No Tears for Yesteryear

I picture early settlers to North Iowa being grateful if their families and livestock endured winters of yore. Not only were the essential tasks of daily life less adapted to extreme conditions, the weather was more challenging. I will avoid making definitive proclamations regarding climatic conditions 20 years hence, however there is no question that recent winters have been milder.

The average temp for the month of January 1982, my first winter farming, was 5.7 degrees. Snow fall for the month was 25″. Every assignment required more effort.. From the extra ten minutes layering on clothes for warmth, to the 45 minutes spent torturing the skid loader with starting fluid and jumper cables, to thawing livestock waterers, hauling straw and pushing snow, daily planning was a triage of separating the urgent from the life threatening. Winter months were the most brutal, demanding and unpleasant season of the year.

With these vivid memories of the past, I marvel at how we have made “Cabernet from sour grapes.” Winters at Pinicon Farm have become productive and enjoyable.

Because our crew puts in so many hours during the growing season, most of the staff are reduced to a Monday-Thursday schedule from Thanksgiving to April. The casual pace and long weekends give the team a chance to recharge. The improvement in outlook as the winter progresses is noticeable. Even though there are projects that may go unfinished, this routine is very popular with the crew and has helped reduce turn over.

We expanded the shop area two years ago giving us around 20,000 square feet of climate controlled comfort for equipment repairs and short term storage. When the occasional “Polar Vortex” visits, we can bring in vehicles and equipment that would other wise resist attempts to start. There is ample space to manage multiple projects simultaneous, improving our ability to keep everyone productively occupied.

When we reentered livestock production ten years ago, the new confinement barns were designed and built to maintain consistent temperature and air quality under all weather conditions. It may be a foggy, damp January morning or it could be a 20 below evening with 40 mph winds. Our pigs will be enjoying an optimal 61 degree temperature with 60% humidity. It has never been a better time to be a farm animal or a livestock care giver.

I came back to farming with a running habit. Because of the short day length, icy roads and cold temperatures, winter work outs were not practical. There were not indoor exercise facilities in rural North Iowa and by the time I got done with chores, I lacked the time or energy.

These days, I usually arrive at the Rochester Athletic Club (RAC) by 5:00 pm. It offers a 25 meter lap pool, exercise bikes, running track, weights and treadmills. Because there are fewer surprise interruptions during the week, I am able to work out more consistently than I can during the growing season. Ironically, I maintain a higher fitness level during the winter months than I can during the outdoor recreation season.

My RAC buddies always ask how we stay busy on the farm all winter. It is hard to explain as their idea of what I do is based on the concept of the sole proprietor grain farmer who occupies his winter with seed meetings, market seminars and Arizona. Maybe in my next life I will be so lucky.

The last few weeks at Pinicon were representative of the new normal. A good share of the crew were on vacation. Progress was made on my new office. Bert should be able to move into his new command center before mid February. Ben and Dan are heading up an inventory reorg effort, streamlining, cataloging, and updating inventory. Half a dozen machines move through the shop each week, exiting with the ” Pinicon Certified Readiness” blessing.

The focus is preparing for the 2017 growing season. I would not call it a Trump influenced attitude ( Ben might ) but the new owners seem to be optimistic about their prospects. Reminds me of a younger me.

Our only limits to staying busy are imagination and motivation. Based on the daily activity around here, there appears to be no shortage of those.

Hope you are all well and finding opportunities for rejuvenation during this time between growing seasons.