View From the Cab

Farmers Take an Early Look at Yield Potential During Dog Days of August

Pamela Smith
By  Pamela Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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Early yield checks in irrigated corn by North Dakota farmer Chandra Langseth show good yield potential. However, dryland crops are struggling in this part of southeastern North Dakota. (Photo courtesy of Chandra Langseth)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- If the past week is an omen, Zachary Grossman might go on vacation more often. The Tina, Missouri, farmer took a rare trip away from the farm last week and tried to forget about drought conditions and the implications to his crops and pastures.

They say putting life in neutral is good for mind, body and soul. He would argue there is no better tonic for a farmer than rain when it is desperately needed. This week it fell in bucketsful over his northwestern Missouri farm. Grossman's fields recorded rainfall totals ranging from 3 to 7 inches between July 29 and Aug. 1.

"It's already made a big change in our pastures and should really give soybeans a boost," said Grossman. "I wouldn't say we'll have record crops. But I'd say this rain has put us on track to approach farm trend yields, barring some sort of weather disaster."

In southeastern North Dakota, Chandra and Mike Langseth are experiencing one of the drier years of their farming careers. "I don't think we've had a single rain that's been more than an inch since planting," said Chandra. "When we've gotten rains, they've just been one to two tenths here and there."

With about 50% of their crop irrigated, they remain hopeful overall. But the dryland crops are struggling. Enough rain to provide a vacation from tending irrigation units would not hurt morale on the farm, the couple agreed.

Grossman and the Langseths are participating in DTN's 2023 View From the Cab series. The features details crop conditions on the two farms during the growing season and explores a variety of other rural topics.

With DTN's Digitial Yield Tour kicking off on Aug. 7, this week the farmers take an early look at yield potential on their farms. Weather will still have a lot to say about how that potential is realized, but yield checks are giving them clues as to what to expect.

DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick said many parts of Missouri saw drought reducing rains this week after getting blasted by heat. After a system passes by the weekend, it's going to be a bit drier for the coming week as a front settles off to the south. Tina, Missouri, could see more rain move in with a system around mid-week, but heavy precipitation is not expected during that period, he noted. "With the front to the south, seasonably mild temperatures will be in the region with highs around 80 degrees forecast," Baranick noted.

The far southeastern region of North Dakota also has chances of rain this weekend (Aug. 5 and 6). The same system that will pass through Tina should wend its way to Barney early in the week, which could produce showers. "Another little system could go through next weekend that will offer some chances of rain. It's also going to be seasonably cooler with highs in the upper 70s and lower 80s for the coming week," Baranick said.

While sultry dog days of summer may be settling down temporarily, the farm dogs are always geared up. Farm dogs are both companions and a constant source of canine entertainment on these two farms.

Grossman's dog Sadie has no off switch when it comes to playing fetch. He became the caretaker his late grandfather's dog, Molly, in 2018. She is a favorite to join on rides to scout crops.

The Langseths already know their dogs Finn and Daisy will be hard to keep out of the corn fields now that there's milk in the kernel. "They'll drag whole stalks of corn out of the field. They love it and while they make a mess, it keeps them busy and mostly out of trouble -- so it's worth the small sacrifice to our crop," said Chandra.

At the same time, the dogs also have a curious affinity for eating spilled grain near bin sites and finding the occasional skunk. "There are reasons they are not house dogs," she added.

Read on to learn more about what these farmers are seeing in the field this week and what potential they see in the crop.


Farmers who don't have irrigation capabilities may wistfully wish for the ability to water a crop, particularly in drought years. However, those who do water know the work behind keeping irrigators running, especially as units begin to age. The mixing of metal and water results in a constant chore list.

"It's a lot of chasing pivots around -- flat tires, gearboxes, electrical problems," Mike said. "It makes it hard to get anything else done when the plan for the day involves changing tires."

Still, the benefits of irrigation are visually obvious this year. On the Langseths' farm, fields that are irrigated contain sandier soil types and sit above the aquifer. This year, irrigated corn is green and 9 feet tall with ears that have pollinated well. Corn stalks in the non-irrigated corners, however, stand as crispy testimony to the necessity of water on those soil types.

The irrigators turned on June 12 this year, which is at least a month earlier than a more typical year, Mike reported. He estimated that they've already applied about 5 inches more in terms of water volume than in a "normal" year.

Corn pollination checks on irrigated acres show good potential, said Chandra. "How much tip back we're going to see is still a question," she said. For this reason, she prefers to wait a bit to do any yield measurements. Even then, she takes a conservative view of how well that tip will fill.

"Soybean yield potential is always something of a guess. But walking irrigated fields of soybeans this week, I found lots of three- and four-bean pods. In dryland, I found a lot of three- and two-bean pods and evidence of flowers aborting," she said.

"Now that we've reached August, rain on those bean fields will be really important. We're already starting to see that yield shut down. If we don't get some rain soon, I think soybean yields on dryland are going to be disappointing, even though, currently, they still look remarkably good considering how little rain they've had," Chandra added.

