View From the Cab
Planting Conditions Improve for North Dakota and Missouri Farmers
DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Planting windows don't always stay open for long, and Langseth Farms had both the corn planter and soybean drill running this week. Rains mostly bypassed the Barney, North Dakota, farm and allowed for decent planting progress for Mike and Chandra Langseth.
"We're about half done planting corn, although we haven't gotten any fields 100% planted," said Mike. "We've got a good start on beans and overall we're ahead of last year."
That doesn't mean there haven't been hiccups. A guidance glitch on the strip-till tractor required a workaround and a semi-truck tire mysteriously exploded while parked at the farm this week, but hey ... that's farming.
Meanwhile, Zachary Grossman got some much-needed rainfall to allow soybean planting to resume. The Tina, Missouri, farmer had halted operations temporarily last week as he waited for moisture. Now temporarily restored, he expected to put the last of the bean crop to bed this week.
Grossman and the Langseths are reporting from their respective farms as part of DTN's View From Cab feature. The series explores crop progress and other rural issues each week throughout the growing season.
Read on to learn more about crop conditions, how those long hours in the cab are now considered a blessed refuge and we add a little cow culture to the mix.
ZACHARY GROSSMAN: TINA, MISSOURI
It's amazing what a much-needed soaking rain can do for spirits. Grossman's northwest Missouri fields ended up getting about 4/10ths last week. That was followed by a 48-hour rainy period that delivered 1.5 inches to 2 inches, depending on where the rain gauge was located.
"We are so fortunate," said Grossman. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but we were to the point where we had to sit back and wait for things to dry out a bit before we could start rolling again."
DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick said the rainfall was enough to pull the area out of the D0-Abnormal Dryness category on the Drought Monitor. "It's still a bit dry overall and more normal-type rain would be preferred for early plant growth. There are some chances over the next couple of weeks, but not a lot of them," Baranick noted.
With 160 acres left to plant on May 11, Grossman figured he had about a day's worth of planting left. He's right on track with the rest of the state, according to the latest USDA Crop Progress Report on May 15 showing 96% complete on corn planting, compared to a five-year average of 73%. Soybeans planted was 62% complete, compared to a five-year average of 24%.
Stand counts on his earlier planted beans look good. "Dad took a few bags to spot in a couple of places, but hardly worth mentioning," Grossman said.
The corn crop is growing so fast you can almost watch it changing V-stages, he added. "It soaked up everything -- rain and heat units -- and we have some that's already knee high," he said.
Weeds like that rainfall too, so the sprayer was running trying to get ahead of them this week. One of the advantages of the Enlist and XtendFlex soybean trait platforms is the flexibility in spray timing, Grossman said. The farm utilizes both technologies. However, they've moved to using dicamba as a preemergence product only to avoid sensitive crop exposure.
Waterhemp is the big weed issue in this area, followed by giant ragweed. Grasses, such as foxtail can be problematic.
The rains gave grass pastures a new shot of growth, too, giving a thumbs up to his decision to fertilize later this year. Grossman was finally going to turn cattle pairs out onto grass. "Thank goodness. I'm tired of feeding hay," he said.
Wet weather during calving season wasn't the easiest and he had to treat more calves than he would have preferred. However, Grossman said they've more than turned the corner and the mamma cows are looking in good condition, too. He runs mostly black or Black Baldy (Hereford/Angus cross) cows and splits the herd between registered Angus and Charolais bulls.
"I really like that Angus-Charolais cross. I can't speak for everyone, but we don't get discounted for it here. Those mousey gray nosed calves sell right with the blacks," he said. He uses a low-birthweight Red Angus bull on heifers to make sure that first-born calves are a manageable size.
Planting maybe be nearly done, but there's still plenty of cab time throughout the summer. Since Grossman works full-time as an agricultural loan officer for a local bank, he finds the tractor cab time to be soothing -- when his phone isn't jangling.
"Thank goodness for auto-steer because emails, texts and phone calls can still find me. I rarely get bored in the cab," Grossman said. However, sometimes the distractions overload the system. While planting a few weeks ago, he turned at the end of the field, locked in the auto-steer on the next line ... and halfway across the field realized the planter wasn't in the ground.
