-sensitive projects that are often put off during the growing season. Calvin Nolt is working on putting in a water line. On top of all his other daily tasks, and with fewer people helping out, he says it looks like it will take him a month longer than expected.

"In the summer, we might have ten helpers, anywhere from six to ten helpers; this time of year, we might have one helper," said Nolt.

Other projects have taken even longer to get to.

"I need to get a couple cultivator frames put together so I can better keep up with the weeds in the summer. And that's been waiting for probably two years already on some of them," Nolt added.

The winter also offers a great time for farmers to work on repairs and maintenance to their equipment.

"We'll start working on all this machinery, the corn planters, the lime spreaders and all that it takes to get ready for spring planting," explained Driver.

Gordon Driver says this year, maintenance is especially important after so much wet weather.

"We planted corn in the mud, and we sprayed corn in the mud, and we combined corn in the mud, so and that's really hard on equipment."

Valley farmers are still dealing with problems from this year's rainy and muddy conditions, like getting equipment stuck in the mud and putting damaging ruts in their fields.

The challenges local farmers are facing this winter go beyond inconvenience. With the fields being too wet to work in so frequently this year, many crops were not planted on time, or at all. Even a short delay in planting can cause crop failure.

Gordon Driver planted wheat earlier this year, and because the rain has caused fungus growth he doesn't know if it will be good in the spring or not. And if it's not...

"I just won't have that income from that crop."

Is that scary for you?

"Well... It should be. But, you know, I've been farming a while and you kind of get callous to that."

These farmers say they have a plan in place to be financially stable when crops fail. Calvin Nolt says he grows a wide variety of crops so if one fails it's not devastating. As for Gordon Driver, he says he follows a rule of thumb.

"I've always used the concept that you always have one failure every ten years."

And he's used to budgeting to be able to survive without income when it happens.

"For the guy that works nine to five, probably doesn't understand that. But with farming, there are times where you'll go several months, if you have a crop failure you'll go twelve months."

Driver is working now on delivering wheat. He says his supply could last two weeks, or a few months. When it runs out, he will be without income until the growing season.