DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Cue the fireworks. For farmers, a much-needed rain is cause for celebration -- no official holiday required. In southeast North Dakota, Chandra and Mike Langseth were feeling the relief this week as a splash of precipitation had taken the edge off thirsty crops – at least temporarily.
Likewise, crops in northwest Missouri were gasping when a weather system rolled through on Thursday, June 29. That event didn't deliver the amount of liquid refreshment Zachary Grossman might have liked, but drought makes one thankful for every drop even as you search the radar for the next round, he said.
Grossman, who farms near Tina, Missouri, and the Langseths, who hail from Barney, North Dakota, are participating in DTN's feature called View From the Cab. The series appears weekly during the growing season and includes progress reports from two distinct growing regions.
This week the farmers give an update on how their crops are faring and detail some emerging pest threats. They also talk about what it takes to navigate the emotional roller coaster of challenging weather conditions. And they discuss how participating in an independent profession brings the meaning of independence home.
ZACHARY GROSSMAN: TINA, MISSOURI
Zach Grossman's life is all about baling hay these days, whether it is his own crop or a custom job for a neighbor.
The counties where he farms slid further into the dry this week to become classified as a D2 Severe Drought on USDA's Drought Monitor. Only a few counties away, central Missouri sits in even more dire drought circumstances. He figures every blade of grass that can be dedicated to hay this year will matter to the beef herd.
"You know the old saying that if you think you've got it bad, you don't have to look too far down the road to find someone worse off? It's sure true here in Missouri this year," Grossman said.
Not only is he seeing the influence of drought in pastures, but it's also cut early hay yields by 50% or more, he estimated. That situation is also reflected by indications farmers have started to cull cow herds. The local sale barn typically shuts down for the summer after May. Instead, a special cow sale was held last week.
"I'm feeling lucky in that I still have grass and my hay crop was respectable. I need enough rain to keep the grass growing. If I can get that and keep my cows rotated, I should be okay to get to winter," he said.
The strong storm cell that rolled through on June 29 delivered 0.75 inch of rain to his Livingston County crops and 0.25 to 0.5 inch where he farms in Carroll County. The good news is he missed the winds that flattened corn in some counties to the north.
Still, steamy temperatures are predicted just as the corn starts to tassel and enters pollination. "I've got some fields that are just starting to tassel, but it's random and I'm guessing that it is the refuge corn shooting first," Grossman said.
DTN ag meteorologist John Baranick agreed heat has been a stressor for Grossman's farming area this past week. The good news is relief from the heat could come over the weekend and, hopefully, also some additional rains.
"The forecast is favorable for this area for additional chances for pop-up showers and thunderstorms for most of the week with a more organized chance with a front moving through in the Wednesday to Thursday time frame," said Baranick.
"The pattern likely stays active that weekend into the following week as well, but you can never be too sure with thunderstorm clusters moving through. Temperatures should be closer to where they should be for this time of year though, hovering around the mid-80s and lower 90s depending on where those showers and thunderstorms go and when they hit," he added.
Statewide, the latest USDA Crop Progress Report rated Missouri topsoil moisture supply 45% very short, 43% short, and 12% adequate. Subsoil moisture supply rated 41% very short, 40% short, and 19% adequate. Corn condition rated 9% very poor, 16% poor, 44% fair, 29% good, and 2% excellent. Soybean condition rated 8% very poor, 19% poor, 41% fair, 30% good, and 2% excellent.
"We were in a pattern earlier in the season where we were getting just what we needed every week to 10 days. Over the last few weeks, we moved to missing those timely, critical rains and it was really starting to show. We went from having spots of corn on hills rolling to whole fields rolling," Grossman reported.
"Soybeans look pretty good except for late-planted fields that appear a little puny. All the early planted beans are in full canopy and are flowering," he added.
With some threat of triple-digit temperatures finishing the current week, Grossman doesn't expect the sip his crops received this week to last long.
"Hope isn't lost here by any means. We were just down to the wire where if we didn't get rain this week, we would be looking at yield losses in corn," Grossman said. "So whatever else comes our way next week will sure be welcome."
At 30, Grossman doesn't have a long history of weather disasters to look back on that aren't oft-repeated memories of his father and grandfather. The 2012 drought, however, is seared into his memory. "This year feels different because the rains are coming, they just seem spotty and scattered. In 2012, drought didn't play favorites. It seemed like everyone suffered," he said.
In 2012, it was Labor Day weekend before the skies finally opened and the remnants of Hurricane Isaac dumped nearly six inches of rain across his drought-ravaged region.
"I had called the co-op the day before and had them throw some nitrogen in the pasture. Boom! The grass exploded and I ended up having fall grass following one of the worst droughts this area has faced," he said. "The corn burned up, but we sometimes forget how those rains saved our beans. We cut some 40-plus bushel to the acre beans that year," he said.
Staying positive comes from being grounded in faith and having a general nature to only worry about things he can control, he said. "Weather worries get frustrating, and I've admittedly not faced prolonged years of it like some farmers.
"It is disheartening when you watch the radar and the rains scattered all around you, but I just keep working at the things I can do and trust Mother Nature will even things out," he said.
