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Surviving the Holidays: A Guide for Farm Wives

Surviving the Holidays: A Guide for Farm Wives

The festive season is a challenge no matter what you do for work or what your family situation is – the ‘magic’ of the season really boils down to a whole lot of expense, hard work and planning.

But for farming families, the craziness of Christmas is exacerbated by the fact that there’s no such thing as a ‘holiday’ when there are chores to be done and animals to be fed. It’s a unique situation that’s hard to comprehend unless you’ve lived it – and nobody lives it more vividly than a farmer’s wife!

Raising kids, pitching in on the farm, perhaps holding down a job at the same time AND pulling off a joyful festive season is a tall order and then some – so with tongues firmly in cheeks, we’ve put together a guide to help farm wives survive the holidays* – read on for tips!

*Disclaimer: This guide might not actually help at all. But it’s meant to make you laugh – and laughter makes everything better!

Get him to help with the decorating

If you’re waiting for the farmer in your life to start caring about trimming the tree or creating Instagram-worthy scenes inside the house, you can forget about it right now. Your farmer guy will happily keep the wood pile stocked, the hearth aglow and the refrigerator full of home-grown produce – but anything else inside the house isn’t even on his radar.

Outdoors, however, is a different story.  A farmer’s home is his castle and he’s ALL about keeping up with the Joneses – if the Joneses have their place decked in lights and a fully decorated John Deere sitting out front.  Any external decorating that involves the use of a cherrypicker or telehandler is right up his alley (even if he complains about it, he loves it really) so pick your battles wisely.

Don’t mess with the system

Forget about waking up early to tear open your stockings – on the farm, there won’t be a gift opened until the animals are fed, the troughs checked and the chores done.  Try to mess with the system at your peril – frustrating as it can be to wait for the festivities to start until the morning farm jobs are done, it’s actually a great idea to get them out of the way early so you can relax (well, for an hour or so anyway).

The main problem with this festive farming routine is that kids can really resent having to wait until chores are done to open gifts – so a great tip is to make the work all part of the fun.  Award points for the most chores completed or the fastest to finish, and let the winning kid open the first gift.  If you’re feeling adventurous, you could even lay a festive treasure hunt to follow around the farm as they help with the chores.  

Drop hints early and often

If you’ve ever unwrapped a gift from your farmer husband to discover a pair of work gloves, a penknife or new rubber boots, you’ll know how important it is to spell out the difference between a necessity (something you need) and a luxury (something you want!).  Most farmers can’t tell the difference so if you have a particular gift in mind, you’re gonna have to drop some pretty hefty hints – and considering that even those might go in one ear and out the other, get tactical.

Start with his smartphone – a casual Google search now and again for that item you’ve been coveting will ensure he’s inundated with ads every time he tries to read AgWeb.  Then get the kids on side – make sure they know what to tell him when he wonders aloud what mom would like to find under the tree.  If all else fails, go straight to source.  That jewellery store he always visits in a blind panic, right at the last minute?  The sales assistant is your ally – tell her what you’d like him to choose and then start practicing your best ‘totally surprised’ face in the mirror.

How to extract him from the tractor for family dinners

The thing farmers love the most next to farming is eating – all that hard work creates an appetite.  But getting your farmer to commit to a date and time for a family event can be more challenging than pinning down a politician.  So how do you get him out of the tractor and into a chair at the head of the table?

First of all, know when to quit.  If there’s something really important coming up (or if an emergency arises at the last minute) the farm will always take priority.  Try to arrange events for times when you know things are likely to be quieter and be mindful of his daily routine for chores.

Next, give plenty of notice.  Put it on the calendar, add it to his phone, write it on the bathroom mirror in lipstick if you have to.  Remind early and often for the best chance of success.

Last but not least, make it irresistible.  Biscuits and gravy like mama used to make?  What farmer could pass that up? (Side note: If he shows up in overalls, say nothing.)

Master no-notice entertaining

Farming is one of the loneliest occupations – long hours spent in the tractor cab and working from home long before that was a thing means that farmers are often isolated from their peers, except for at key times like market days, harvest time – and Christmas!  This is the one time of year when farming families will visit with neighbors, and spend a little time talking about the challenges they’ve faced together during the year.

This is a truly wonderful aspect of the farming community – but it’s not without challenges for a farmer’s wife.  You have to make like a boy scout and BE PREPARED for unexpected visitors at any time of day.  Nobody’s expecting a Martha Steward-style buffet lunch but to make spur-of-the-moment entertaining easier, it’s worth stocking the freezer with finger foods and if you don’t already have an air fryer, understand that this piece of kitchen equipment will change your life in much the same way that a set of Wearparts seed openers will change your husband’s!

Capitalize on quality time

You don’t need us to tell you that life on the farm is relentlessly busy, often stressful and occasionally just plain hard.  It’s also filled with moments of pure joy, gratitude for a life on the land, and great satisfaction.  

On the farm, the festive season may not look like a Hallmark card – and that’s OK.  What’s important is to enjoy the small moments of calm reflection, to truly be present with family and friends, even if it’s just for an afternoon, and to remember that even when you’re outside feeding cows in the snow or breaking ice on water troughs, there’s so much to be thankful for.  And if all else fails, there’s always gin – they don’t call it mother’s helper for nothing!

Season’s greetings from Wearparts

We’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you to the farming families that make up 97% of the US agriculture industry – without you, the festive season would look very different for all of us.  We wish you the happiest of holidays, and look forward to working with you in 2024!

