DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Zachary Grossman doesn't need a special calendar date to celebrate Father's Day. He doesn't care if it sounds corny -- he gives thanks every time he thinks about the opportunity to work with his father, Curt.
"I grew up watching him juggle an off-farm job to make his dream of farming a reality. My work ethic is a direct reflection of watching him strike a balance between family and farming. He showed me how it could be done and helped me believe in myself so I can do the same," said the young farmer from Tina, Missouri.
For North Dakota farmer Mike Langseth, the decision to come back to farm with his father, Paul, wasn't as much as a calling as a revelation. He attended college intending to become a journalist but found himself developing an affinity for both the physical and business aspects of farming.
During the past decade, his father has incrementally turned more and more of the responsibility over to Mike, who farms with his wife, Chandra. This year, at 36, Mike has taken on full management responsibilities of Langseth Family Farms in the northeast corner of the state near Barney.
Paul now takes his orders from the fifth generation as he steps into his new role as landlord and a very valued member of the farm's work force. "What better person to help me than the one who knows how to run everything. No training required," said Mike.
"I value his thoughts, but more than that, I just like him. He's a fun guy!"
That doesn't mean these two younger farmers always see eye-to-eye with their farming fathers. Working with family carries the baggage of familiarity that can be both frustrating and wonderful, they admit.
The Langseths and Grossman are participating this year in DTN's View From the Cab feature, a diary of what happens on the farm during the growing season. In week 8 of the series, they report on crop conditions and give some additional thoughts on working with Dad.
Spoiler alert -- these young farmers feel they benefit from fathers who are willing to take a measured step back and allow room for the next generation to grow.
CHANDRA AND MIKE LANGSETH: BARNEY, NORTH DAKOTA
Chandra Langseth typically helps in the field when she's not tending her job as an agriculture assistant professor at North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, teaching precision agriculture and agronomy courses. However, this week, she was devoted to running an agronomy field day and fielding prospective students.
Down a worker during this busy time, her father, Dale Heglund, showed up to lend a hand. The recently retired civil engineer found himself fully employed helping Mike's father, Paul, move anhydrous tanks and sidedress corn.
That left Mike free to go check moisture conditions and make sure irrigation units were ready to make their second pass on corn and to decide whether to turn on the tap for soybeans. The phone apps the farm uses are great for monitoring and scheduling irrigation, but automation doesn't call the shots on when to pull the trigger.
Corn is cooking along through the V-stages and standing about waist high. Soybeans are at the first true leaf to second trifoliate. "Things still look really good, but we are getting on the dry side," Mike said.
Richland County where the main farm is located has edged into the D0 abnormally dry category on the U.S. Drought Monitor. DTN's Ag Meteorologist John Baranick said models show the Barney area should be on the lucky side of the weather coin for the coming week.
"They will still deal with some heat to start, but scattered showers are possible starting on Wednesday and that will continue through the weekend," Baranick said. "They might not get hit, but the chances will be there, and clouds should keep temperatures more in the mid-80s the rest of the week -- cooler if they get a nice burst of showers."
On June 15, Mike was thinking conservatively. "I'm probably going to run the irrigation units, but not as aggressively," he said, explaining that likely means putting at least an inch of water on corn this week and one-half inch on soybeans.
Irrigation water comes from wells fed by what locals refer to as an annual recharge aquifer. They are relatively shallow -- between 50 feet to 100 feet deep.
Part of the Langseth operation sits along the Red River Valley which is the old glacial Lake Agassiz bottom. "It's super flat and high clay, a real fine soil," Mike explained. "Our farm is kind of the beach edge of that and a bit more sandy loam.
"We have irrigation in what is the old Delta, where the Sheyenne River used to empty out into the glacial lake. Soils there are coarser with some terrain," he added. Some of the rough land in this area was converted back into national grasslands from wheat acres in the 1930s and is protected and federally managed.
"It's sandy and full of depressions where rain and snow collect and feed our aquifers," he added.
This area so rich in history isn't lost on the young farmer, who admits that he wasn't a typical farm kid. His interest perked up considerably in college when he worked on the farm in the summers in exchange for tuition fees.
"I found I liked the work and that I liked working with Dad," he recalled. When Mike came back to the farm, their relationship started with him renting one field and being responsible for getting his own line of operating credit and purchasing inputs. Mike's management percentage increased over time until management fully transferred into his hands this year.
"I still really enjoy talking through the farm issues with Dad and find his advice so valuable. But as soon as he saw I was serious about making this my living, he made a point of making decisions be my call," Mike said.