His father, Curt, was away last week for a trip to Ireland. Grossman said his absence was a wake-up call as to how much his labor matters to the operation. Wheat harvest and straw baling was in full swing. He and his brother, Trent, were also trying to finish up postemergence spraying soybeans.
Word that tar spot had been found in some counties in Missouri was an alert to fit scouting into the schedule. Fungicide treatments will start on corn soon after full tassel.
No rain made for an easier wheat harvest, but along with a few combine breakdowns, left the Grossman brothers putting in some long hours last week.
"We saved the best wheat field for last and it made 85 bpa. That field represents the best soils of all our wheat acres and had a bit more rain," he said. He figured overall the farm averaged mid-60 bpa on the soft red winter wheat. They put up 100 large round bales of straw and socked away 175 small square bales, which are used mostly used as bedding or sold locally to gardeners.
Putting up more hay is on the agenda for July 4, as per usual, Grossman said. But later in the day he'll likely have dinner with relatives, and they'll all adjourn to a big hill where the fireworks from the town of Carrollton (some 10 miles away) will light up the skies and provide a colorful reminder of what freedom means.
CHANDRA AND MIKE LANGSETH: BARNEY, NORTH DAKOTA
The Langseths figure they'll also be taking it a little easier on July 4 and keep things low-key by hanging out with family. It's been a hectic spring so far. With the abnormally dry conditions setting in early this year, keeping the irrigation equipment serviced has become a big job.
"Irrigators seem to suck up as much time as you'll let them," noted Mike. "I've been fixing gearboxes and generally just keeping everything going."
While the couple missed some of the bigger rains that recently hit the region, most of the farm squeezed out an accumulated 0.6 inch of rainfall last week, Chandra said. "What's really helped has been coming off that run of 90-to-95-degree temperatures that were accompanied by big winds. Cooler temperatures are making the crops happier, but we wouldn't turn away more rain."
DTN's ag meteorologist John Baranick said the Barney area should see a front moving through early next week. "There are shower chances Monday and Tuesday, maybe even on Wednesday behind the front, but that doesn't mean they'll get hit. After the heavy rains that moved through their area last weekend, they're in a bit of a drier pattern.
"Chances will still move through the area, but the frequency will be lower, and there's a chance they miss out on the rains. This is an area that might be in a little more focus going forward if rains start missing," Baranick said.
The latest USDA Crop Progress Report pegged North Dakota's soybean condition as 1% very poor, 6% poor, 31% fair, 59% good and 3% excellent. Corn condition rated 1% very poor, 4% poor, 30% fair, 61% good and 4% excellent.
Weed control was also keeping Mike busy this week. "The residual I put down three weeks ago or so is just starting to break," Mike said. "It did its job, but I'm starting to see some seedling weeds and I want to stay on top of them." They plant in 15-inch rows but want to keep things clean to carry the crop to canopy.
So, a second postemergence soybean pass is underway with Liberty (glufosinate) to tackle broadleaves and grass and Select (clethodim) for added control on grass and more specifically, volunteer corn. The Langseths raise seed beans and volunteer corn is a zero-tolerance weed scenario.
Weeds and weed control are also getting more scrutiny with the first discovery of dicamba-resistant waterhemp in North Dakota only a few counties away. That's not the only new pest threat in the area, either. Gall midge, a relatively new insect that infests the border rows of soybeans, was found in the adjoining county last year, but officially confirmed only last week.
Iron deficiency chlorosis (IDC) is top of mind for Chandra. "Some of the beans are really in the ugly duckling stage right now with some yellowing. They will grow out of it in about a week as root systems become more established, but I'm watching the varieties for differences," she said.
No soybean variety is immune, but they vary greatly in their genetic ability to tolerate IDC, which is caused by the inability of the plant to take up iron. There can be big differences in stunting and yield reductions between varieties.
Iron is necessary for the formation of chlorophyll. Yellowing occurs when the plant fails to take up enough iron and it is observed in the youngest leaves first because iron isn't mobile in the plant. About half the farm is more susceptible to IDC due to soil pH that runs around 8 and carbonate levels from 3% to 5%, Chandra said.
"Environment is a big driver," she noted. "Typically, we think of IDC as worse in wet conditions. This year we've been dry and we're still seeing it -- perhaps more moderate than other years, but still there."
Raising two varieties of seed beans across all their acres limits spreading the risk. "But the good news is the seed companies really know their beans and are dedicated to making sure we get the best varieties that are suited to the situation," she said. Variety selection with built-in native tolerances are almost always slower to find their way to northern climates, though, she added.
While scouting fields she's also found some bleached soybean leaves that has her sleuthing out an answer. "We think we may have a small amount of Group 27 herbicide carryover. It's very spotty in the field and no real pattern that's consistent. We're thinking carryover from corn given the dry year, but we're still digging into it," Chandra said.
Like Grossman, this young couple said they try to keep perspective when weather doesn't exactly go as hoped. "We try to focus on the things we do have control over, rather than thinking about things we can't do much about," Mike said.
"There's no question that it is hard to see a crop get more and more stressed after it has looked beautiful and you've been so excited about it," he added. "But dwelling on that doesn't change much and we try to keep that in mind."
Pamela Smith can be reached at email@example.com
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