DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- There's something comforting about pulling corn ears; peeling back the husks and watching the silks fall away to reveal neat rows of viable kernels. Zachary Grossman knows his 2023 corn crop is far from made, but pollination checks this week assured the northwest Missouri farmer that it had cleared early hurdles.
Every rain event seems monumental when drought grabs hold. "We've mostly been living drink-to-drink since planting," said Grossman, who farms in Carroll and Livingston counties near Tina. "So, I was pleasantly surprised to find good kernel counts. It says a lot about the resiliency of today's hybrids and our soils, but we need more moisture to finish."
In the southeastern section of North Dakota, Chandra and Mike Langseth have a corn crop just beginning to pollinate. While they have irrigation to help thirsty crops on sandy soils, they will be the first to say it is no substitute for rainfall. The weather station closest to their Barney, North Dakota, farm indicated a nearly 6-inch deficit in normal precipitation from May 21 through July 18.
DTN's View From the Cab series is the tale of two farms and those who tend them. This year, the feature follows crop conditions and details various aspects of agriculture and farm life through viewpoints of Grossman and the Langseths, both young 30-something farmers located in different geographical regions.
As in past weeks, weather continued to dominate discussions. DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick said it could be a tough weather week ahead for these farmers and others. "A big dome of heat is going to move out of the Rockies and into the Plains, that will send temperatures well above 90 degrees and a few days in the triple digits will be possible in Tina. There may be a pop-up shower or thunderstorm in the middle of the week, but there's nothing guaranteed out of this pattern, and I would tend to stay on the drier side of the forecast. A somewhat better chance for rain comes at the end of the week where a little front may come through, but that's a big 'if' at this point," Baranick said.
It is expected to be about 10 degrees Fahrenheit cooler in Barney, but several days in the lower 90s are expected.
"The top of the heat ridge should set up along the U.S.-Canada border and that will mean systems moving through Canada throughout the week. There's a better shot to see a shower or two out of it, but it does look spotty and random. And if they're studying the radar, they would be the type that have a little mind of their own, which can be frustrating. Either way though, it's looking like a more stressful week and coming at an inopportune time for most of the Corn Belt," he added.
This week Grossman battles his way into the heart of the cornfield to pull samples. Meanwhile, he's rotating pastures and baling every blade of grass he can -- just in case Mother Nature's water spigot turns off instead of continuing to stay stingy.
The Langseths were doing an agronomic gut-check by pulling tissues samples on corn this week. And, while harvest may seem in the distance, they were also making a few tweaks in the equipment lineup.
When it comes to purchases, the farmers also talk about how they are seeing the first significant interest rates jumps of their careers. And, in this 13th installment of the View From the Cab series, we asked if they are superstitious. The answer was: "Meh ... not really."
"I don't have much time for superstitions," said Grossman, who works a full-time job as an ag loan officer and farms in the off-hours. "I make hay whenever I can. Now, if that happens to bring a rain shower along, I not going to complain about it."
CHANDRA AND MIKE LANGSETH -- BARNEY, NORTH DAKOTA
Is it even a field day if it isn't hot, dry and sticky? Chandra Langseth had her professor cap on for several days this week teaching college students to scout fields and evaluate agronomic situations.
For the farmer, who also is an agriculture assistant professor at North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, it was a temporary break from looking at her own crop.
"It's been a quiet week in the field," said Chandra. "Weed control is holding. Corn is tasseling and beginning to pollinate. I've looked for all kinds of bugs but haven't really found anything out of the norm -- which is nice. We do need rain, but the crop looks good considering."
Mike credits the full soil profile at the beginning of the season for how the crop is holding on. "The last few weeks have been relatively mild. We had some hot days earlier in the season, but things cooled down to a nice 75 to 80 degrees (daytime) while the corn was putting on the last foot or two of height and started throwing tassels," he said.
Those early rains also delayed planting, so the earliest planted corn is just now beginning to pollinate. "We're a week or 10 days away from being able to tell what we might have out there," he said. "One thing is for certain, it's not short-statured. Some of our irrigated corn is 9-to-10 foot tall."
A new agronomic project on the farm this year is tissue sampling corn to evaluate the nitrogen program. "We're especially taking a harder look at irrigated acres," Chandra noted. "We don't have results back yet, so have made no decisions on whether we switch things up. We do have the option of applying more nitrogen through pivots on irrigated acres."
One thing they are tweaking is harvesting capacity. Last year they added a second combine to the equipment lineup, and they are converting that machine from an eight-row to a 12-row (30-foot) head. A little rough math led Mike to the conclusion that upgrade would push their grain cart capacity and they've traded up.
