As winter sets in, West Point farmer Allen Bennett balances his books, orders seed and repairs boxes used to store onions.
Last winter, he also dried corn. The moisture content in corn shipped to Ogden by Wyoming farmers was too high, so Bennett was hired by the mill to run it through his natural gas-powered dryer.
"They've got supposedly 12,000 bushels," he said at the beginning of March. "That's nine to 11 semi loads."
Running the dryer, sometimes until midnight for days at a time, can push Bennett's monthly gas bill to as high as $7,000. "The gas company loves us," he said.
He makes almost nothing drying corn for neighbors, he says, and about $82.50 a ton when he hires out to dry corn for the mill. He estimates that's about $10 to $15 an hour for his time.
Spring is an exciting time. "It's always fun to get back out in the field, and start working the soil," Bennett said. "I look forward to it every year."
He planned to start preparing fields the first week of March this year, and have all of his onions planted by March 20, but the ground was too wet from rain and snow. It was still too wet at the end of the month.
"I'm getting antsy," he said. "I'm thinking of all the things I've got to do."
He wasn't worried -- he'd planted as late as April 21 in the past, and still had a good crop.
But by April 15, Bennett was concerned. Half of the onion seed was in the ground, but wet weather kept him out of the remaining fields. On April 21, he was wondering if he'd have to forget onions and plant corn.
"You can hold the seeds back, leave machinery in the shed and not do anything all summer ... but that doesn't pay the bills," he said. "We've got to have the crop."
The last of the onions were finally planted April 28, but the rainy season produced a cement-like crust on the soil. "It's just hard, and won't allow the onions to emerge through it," Bennett said.
He went over the surface with a sharp-toothed implement to break up the crust -- several times.
"I've got one field where it's probably going to be optimistic to say it's a 40 percent loss," he said.
The first week of May, he toyed with tearing up the onions and starting over, but decided it was too late.
He got the potatoes planted on time, but the wet ground continued to cause problems -- from about $75,000 worth of fertilizer leached out of the ground by too much rain, to other crop delays.
"I'm thinking maybe I need to build a boat," Bennett said on May 19. "I'm trying to get the corn planted. ... I'm one-third done, but I'll tell you, it's getting kind of serious. I've never seen a year like this."
All of the corn should have been planted by May 15. Bennett bought seed that matures in 102 to 105 days, but realized the weather had put him a month behind.
"I've sent back everything that I've got left now, and traded for some 93-day, and 50 acres worth of 95-day," he said.
That trade meant yields would be down, from about 200 bushels to the acre to maybe only 150.
"You're better to get 150 bushels than nothing," Bennett said.
The rain did eventually go away, and the rest of the corn, potatoes and tomatoes were planted.
But cool temperatures kept crops from growing quickly, and in mid-June the wheat crop had to be treated for stripe rust, a condition brought on by the weather.
Still, Bennett was smiling.
"You just as well try to take things in stride," he said. "You can't change the weather, so you just have to try to deal with it as optimistically as you can and look for things you can be grateful you have."
Summer typically means work from sunup to sundown, fertilizing, irrigating and controlling weeds.
Irrigating is usually the job of hired hands Abel Lara and Phillipe Esclona, of Ogden. Even though he often has to work through the night, Lara says he prefers farming to other jobs he's had.
"Here, I'm my boss," he said. "Allen says, 'You know what you're
doing?' I say, 'Yeah,' and he says, 'Fine.' "
Bennett does his share of night work, baling alfalfa several times during the year.
"I'll have people say, 'Why don't you go out and bale alfalfa in the daytime?' " Bennett said. "I don't like to be out working at night any more than anybody else does but, for example, when we harvest alfalfa we have to do it early in the morning or late at night when the dew comes on to hold the leaves on the stalk."
A team of hired workers goes through the onion and potato fields several times during the summer. They use hoes on most weeds, but pull the stubborn ones by hand.
"You have to do it no matter if it's raining, or really hot," said Ruben Caballero, of Ogden.
The wheat, which is planted in the fall, was ready by the first week of August. Bennett drives the combine to harvest the wheat and empties it into trucks, which are driven to a mill in Ogden. At the mill, each truckload is tested and graded for quality and then weighed.
"They'll store it for 30 days for free; after that, they start charging, but where their money is made is where they broker it," Bennett said. "They'll hold it until you tell them to sell."
Bennett held off on the rest of the harvest as long as possible this year, to give plants time to mature.
Tomato-picking started in the middle of August, and continued for several weeks.
When the potato vines started dying back, the tops were beaten off and the potatoes left in the ground to cure the skins. After three weeks, Bennett drove a tractor through the field to pop the potatoes out of the ground. To prevent bruising, Bennett's summer workers load the crop by hand instead of machine.
The onion harvest started Sept. 21. Bennett uses a tractor to lift them out of the ground, but has to drive slowly and only in one direction.
"If it's above 85 degrees or so, it can sunburn -- it dehydrates it and makes it look leathery, and the onion isn't any good," he said. "If there's any possibility of that happening, we always lift them in the direction so it tips the butt end to the east for morning sun, so it won't have hot afternoon sun."
Onions are left on top of the earth for a few days to cure, then the tops are cut off. When they're done, Bennett drives a tractor with a boom that picks up the onions and conveys them to a truck. The truck driver, often 90-year-old LeRoy Draper of West Point, has to keep perfect pace and distance with the tractor and boom.
The entire onion harvest takes about three weeks, if there are no rain delays. A severe wet pattern, or a freeze, could ruin everything.
"Everything I've worked for all year is sitting out here," Bennett said during this year's harvest. "There should be about $250,000 to $300,000 dollars worth of onions out here. That would break me if I lost it, so I don't sleep well at all now until it's all in."
He did manage to get it all in by Oct. 22.
Considering the way the year started, Bennett says things turned out better than expected.
The wheat crop was down by 40 bushels to the acre, due to the stripe rust problem. The potatoes and tomatoes were good and sold out quickly. Bennett grew about 20,000 bales of alfalfa, and it's almost gone, sold to local horse owners.
He usually harvests 40 to 50 large boxes of onions per acre, but the wet spring reduced the yield to 25 to 30 boxes per acre. About a third of the onions have been processed, and the rest are in storage.
"They don't have quite as good a skin on them as other years, but we anticipate they'll store well," he said.
It's too early to tell about the corn, because it hasn't all been combined -- Bennett also harvests his neighbors' corn, and feels selfish if he does all of his own first.
"What I have done has yielded very well, better than I thought, so I think it's going to be very good," he said.
Of course, that's if snow doesn't delay the harvest and knock ears to the ground.
Overall, Bennett says his books should be in the black.
"I'm not sure how much in the black, but we'll be able to pay our expenses and make some," he said.
Bennett says it's a miracle. He believes God kept the spring cold to protect people from more extreme flooding, then gave the farmers a long, warm fall to make up for it.
"I'm going to do it again next year," he said as he prepared his fields for the coming spring. "Hopefully, the Lord will take care of me again."