What Is No-Till Farming?

What is no-till farming? 

The term ‘no-till farming’ is one that has become very topical – trendy even – in recent years.  There’s a been a huge rise in the number of farmers curious about what no-till could bring to their soil, their yields, and their farm overheads.

But in fact, the concept of no-till has been around as long as farming itself, since the first human poked a hole in the soil with a stick, and dropped in a seed.  As a farming practice, it’s been around in the US since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s – and has become increasingly popular since after WW2.

But what exactly is no-till?  Is it one farming practice – or many?  How many farmers are doing it?  And what does the future of no-till look like?  In this blog, we’ll explore the history, the mechanics and the state – current and projected – of no-till farming in the US.

First things first: what is no-till?

No-till farming is fairly self-explanatory – it’s a farming method that involves not tilling the soil.  That means no plowing, no ripping, no harrowing – nothing that disturbs the soil structure.  When it comes to planting time, seeds are planted through the residue of last year’s crop using seed disc openers to cut a v-shaped trench that is closed at the back of the planter, and the emerging seeds grow up through the residue.

When was no-till first introduced?

The very first farmers used no-till systems.  It wasn’t until the invention of the plow in the 1700s that tillage as we know it today became commonplace – in fact, American farmers were initially suspicious of the plow, believing that it poisoned the soil and caused weeds to proliferate.

A soil crisis

By the early 1800s, the idea of horse- or ox-drawn plows had caught on and farmers discovered that by tilling the soil, they could plant seed more quickly and get rid of unwanted plants including grass and weeds from their crop fields.  By the early 1900s, rising demand for wheat led to a change in US agricultural policy that rewarded farmers for planting larger and larger acreages, especially in the prairie grasslands of the Midwest.  When drought hit in 1930, vast swathes of land were turned into the ‘Dust Bowl’, with millions of tons of topsoil lost and large parts of the region rendered useless for farming.  

After that, farmers realised that overplowing of the land could cause more harm than good.  In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the Soil Erosion Service (now known as the Natural Resources Conservation Service) to develop and promote ‘new’ farming techniques – including no-till – to tackle the problem of soil erosion.

How does no-till benefit the soil?

No-till benefits the soil by leaving its natural structures intact.  Soils are bound together by organic matter, plant roots, and a complex network of pores and channels that allow water to infiltrate to deeper levels.  They are also teeming with life, including larger organisms like earthworms and burrowing insects, and microscopic organisms like bacteria and fungi.  These organisms serve to break down organic matter in the soil, like the foliage from dead plants, and convert it into fertilizer for future plant growth.

When the soil is tilled, this delicate ecosystem is disturbed.  The soil’s natural structure is destroyed, living organisms die off and organic matter is much slower to break down, so the soil’s natural nutrients get depleted more quickly.  The soil loses its ability to effectively store moisture so it becomes very dry, or completely waterlogged depending on climatic conditions – but both cases lead to erosion and soil losses either due to wind or flooding.

No-till systems effectively allow the soil to look after itself, preventing erosion and preserving nutrients for enhanced soil quality and fertility.

Are there different types of no-till system?

No-till is a system on its own, but it’s part of a wider range of farming practices often referred to as ‘conservation tillage’.  These methods (for example strip tillage or mulch-till) are aimed at reducing the amount of tillage required, leaving some of the soil structure intact or rotating the parts that are tilled from one year to the next.

How does no-till benefit the farmer?

Aside from the obvious benefits of healthier, more fertile soils on crop yields, no-till systems have a number of labor and cost benefits for farmers.

The workload with no-till is less because the farmer doesn’t need to make multiple passes through the field, first tilling the soil or plowing in residue, and then planting the seed.  This means lower labor costs, and more time to spend on other farming tasks.  No-till systems also typically have lower machinery and fuel costs – often the only equipment required is a planter, where conventional tillage farmers may use a number of implements to prepare a seed bed before planting.

How many farmers in the US are running no-till systems?

Data from the 2017 Census of Agriculture shows that 37% of tillage acreage in the US is no-tilled – an increase of 2.4% from the previous Census – that equates to 104 million acres under no-till.  According to the USDA, the highest percentage of no-till acres are wheat (45%) followed by corn and soybeans.

What is the future for no-till?

Research clearly shows that the number of farmers practicing no-till is growing year-on-year, and this growth is expected to continue.  Increased global population and the pressures of a changing climate will mean farmers need to preserve every ounce of fertile soil, and no-till could prove key to this.  

A recent study by AGU found that soil is currently being eroded across Midwestern states at a rate of 1mm per year – then modeled what the situation could look like if all farmers adopted no-till.  The study found that is every tillage farmer switched to a sustainable method, soil erosion could be completely halted within 100 years, preventing the loss of 9 billion metric tons of fertile soil.

There’s also an interesting debate around whether no-till will be replaced by a broader term like ‘conservation agriculture’ that combines principles of no-till with other conservation farming methods like cover cropping and crop rotation, creating a holistic system that works in harmony with nature to maximize crop yields.

Want to learn more?

If you’re interested in the principles of no-till agriculture and would like to learn more about how it could benefit your farm or those of your customers, we recommend a trip to the National No-Till Conference taking place in Indianapolis in January. 

As a title sponsor, Wearparts will be in attendance and there will be opportunities to hear from speakers with advanced expertise in the field of no-till as well as hearing from our sales team about how Wearparts tillage and planting parts are specifically tailored for no-till applications.  Registration for the event is now open – for all other queries, don’t hesitate to get in touch.