Winter is just around the corner, but it won't be a time of rest for farmers.
That's especially the case for dairy farmers.
"There's no real break for farmers who own dairy operations, as cows need to be fed, provided water and comfortable living conditions, while milking still needs to be done two times daily, or at some operations, three times a day," said Mark O'Neill, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau spokesman.
There are many tasks to be completed before winter arrives.
"Farmers often have a schedule for the end-of-season inspection and maintenance of farm equipment and tractors. It also a good time to store agriculture supplies and check on inventory, so they know how much needs to be ordered in the future," O'Neill said. "The end of the year is also a time to double check to make sure various paperwork has been properly filled out and filed."
Marty Yahner, co-owner of Yahner Bros. Farm near Patton, is preparing for next year.
"We are preparing for the next planting season. The fall weather this year has been great. It has been a dry fall with above normal temperatures," Yahner said. "The biggest thing is farmers are taking advantage of the nice fall to prepare for spring planting and doing things like spreading fertilizer, tillage work, getting a jump on spring. That is great."
Time management is as important in the winter as it is during the growing season, said Tom Ford, Penn State Extension commercial horticulture educator.
"The development of crop budgets and enterprise analysis in respect to cropping decisions is the most difficult task, because producers have to anticipate their needs as well as recognize that there is price volatility in the global marketplace," Ford said.
No matter how well a farmer prepares for winter, heavy snow and ice storms can create havoc.
"The biggest thing we don't like are ice storms. We can move snow. We run into trouble with ice storms. That is the biggest threat to us and the cattle," said Gary Long, Blair County Farm Bureau president.
Blizzard-type conditions can be a problem for Yahner, whose farm is located in an area that often receives heavy snows with blowing winds.
"Whiteout conditions up here are dangerous. Conditions can be dangerous to even get to your work," Yahner said.
Heavy snows are tough for dairy farmers.
"Dairy farmers have the greatest challenge, since they need to keep farm lanes open to accommodate milk and feed trucks," Ford said. "Heavy snows that paralyze the area could prevent milk pickups resulting in less income for the farmer."
Heavy snows and bitter cold slow down work on the farm, said Ben Postles, an engineer at Penn England Farm near Williamsburg.
"Not only do you do deal with the normal cold weather problems, but you have to deal with snow removal to get the milk truck in, employees to work, and being able to get the cows fed," Postles said. "The bitter cold makes those problems exponentially worse. It also starts to have an effect on all of the animals. Cows are comfortable at cooler temperatures than humans, but when it is bitter cold, efforts have to be made to keep them warm and comfortable. Thus, adding more to the work load."
The worst type of winter is one where the weather fluctuates wildly, Ford said.
"Cold weather with an insulating snowpack protects small grain and cover crops in the field. Cold weather with a snow pack keeps fruit plants dormant while protecting the crowns of strawberries," Ford said. "When the weather fluctuates we see repeated freezing and thawing. This causes crops like alfalfa to heave out of the ground resulting in winter injury and plant mortality."
Winter weather won't pose problems for Harry Albright of Sinking Valley, a semi-retired soybean farmer.
"There is nothing you can do in the fields once they are frozen. They are done until spring," Albright said. "This is the time of year when we get soil tests done, line up fertilizer and seeds, things like that. It is a good time to work on equipment, things you don't have to use every day. If something needs worked on, we have time to work on it."
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.