"I just drove to the end and pretended like I meant to do it and had a good laugh at myself," he said. "On those rare occasions that it is quiet for a half hour or so, I don't even turn on the radio. I just enjoy the peace and quiet," he said.
You also won't find his cab littered with a lot of snack wrappers or take-out containers.
"I wouldn't say I'm any model of health," he said. "But I try hard to stick to three meals a day. I give my stepmother Lori some big creds here -- she's busy with her own work, but she has a hot meal ready for us at night, even when it's late. That means a lot," Grossman said.
CHANDRA AND MIKE LANGSETH: BARNEY, NORTH DAKOTA
Feeling lucky when you don't get rain is a foreign thought for many. But Chandra and Mike Langseth were able to duck some major weather systems this past week.
Baranick noted that radar reports showed nearby Wahpeton recorded around 1 inch during the course of last week and more during the weekend. "Western North Dakota ended up over 2 inches of rain over last weekend," Baranick said. "The forecast is pretty warm with a lot of days in the 80s (Fahrenheit) this coming week, maybe close to 90 on Tuesday. The area will see dry conditions early in the week, but there are increasing chances of rain later in the week as storms that build out over the High Plains start drifting eastward," he said.
"A lot of North Dakota is delayed in their planting activities but there have been some stretches of drier weather, too. That mix of sun and clouds is good for the seed in the ground, but may be causing a few headaches without a prolonged stretch of drier weather that farmers might desire," Barnack said.
On May 15, USDA-NASS pegged North Dakota 5% on corn, near the 4% planted last year, but well behind the 26% average. Soybeans planted was 2%, equal to last year, and behind 15% for the five- year average.
"We're going, but we are picking and choosing fields," said Chandra. "Some fields are still borderline wet. We don't need more rain."
May 17 was the first day the bean drill had been into the field. "I got a whole quarter section (160 acres) done and that was nice on the first day of planting," she said.
Chandra admitted she enjoys planting soybeans more than corn because it's less technical. She realizes how that sounds since she teaches precision agriculture at the local college. "With corn, everything matters. Beans are just less fussy," she noted.
"Our planting systems are a little old school. At some point, we'll upgrade to more precision, but we are cycling through what we have and I feel good about the job we are doing with it," she said.
This week, the husband and wife team got a lesson in pivoting when the electronics within the RTK guidance system started having intermittent problems. Normally they strip-till corn, but when it became obvious the guidance problems were continuing, they switched to a no-till system to keep the planter rolling to take advantage of good weather conditions.
"No-till is working so far, especially since we are on our sandier soils," Mike said. "Strip-till is still Plan A, especially as we move to soils with more clay."
Chandra's been out in the field digging and early planted corn was putting down lateral seminal roots and the coleoptiles were about to spike. "Temperatures have been warm and I expect to see corn jumping out of the ground pretty quickly next week," she said.
She also has her eye on emerging weeds. Waterhemp is the main driver weed in the area. "It's not ideal, but we will hire spraying rather than idle the planter to get in the sprayer or let weeds get ahead of us," Chandra said.
While the couple puts in long hours in the tractor and in the field, they are constantly changing tasks. "Our farm and crew are small enough that we always seem to be switching things up," she observed.
Chandra's full-time teaching job is winding down for the summer, but still has some obligations to tend. "That's another reason I like running the drill. Since there's not a lot to go wrong, I can multi-task," she said. When that's not necessary, she enjoys listening to music or a "good agronomy-based podcast" during field operations.
Mike, who handles most of the farm management, said he finds himself shutting off music to take a phone call and then, hours later, realizes he never reengaged.
"I can always tell my day is going well if I find I'm just sitting in the seat driving without major distractions," Mike said. That doesn't mean he can't envision a day when autonomous operations are a substitute for seat time.
"It would be pretty cool and might actually be a benefit for smaller farmers since it would allow lots of field operations to be going at once without the labor requirements. But the GPS signal would need to hold," he said.
Pamela Smith can be reached at email@example.com
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
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