Corn and soy on the remainder of the farm, which lies in richer, clay soils that have better water holding capacity, are also showing stress, she noted.

The Langseths estimate harvest is still six to seven weeks away. Soybean harvest should begin around the last week of September. This year they planted soybeas of 0.7 and 0.9 relative maturity (RM) and 92- to 98-day corn.

With corn just at early milk stage, yield talk is still just talk of potential. "The irrigated acres are going to be good, and the dryland is too early to tell," Mike said.

"It does kind of stink, because we had the right spring to get everything in the ground timely -- if not early," Chandra added. "But this dry season has really knocked down those early expectations."

Early planting coupled with warmer weather can be good for the corn, especially in these northerly regions. The dry conditions also caused the root to go deep and explore the entire soil profile. "Yield potential washes away pretty quick when rainfall goes away though," Chandra said. "Right now, I'm hoping for average yields, but preparing myself for what will likely be below average for us."

The good news is insect pests and weed control has been mostly successful this year. She currently has her eye on soybean aphids but watches economic thresholds closely on that pest since beneficial insects are so key to control. Female soybean cyst nematode has already been detected in some hot spots and is constantly in their management plans.

The 2022 crop year gave the Langseths a little taste of what dry conditions can be like, but they finished the year strong. This second year has been an eye opener to what drought can mean, Chandra admitted.

"Water management has always been our biggest challenge. There's been a lot invested in drainage so we can plant in a timely fashion. Now we're learning to manage the other side of that," she said.


Diving into a corn field might not have the very first thing Grossman did after returning from several days on a Jamaican beach, but it was darn close. He also admitted he made a few calls home just to check on conditions.

The half inch of rain (give or take) that fell as he was headed to the airport made him feel a little better about leaving. Although he knows that staying behind wouldn't have changed the triple-digit temperatures forecast, there's that feeling that you can control things if you are present in the moment. "I wasn't feeling too good about leaving when we were so parched. The situation was looking bad," he said.

By the time he had reached Orlando, Florida for a layover, another system had moved through Missouri bestowing another 1/2 to 3/4 inch of rain across Livingston and Carroll Counties. "The cloud cover coupled with those rain events were saving us through from the heat. Now it seems like it has rained every day since I returned," he said on Aug. 1. The rainfall totals vary widely across his farming area, but nearly all fields received 3 to 7 inches, which were enough to be game changers, he said.

Tar spot is on his radar as counties near him have popped up positive. "So far, we're not finding any evidence of any leaf disease. Our fungicide applications appear to be working and holding," he said.

Grossman said some of the early April planted corn is already at early dent stage and headed toward black layer. Even though it is getting close to maturity, slightly more than half of the kernel weight is yet to be accumulated at R5 growth stage. Recent rains should help relieve environmental stress and pack on additional dry matter, he noted.

"I don't see a record-breaking kind of year for us in corn. But I do think we could be darn close to farm trend yield," he said.

He feels less confident calling soybean potential, but figures the recent rains helped them even more. "We had some late Group 3 beans planted April 15. I don't know if these rains came in time to save all those bottom pods, but it is going to help fill what is there," Grossman said. "Right now, I think we're looking at an above-average soybean crop."

He has his sights set on Sept. 10 as a corn harvest start date. "This year is backward of last year when we caught rain into July and then everything shut off and it got hot and dry in August. Dry down happened fast last year," he said.

The spotty nature of almost everything is what stands out to him about this current crop. "There are fields in central Missouri that will likely be zeroed out this year because of drought. There are areas that have been hit hard by wind and hail. We have some northern areas that may raise the best crops they've ever raised. Some northeastern areas that were struggling with drought are now facing flash flooding," Grossman noted.

The recent rains on his farms were game changers for his pastures and cattle business. "I have winter pastures that hadn't recovered much this summer that are showing life again. You can't notice growth yet, but it's starting," he said. He's considering putting on an extra shot of nitrogen to give it an extra push.

"This is really going to ease the hay situation for me," he said. "I'm sure not going to complain about not having to fill hay rings all fall. We were looking at a long winter if things didn't turn around," he said.

At least one of his hay fields may rally enough for a second cutting. "I know there are some ranchers that weren't as lucky, and this rainfall didn't fall in time to help them or wasn't enough to help them. But I sure feel as though it provided me a glimmer of hope," he said.

He'd moved to feeding calves creep feed to save grass but plans to pull back on that strategy. "Too much feed can make calves fleshy and unappealing to buyers," he said.

Meanwhile, Grossman is trying to embrace an attitude of gratitude. He finished out the week as a volunteer at the Norborne (Missouri) Soybean Festival and planned to ride his horse in the festival parade. He looks forward to this opportunity every year.

Vacations of sandy beaches and deep blue waters are a wonderful treat, but the farmer in Grossman thrives on a steady diet of community and timely rains.

Pamela Smith can be reached at

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Pamela Smith

Pamela Smith
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