Their management styles do differ. "We occasionally butt heads in the spring when ground can be borderline ready to go, for example.
"He's more of a 'let's get it in and get it done.' I'm a 'what if we waited until it was actually fit?' Early in the season I win those discussions more often. Late in the spring, he wins more. It's easier to be patient when you have time," Mike said.
The joke around the farm these days is that Paul doesn't do machinery repairs now that he's "retired," Mike added. "Dad likes to tease by letting me know what tractor he wants to drive. Then, he reminds me to make sure to change the oil and have it all warmed up and waiting along the edge of the field so all he must do is drive," he said.
"We really do have a good time together farming. I feel awfully lucky to be able to say that," he said.
ZACHARY GROSSMAN: TINA, MISSOURI
Curt Grossman was only 23 when Zachary (Zach) was born. It was February 1993 and a few months later came The Great Flood of 1993 when Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and their tributaries ran rampant.
Zach has heard the tale often. His father, who worked full-time for the Missouri Department of Transportation (MDOT), was, like many other workers, called into long hours of service that stretched into years of work to rebuild the infrastructure. "Dad sometimes talks about regretting the time he lost seeing me grow up," Zach said.
"I don't remember it that way. I think of it as I got to watch my Dad grow too," he said. "I saw the hours he put in at a full-time job and on the farm. It gave me an understanding from a very young age that farming isn't a given, but something you work hard for."
He understands that many of his generation put a high value on life balance. But he also sees many young farmers today adding another career to be able to afford to farm -- as his father did and Zack is also doing with his job as an agricultural loan officer at a local bank.
"I take time off, but truth is I like to farm. That's home. That's my heart. That's where I like to be. I don't get too caught up in that perfect Instagram life. My life may not be glamorous to some, but it's sure a good one. We've got a generational farm that's well cared for and that's what I take pride in. That's what brings me enjoyment," he said.
Loss also brings perspective. His farming grandfather, Raymond (Junior), died unexpectedly in 2018 and with it came the reality that days aren't always assured, but they are precious. Now that Curt has transitioned to the farm full-time and Zach's brother, Trent, is farming with them, the reorganized home team is learning to work together.
"Beyond the financial reasons of working off-farm, experiencing management styles and having the perspective of working somewhere else is important," he said. "The most successful father-child operations I've seen are those where the kid learns how to think for him or herself."
The biggest difference between Zach and his farming partners is his distain of clutter. "I'm OCD (Obsessive-compulsive disorder) about it -- whether it is at the farm or at my house. I don't like stuff laying out and want everything organized," he said.
When a job gets tough, he turns to a motto Curt taught him from a young age. "It didn't matter what I was trying to accomplish, Dad always said: 'Don't half-ass anything.' When I get tempted to take a short-cut that saying is always in my head -- whether it is tending a crop or whatever I'm doing," he said.
"In fact, I guess I may occasionally take the advice a step too far with the deal on clutter," he admitted.
This week the farm got a blessing from above. The skies opened and provided from 0.75 inches to 2 inches of much needed rainfall on June 10, depending on the field location. U.S. Route 65 splits the farm and everything west of the highway got the bigger amounts.
His counties, Carroll and Livingston, are currently rated in D1 (moderate) drought on the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor. DTN's John Baranick acknowledged that it was a rough week for haves and have nots across the Corn Belt.
"A system has been slowly moving through the Western Corn Belt this weekend and brought more scattered showers," Baranick said. "Tina is going to be drier for most of the week thereafter and temperatures should be on the increase as well. Daytime highs will be hovering in the lower 90s much of the week. The region may luck out again with showers developing over the weekend, but that's all up in the air," Baranick said.
The memory of the 2012 drought is burned into Grossman's memory, but he believes the current crop is off to a much better start by comparison. "We were getting needy before we got that rain last weekend. Now we've kicked that can down the road for a bit and within the next 10 days to two weeks it will be critical again," he said.
Grossman expects to see corn tasseling around July 1-4. "So, we're entering a crucial stage for corn. Grandpa would say we need enough moisture to keep the beans going and the rains to make good beans need to come in August," he said.
Most of his hay ground is what the cattlemen around this area call hay meadows. "The general consensus is first cutting was 10% to 20% off average on yield," he noted. "Hay ground that was fertilized seems to have fared better."
A rain shower on Father's Day would be a real gift.
Pamela Smith can be reached at email@example.com
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
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