"We need about three good weeks to harvest corn and we don't always get that," Mike said, explaining the why behind the need to increase gathering efficiencies. The combine has already been through a preharvest checkup at the dealership. This week the Langseths had the machine in their own shop going over it again for some finetuning. The long-term goal is being harvest ready.
This is the first time since Mike and Chandra have been farming that interest rates have risen to these levels. They consider themselves to be frugal when making farm investments -- whether it is inputs, equipment, or land.
"We've been making farm upgrades right along -- tiling and putting up bins like everyone does, for example," Mike said. "But looking at interest rates now, I'm not planning to borrow money to do the next project.
"If I've got the cash flow to tile a quarter, and it makes sense, or put up an irrigator, and it makes sense, I'll probably do it. But I'd rather pay down debt and not take any more medium-term debt when interest rates are at this level," he said.
The young couple purchased land in 2020 when borrowing rates were more favorable. So far, current land prices, when it becomes available in the area, aren't reflecting any squeeze from climbing interest rates, Mike said.
Used equipment typically fits their pocketbook better than new. "We've either been the second or third owner on nearly every piece of equipment on the farm. We just try not to be the last owner," he said.
He also doesn't want to be in the position where a decision made at $6 per bushel corn suddenly can't pencil at $4.50 per bushel corn. "If I'm getting in debt, I become a pessimist and try not get upside down," he added.
ZACHARY GROSSMAN -- TINA, MISSOURI
The banker in Grossman appreciates the attitude of finding a balance between staying optimistic about agriculture, but realistic about its volatility.
Commodity prices have been feeding off dry weather worries of late but fall prices could look much different if Corn Belt states receive the rains needed to finish this crop.
"When a (bank loan) customer comes in, I like to see that they have a plan if things don't exactly go as planned," he added. "Cash flow is king."
Many young farmers may have never experienced interest rates at current levels, he agreed.
"It hasn't been that long ago that you could still buy a piece of equipment or a vehicle and finance it at zero percent or 1% interest. Those days are gone," Grossman said. "A lot of operating loans are now around 8%."
And while the 1980s remain the comparison used to discuss expensive money, he observed that lines of credit are much bigger today as farms have grown, and so have costs of nearly every input.
Listen to Grossman talk more about interest rates on this week's DTN Field Posts podcast at https://www.buzzsprout.com/….
When it comes to current investments on his own farm, he's trying to keep the words "needs" and "wants" in perspective, particularly this year. "There are obvious things we must do to sustain the farm, but right now what our crop is going to do is a real wild card," he said.
Uncertain, variable, erratic -- use whatever word you like, but Grossman has never experienced a roller coaster weather season like this one. "I'm not going to lie; this year has been a grind. I know we are in much better shape than many who have lost crops to hail and wind and whatever else, but seeing the potential of this crop and only occasional showers is also frustrating," he said. "We just aren't getting those widespread rain events that turn things around."
During the past week, a few of his fields were able to record a quarter to 4/10ths of an inch of rain, depending on the farm. His most southern and driest field in Carroll County drew close to a half inch one night and 3/10ths a day after.
On Tuesday, he pulled samples from a Carroll County field that has been one of the driest this season, although it contains "good creek bottom soils." Planted at 34,000 plants per acre (ppa) on April 11, the final stand count was 32,000 ppa. A representative mid-field sample was found to be pollinated with 18 X 34 kernels.
Soybeans are blooming and setting pods. He said a few fields look a bit shorter than normal and some clay or hill spots are showing stress. Fungicide was being applied by ground rig to soybeans this week.
"We're getting 1/10th here and there -- just enough to wet things down and then the sun comes out and burns it off. It's been sort of like being in Florida," he noted. What concerns him is there are few or no reserves for crops to rely on with the upcoming predicted heat wave.
Grossman saw no evidence of corn leaf diseases as he walked fields and checked pollination. Tar spot was identified one county away this week, so the radar is up for it.
Some cow herds in his area have already been thinned, but he's hoping pasture rotation and judicious use of hay will see him through.
"I have pastures that haven't seen cows for two months. They are green, but there's just not a lot of regrowth. Rain would help recovery, but this late in the year, I'm not going to be able to keep cows on those pastures long," he said.
"The name off the game is how far can I make it into fall before I must start feeding hay. Then, the next step is you start hoping you've got enough hay to carry you through to next spring," he said. He started calves on creep feed early to provide alternative food sources.
Grossman's baler has been busy this summer for his own needs and custom work. He said the drought is so bad in some areas that new bales are being hauled directly to the cattle. Emergency Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) baling has been opened and he hopes that takes some pressure off those in desperate need.
"We just need a good, long soaker. I can't remember the last time I wasn't wishing for rain," he said.
Pamela Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
(c) Copyright 2023 DTN, LLC. All rights reserved.