DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- The irrigators were running hard this week on Langseth Farm in the southeast corner of North Dakota. Here, the sandy beach-like soils that border the flat, heavier clays of the Red River Valley are accustomed to needing a drink. But the need has intensified earlier than normal this season as the U.S. Drought Monitor map turned increasingly yellow, signaling abnormally dry conditions.
Mike Langseth, who farms with his wife, Chandra, near Barney, is sensitive to the fact that there are many areas of the country that have endured long periods of drought. "We still look pretty good, even on the dryland acres. But our crop is showing some signs of stress and could use a rain," said Mike.
Zachary Grossman, who farms near the northwest Missouri town of Tina, echoed the sentiment. The promise of a Father's Day rain didn't materialize on his acreage. "It rained all around us and I'm happy for those farmers. There were times we've gotten rains this spring and others haven't," said Grossman. "But we are getting thirsty again."
Grossman and the Langseths are reporting in this year as part of DTN's View From the Cab feature. The diary-like articles cover the growing conditions in two geographic regions of the country and delve into various aspects of rural life. This is the 9th segment of the 2023 season.
DTN ag meteorologist John Baranick is as frustrated as the farmers when it comes to the spotty nature of rainfall events. "We've got a system coming through this weekend that should hit Barney with good rain," said Baranick.
The outlook for Tina is less certain. "There's some optimism, though fleeting, about a more active storm track going through the Corn Belt over the next several weeks. Whether or not that turns to produce needed rainfall is still up in the air. Those that were lucky enough to get some rains in the last week or two can thank their lucky stars, because so many have gone without," Baranick said.
This week the Langseths finished sidedressing corn but still had the sprayer in the field cleaning up stubborn weeds. Grossman had started wheat harvest but an equipment breakdown provided a reminder of the importance of access to good service.
Read on to learn how these young farmers put "local" at the center of what they value when it comes to accessing agricultural goods and services.
ZACHARY GROSSMAN: TINA, MISSOURI
Wheat harvest had just barely gotten underway this week when the injection pump went out on the combine. Zachary Grossman was giving thanks for both an extended warranty and a local dealership that responded promptly to make the diagnosis. The part had to be ordered, but he was back to cutting wheat in 48 hours.
This is soft red winter wheat country. Grossman still had some of his most promising fields to cut, but yields have been averaging around 60 bushels per acre (bpa).
"Yields on some of the better soils are in the 80 to 90 bpa range, but lighter soils got hurt with lack of moisture," he reported. "Test weight has been over 60 lb. and we've not seen any quality issues. Moisture is running between 12% and 13%."
Catching a cash bid rally of $7.00 per bushel, he sold half his wheat crop and opted to store the other half in case the market offered additional opportunity.
Wheat is secondary to corn and soybean in this region, but Grossman likes the rotational aspects the crop provides. With drought hovering as a constant threat, making a decent wheat crop provides a positive mental boost, too.
"Some of the very worst areas of Missouri as indicated on the drought map did get some good rains over the past weekend," he said. "Those rains came up the Missouri River from the south and fizzled out as they got to us. Our corn in clay spots and on the hills is starting to stress, especially with the 90-degree temps," Grossman said. He expects corn to start pollinating in early July.
The most recent USDA Crop Progress Report put Missouri topsoil moisture at 17% very short, 45% short, and 38% adequate. Subsoil moisture supply rated 16% very short, 42% short, 41% adequate, and 1% surplus.
Watching how different hybrids respond to stress is one of many things Grossman likes to assess. The farm puts in a test plot each year that includes three or four companies and a dozen or so hybrids. The plot provides a benchmark against the numbers they are planting and an opportunity to explore new numbers on limited acreage.
Grossman's father, Curt, sells seed for AgriGold and Donmario. So, the farm leans heavily on those company agronomists for ideas and advice. They have been discussing the idea of contracting some acres with a local, independent crop scouting and soil sampling service.
"I think we do a pretty good job of scouting for weeds and scheduling fungicide applications," Grossman said. "Our insect pressure is light most years. But help in refining variable rate fertility prescriptions would be a big help," he noted.
