The short days and long nights offer a time of rest, reflection and an opportunity to quietly plan for the brighter, busier days ahead.

Don’t wish away winter

By Matt Reese

From a practical standpoint, a good hard winter freeze does Ohio agriculture well.

“We’re going to have a good freeze this winter. This is the first farm show I’ve been to in 3 years where it’s actually been cold outside,” said Jacob Lewis of Mercer Landmark in an interview with Ohio Ag Net’s Joe Everett at the Fort Wayne Farm Show in January. “We can take advantage of some of that disease and nasty stuff getting killed and maybe get some freezing and thawing action in our soil and get it leveled out nice.”

Like it or not, the cold, dreary weather of winter has many positives for agricultural production, setting the stage for a great Ohio growing season. The cold and snow have numerous benefits, though this winter got off to a warm, dry start.

“For Ohio, December 2023 ranks as the second warmest December on record since 1895 and caps off the fourth warmest year on record over that same period,” said Aaron Wilson, State Climatologist with Ohio State University Extension. “Dry weather was also the main story in December, ranking as the 45th driest December on record and continued a pattern we experienced over much of the fall.”

January brought wetter conditions and a good, hard freeze. Heading into mid-January temperatures dropped into the single digits with wind chill factors going well below zero throughout the state for several days. Precipitation came ahead of, during and after the very cold temperatures. The temperature ups and downs plus precipitation unfortunately means a winter forecast heavy on mud for many livestock producers, but significant portions of western and extreme southern Ohio remained abnormally dry on the U.S. Drought Monitor as of Thursday Jan. 25.

“Before the cold snap, widespread 1 to 3 inches of liquid-equivalent precipitation (rain and snow) fell across the state as well, helping to alleviate some of the dryness and lift rivers and streams back to normal seasonal levels,” Wilson said.

While many bemoan the long, dreary, dark stretch of winter from January through March, there are many benefits beyond the agrarian practicality and agronomic necessities of this time of year. I have learned to cherish many aspects of this gap between the toils of the growing seasons. Winter offers incredible, though often harsh, beauty. There is a one-of-a-kind frigid hush on the landscape after a snowfall. The short days and long nights offer a time of rest, reflection and an opportunity to quietly plan for the brighter, busier days ahead. It is a much-needed slowdown for nature and for humans, farmers in particular.

On your farm, maybe this translates into a more relaxed pace working in the shop, opportunities to haul grain, a vacation with family, or a chance to sit by the wood stove and catch up on paperwork. Whatever the specifics of the seasonal rhythm for your farm or agribusiness, a bit of restful winter hibernation should be considered an important part of it. These days should not be wished away or rushed through just passing time until spring planting. This is a time of pause, preparation, introspection, and building hope enough to get the farm through the daunting days of spring, sweltering summers and the bustle of autumn harvest.

It is also a time of cold reality, death, struggle, steel grays and murky browns that prime the yearning of our hearts to savor the return of the sun’s warmth and the triumph of seeds springing to life with all the blues and greens of spring. The exhilarating chill of winter invigorates and rejuvenates for the toil of warmer days ahead.  

Spring is just around the corner, but until then, I wanted you to consider these words of author and naturalist Brigit Anna McNeill that I think capture the value of the remaining days of winter.  

“This is a time of rest and deep reflection, a time to wipe the slate clean as it were and clear out the old so you can walk into spring feeling ready to grow…
…The natural tug to go inwards as nearly all creatures are doing is strong and people are left feeling as if there is something wrong with them, that winter is cruel and leaves them feeling abandoned and afraid. Whereas in actual fact winter is so kind, yes she points us in her quiet soft way towards our inner self, towards the darkness and potential death of what we were, but this journey if held with care is essential…
..Winter takes away the distractions, the noise and presents us with the perfect time to rest and withdraw…”

So, while there is still time to do so in these early months of 2024, I hope you get the chance to take a moment for the insights, focus and a deep breath that winter uniquely allows. This even applies to the livestock folks mired in the middle of mud season. You have my sympathies, but at least there’s no hay to bale because last I checked, the sun was definitely not shining.

Savor winter. In its time, spring will arrive when, as always, Ohio’s farmers will be ready to roll.

Check Also

Farmland losses far outpace preservation

By Matt Reese Ohio farmland is a long taken-for-granted resource providing the very basis for …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *