DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Zachary Grossman felt as though he and the crop went straight past simmer to full boil during the past week as temperatures tickled triple digits. The heat index soared as temperatures collided with the 12 to 15 inches of rain received in early August to result in some humbling humidity for the northwest Missouri farmer.
"Clouds of fog have been hanging over the crop each morning and miserable may be a nice word for the working conditions this past week," said Grossman, who farms with his father and brother near Tina. "We've focused on doing jobs where we can stay out of the direct heat as much as possible this week and haven't been shy about utilizing air-conditioned tractors and pickups to get work done."
The weather hasn't been quite as brutal in North Dakota where Chandra and Mike Langseth farm near Barney. During this time of year, tending the crop also means beginning to reflect on what practices and inputs worked this year and what might be improved for 2024. The couple has been trying some tissue testing to examine what yield might have left on the table.
The Langseths and Grossman have been participating in DTN's View From the Cab series this season. This is the 17th article chronicling crop conditions and other farm issues.
Read on to learn more about how these farmers are sizing up their crop and preparing for harvest. And, with the school year kicking into gear this week, we asked these 30-something farmers what they thought of their own college experiences, as well as any advice for students who look to come back to the farm.
CHANDRA AND MIKE LANGSETH: BARNEY, NORTH DAKOTA
Corn is just beginning to dent for the Langseths, who farm in the southeastern corner of the state. "According to NDSU (North Dakota State University), we're about 100 growing degree days ahead of normal," said Mike. "So, not wildly ahead of schedule, but harvest could start a few days early."
That's giving him a deadline to make sure harvesting equipment is ready to roll. While Mike admits to enjoying shop work, what he thought would be a three-day repair on a combine has turned into three weeks and the auger for the new grain cart is still lying on the ground.
That new cart will be needed if yield estimates prove accurate. Droughty conditions have taken most of the potential out of the non-irrigated corners of both corn and soybeans, but the watered crop looks excellent, he said. Even the dryland crops on heavier soils are surprisingly good, given rain limitations, he noted.
This area largely escaped the heat most of the Corn Belt saw last week. DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick said a front going through the region on Aug. 27 could bring some showers. "Cooler temperatures will be around early next week and then they should tick up again mid-late week," he said. Baranick said a few days in the mid-upper 80s appear to be on tap and should be above normal for early September.
This year the couple pulled some tissue samples on irrigated corn growing on land that was tiled last year. "It looks like we're going to be well ahead of old averages, but the tissue tests are telling us another 20-to-30 more pounds of nitrogen could have made enough of yield difference to push us to another level," Mike said. "All of this is aimed at what could be a change in fertility plans for next year. We're looking at what we might be missing for us to really reach some top-end yields."
With the start of a new school season, Chandra's focus is back on students in her role as an agriculture assistant professor at North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, teaching precision agriculture and agronomy courses. Her favorite part of teaching is to get students into the field to see real-life scenarios -- whether that is through plot work or field trips to see new technology in action.
About half of the 100 students in the agriculture program intend to return home to farm and the remainder look for employment in industry, she estimated. While she is an agronomy person at heart, Chandra emphasizes the importance of taking farm business classes when advising students.
"When I'm visiting with prospective students or high school students, I like to ask what they intend to bring back to the farming operation. That answer varies by farm and by kid and there's no one right answer. What is important, is to think about where they fit in the business so we can tailor a program to fit," Chandra said.
She also likes to ask what part of farming makes them uncomfortable and then, encourages a class or two in that area. "Often those subjects are business-related such as marketing, bookkeeping, crop insurance and land acquisition. The things you like are easily learned because they are more interesting to you already.
"Taking a class in something you fear can often reduce that reluctance about a really important aspect of farming," she said.
Mike's own college path led him to a journalism curriculum at the University of Minnesota. When he decided to farm instead, he went back to school to pursue a masters in soil science. "If I were advising students headed back to a crops farm based on what I know now, I'd suggest a combination of agronomy and business classes," he said.
"I hear a lot of kids talk about wanting to study diesel mechanics so they can work on their own machinery. But at the end of the day, if you are going to manage a crops farm, those are not your biggest decisions. Your equipment line is a means to an end. The job is to grow crops and make a profit doing it," he said.
His degree in journalism wasn't wasted. It taught him to be inquisitive and to ask questions. Six years on the North Dakota Soybean Council and several of them on the executive board were another learning opportunity. "Those are opportunities that I would recommend to any young farmer, especially when the older generation is still available, and it doesn't matter if you disappear for a few days a few times a year.
"You will learn things about the industry. Sometimes you find out that you've been doing something one way and there's a whole different way. You find yourself among smart farmers that can become a valuable network of support," he said.
As a high school student, he didn't see himself farming. But now he can't imagine anything else. "I love it," Mike said of the occupation. "You're a heavy equipment operator part of the year and a businessman part of the year. Sometimes you're just the guy behind the shovel.
"What I really like is no two days are the same," Mike said.
ZACHARY GROSSMAN: TINA, MISSOURI
Grossman will be glad he doesn't see a repeat of the last week anytime soon.
Multiple days near or above 100 degrees Fahrenheit made for some stressful conditions for maturing crops. "I can't tell if or how much it hurt dry matter accumulation. We had good moisture right where I farm. But the crop is drying down fairly fast now," he said.
Cattle are another concern. "My pastures all have plenty of shade areas and the cattle tend to graze late evening or early morning. Recent rains have creeks flowing well," he reported.
DTN's Baranick said a front brought some recent relief during the weekend. "This area, too, will see some increasing temperatures late in the week (Aug. 27), but only into the mid to upper 80s, a solid 10 degrees or more lower than this past week," said Baranick. "Ninety may be touchable in early September, but that would probably be it.
"The front that goes through North Dakota will likely be dry as it moves through Missouri, and if the rains don't come over the current weekend, it may be a while before we see anything substantial there. Models aren't too keen at bringing anything along in the seven- to 10-day forecast. A front that sets up for North Dakota later this week might stay north, or again be dry."
With corn at black layer, Grossman is looking at the homestretch and an anticipated harvest start date of mid-September. Soybeans are more uncertain as pods are still filling.
Wet, humid conditions have had him watching for leaf diseases, but so far, they've blessedly absent. He's heard reports of some sudden death syndrome (SDS) but so far has seen little evidence of it in his fields this year.
On-farm variety trials help the family evaluate new hybrids and varieties they might want to try. "We always try a few new numbers each year but limit those acres until we are certain of performance," Grossman said.
The farm partners have been eyeing short stature corn at field days, but green snap hasn't been an issue on their farm. Plus, they want to see the yield comparisons before looking at it seriously, he said.
Tar spot tolerance is one thing they'll target when choosing hybrids for 2024. The disease showed up early in Missouri this summer, but the hot and dry conditions in July slowed incidence. Reports around the state are flaring post rains, but timely fungicide application brought Grossman's acres through the danger zone. Infection at this late stage is not considered economic.
Drainage improvements are always on his to-do list. "When I truly set goals for the farm, it is always with the thought of improving upon what I have. If I have a philosophy about farming it is if I have extra money, it goes back into make the farm operate at peak efficiency.
"Sometimes things like equipment needs can't be ignored. But in general, putting money into farm improvements puts money back into your pocket, which in turns helps pay for the equipment to run over it," Grossman said.
The University of Missouri graduate attended college with an eye on eventually heading back to the farm. "Meeting people within ag that were of like mind, but had different perspectives, was probably the most beneficial thing for me," he added. Marketing and economics courses taken during those years continue to serve him well as both a farmer and when wearing his ag loan officer cap.
Grossman said students looking to learn specifics about how to farm might want to consider a more targeted two-year program.
When it comes to continuing education, he is a voracious reader of all things ag-related. And that's a cool way to wait out these last few weeks while the crop continues to cook.
Pamela Smith can be reached at email@example.com
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
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