Grossman balances his farming workload with a full-time as an ag loan officer at a local bank. But that's not the only reason the word "local" resonates with him.
A few weeks ago, when the net wrap pan on the round baler needed to be repaired, he used a local blacksmith to do the fabrication and welding. "We are lucky to still have a few independents that do excellent freelance piece work," he said.
"Farming is an independent profession. So, I am probably always going to root for the guys that go out and make it on their own. If we want them to stay viable, we need to support them."
CHANDRA AND MIKE LANGSETH: BARNEY, NORTH DAKOTA
This new generation may have grown up with Google at their fingertips, but having resources available within a decent distance of the farm remains important, agreed Mike Langseth.
"One of the things you find out pretty fast in farming is that local dealers matter more than the equipment," he said. "It doesn't matter if one brand of combine is slightly better than the other, for example. We're going with the brand that has good, reliable service."
He does see the business climate changing somewhat in his area. "It's tough to find that local blacksmith welder with an independent shop or that will come to the field to make a repair or do some light manufacturing. There are still a few, but dwindling," he noted.
Larger, independent light industrial-type machine shops are stepping in to fill some of that void. "They aren't cheap, and they probably aren't going to come to the field, but they do a heck of a job if we need them," Mike said.
Spending a few extra dollars at a tire shop that is 10 miles away, for example, is worth it to help keep the doors open for when that service is really needed, he figured. Fargo offers more infrastructure, but it is 40 miles away.
Mike readily admits that he has an inside track when it comes to finding agronomic resources to count on. Chandra was the Extension agent in the county prior to joining the North Dakota State College of Science as an agriculture assistant professor.
"It used to be I'd walk into a lot of these relationships with suppliers, and they all knew Dad and his reputation. But more recently, it's Chandra they know. I love it -- whatever opens the doors and gets us answers when we need them," he said.
For her part, Chandra leans heavily on her contacts at North Dakota State University (NDSU) and the University of Minnesota to problem solve.
"I wouldn't say we are early adopters here at the farm. The companies also have great agronomic resources, and we pay close attention to their research and their best use of product recommendations. And, we'll watch the neighbors and learn from them," said Chandra.
"We're a lean enough operation that it's hard to jump on every new product that companies put on the market. I like to think we try to do things really well and adopt things when they make sense," she said.
Biologicals and other "green" products that are filling the market fit in this scenario. "Some look to have promise. But until a researcher that I trust has investigated it for several years and we can have a face-to-face conversation about it, I'm not interested in throwing it on five acres at the farm just to try," she said. "I want to see it work in an academic plot first."
The couple currently has the entire soybean crop under a Bayer seed contract. This year that represents two XtendFlex varieties and far less segregation and cleanout than in previous years. If they could submit a wish list to seed companies, it would be a bigger selection of varieties that contain tolerance to sudden death syndrome (SDS) and more soybean cyst nematode (SCN) resistance.
This week Mike was cleaning up some cockleburs in corn. Next week he's planned a second postemergence herbicide pass in soybeans and will be using Liberty (glufosinate). The current warm temperatures will actually be helpful as spraying Liberty can be quirky.
"Don't even bother taking the sprayer out of the shed if it isn't 80 degrees," Mike said.
Adding ammonium sulfate (AMS) can also help with glufosinate's efficacy and Mike prefers to use a higher rate of up to 3 lbs/acre. He also uses 20 gallons of water per acre when spraying glufosinate.
"Liberty is a contact herbicide. It's a coverage game. You get good coverage, and you are going to get good control," Mike said.
Chandra did some traveling this week and found variable conditions as she drove north and west of the home farm. "It's really a mixed bag of conditions and the variability seems to correspond with planting date," she noted.
Corn is tapping into the subsoil moisture, she said. "We're starting to see some leaves roll on the headlands and in compacted spots. But overall, things look good considering the lack of rain.
"We're sure feeling fortunate to have as much irrigation as we do on our sandier soils. It gives us a lot more control," she said.
Pamela Smith can be reached at email@example.com
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
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