Though the land is covered in snow, soybean growers in the upper Midwest United States have not been sitting idly by. They utilize the winter months to get caught up on items that were pushed to the bottom of the list during their busy season. One of the biggest items on that list is repairing their machinery and preparing it for the fast-approaching planting season.

“We spend a lot of time in the winter working on our machinery,” said Nancy Kavazanjian, an NSM board member hailing from Wisconsin. “And we also take that time to look at our yield maps to see where our most productive soils are and what varieties are going to work for us in the coming year.”

Analyzing the data collected during and after harvest allows growers to adjust their game plans. Fertilizer application and variety selection are both decisions that are heavily impacted by this data. For example, if a field lacks a certain nutrient, they can compensate with a variety that has proven itself to thrive in that environment or make up for its absence with applying the fertilizer containing the nutrient.

Another vital task that keeps growers busy in the winter months is proactively purchasing their inputs, such as seed and fertilizer. By securing these inputs early, often before the end of the year, farmers save themselves significant dollars.

“Because of supply chain issues, we frequently consult with our input suppliers. For tax purposes, we often make advance purchases, but they do give us flexibility if we decide that we need to modify anything,” Nebraska farmer and NSM Director Eugene Goering said, “We’re fortunate to have a good supplier that we work with.”

Many professions require continuing education credits so they remain up to date on the latest research in their field. Likewise, farmers take advantage of their downtime and attend various conferences to remain up to date on their knowledge. Some of this education includes making sure their licensures are current.

“During the winter months, we went to multiple schools to renew our pesticide applicator license,” Goering said.

Though there are multiple factors that farmers can control and prepare for to set them up for a successful growing season, there are elements that they can’t control and must take in stride. Weather is the biggest uncontrollable, and often unpredictable, factor that has the power to make or break a crop.

As the transition from winter to spring progresses, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) continues to publish a weekly report on the weather across the country. In the latest report, published on March 21, the cold temperatures were highlighted:

“With a mid-March cold wave covering much of the country, weekly temperatures averaged at least 10°F below normal across large parts of the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest,” the report stated.

The report also outlined a historical perspective:

“According to preliminary data provided by the National Centers for Environmental Information, the winter of 2022-23 was mild and wet, based on national statistics. The contiguous U.S. experienced its 17th warmest, 21st-wettest December-February period in the last 128 years. The national average temperature of 34.9°F was 2.7°F above the 1901-2000 mean, while precipitation averaged 7.69 inches — 113 percent of normal.”

In Nebraska, Goering reported experiencing a mild winter, with tractors already beginning their spring tillage and incorporating manure. Next week, he expects to see farmers applying anhydrous ammonia.

Kavazanjian painted a different picture in Wisconsin.

“We’ve had a lot of freezing and thawing and we got a good dump of snow last week that is still covering the ground,” Kavazanjian said. “Right now, it certainly looks like we have enough moisture. But we do need it to melt and warm up.”

As the snow starts to melt across the five-state region, growers are excited to get back into their fields.

“The thing that is most exciting is watching the little soybeans poke their heads through the dirt,” said Kavazanjian.