View From the Cab

Farmers Find Soybean Yield Surprises

Pamela Smith
By  Pamela Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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Harvest continues in Missouri for View From the Cab farmer Zachary Grossman. Yields have been surprisingly good given the rollercoaster weather this year. (Photo courtesy of Zachary Grossman)

Editor's Note: See Pamela Smith talk about View From the Cab on this week's Reporter's Notebook at https://www.dtnpf.com/….

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DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- It requires a curious mix of patience coupled with urgency to farm in northern states. The season squeezes from both ends as you wait for favorable weather to plant and then race to bring in the bounty before weather sets in.

This week Chandra and Mike Langseth breathed a sigh of relief as they broke open the first of their soybean fields near Barney, North Dakota. They had hoped to start harvest a few weeks ago, but cloudy days and a splash of late-season rainfall slowed dry down.

While they've barely nosed in on harvest, the yield monitor was registering 60 bushels per acre (bpa) average on irrigated soybeans from a 0.9 relative maturity variety. "It's a little early for us to be reporting yields, but we are optimistic, especially given the limited rainfall we've had," said Chandra.

Zachary Grossman was echoing that sentiment this week as soybean harvest continued on his family's farm near Tina, Missouri. He caught a 12-inch deluge in early August, which gave soybeans a big boost. However, he credits modern genetics for keeping the crop thriving through a dry summer.

Grossman and the Langseths have been reporting throughout the 2023 growing season. This is the 19th year for DTN's View From the Cab series which features two farms in different growing regions. This is the 23rd installment for the current season.

Weather continues to dominate their discussions as the harvest kicks into full gear. DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick said the Langseths will experience near- or below-normal temperatures for much of the next week. "There's a risk of frost just about every day for them, but the forecast does look pretty dry," he noted. "There may be some rain that catches it around midweek, but that system is likely to stay south."

In Tina, the risk of frost is more subdued, but the conditions could still turn out right for a frost early in the coming week. "Temperatures should rise midweek though, as a system comes through the Central Plains and should head eastward from there. Unlike Barney, there is a much greater potential for rain with the midweek storm, which could bog down harvest a bit. But the rain is needed in the drought," Baranick said.

This week the VFTC farmers offer a deeper look at how harvest is progressing and how sometimes the biggest job on the farm is keeping everyone organized. Read on to learn why keeping the combine clean is a daily chore and how a rain event 25 years ago keeps drought in perspective.

ZACHARY GROSSMAN: TINA, MISSOURI

Grossman may have only been 5 years old on Oct. 4, 1998, but he remembers the day like yesterday. Rain came down in sheets during a Sunday night football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Seattle Seahawks.

An avid Chiefs' fan even at this tender age, the memory of an 80-yard rain-soaked pass that won the game that night is cemented with another Hail Mary in the family's soybean field. That same 7-inch rain event sent water over the top of a field of mature soybeans along a creek bottom.

"It is one of our most fertile fields and those beans were loaded with pods. When the water came off, the quarter-mile long rows were all laying in one direction. We had an old John Deere 4420 and Grandpa and I cut them all going one direction," he recalled.

"We'd make a pass in a black fog and then, drive all the way back and do it again. We may complain about drought, but then I think back to that time 25 years ago and it puts things into perspective. We've been fortunate to have amazing harvest weather so far this year," he added.

Water -- too much or too little -- is a theme Grossman knows is part of farming. This year, he's given thanks for every drop, even though most of it came in one big August whoosh. "It's scary to think of what would have been had we not had that two-week deluge in August. It would have been a desert," he said.

A small shower this past week didn't hold combines out of the field for long, but it did shove soybean moisture back into the 10% to 11% range. In this region of northwest Missouri, many farmers have switched to harvesting soybeans and letting corn dry down further, he noted.

The most recent USDA-NASS Crop Progress Report for Missouri found soybeans dropping leaves had reached 82%, compared to the five-year average of 52%. Soybeans harvested reached 12%, compared to the five-year average of 7%. Mature corn was 92%, compared to the five-year average of 84%. Corn harvested for grain reached 42% compared to the five-year average of 40%.

Grossman said soybean yields have been ranging from the mid-50s to mid-60s bpa so far. The lower end of that yield average came in a field with prospects that looked so dismal around the R3 growth stage that the decision was made not to apply a fungicide in that field.

"It was hot and super dry. It wasn't that we gave up on the crop in that field, but more about trying to wisely use inputs and control costs," he said. "About two weeks later we got that big rain and regretted that decision.

"I think that's a lesson we will likely look at differently next year if faced with the same situation," he said. The farm is realizing at a least 3-to-5 bushel average yield bump with fungicide use in soybean. He estimated that it takes about 3 bushels to break even on the cost of the fungicide and application, depending on current prices.

"The yields realized this year are a tribute to how far hybrids and varieties have advanced," Grossman added. "I think we've all been surprised by how well things are doing compared to how they would have performed under similar conditions only 10-to-15 years ago."

The creature comforts associated with today's equipment aren't lost on him either. "I spent a lot of days with a John Deere 6620 steering wheel pulled into my belly and hunched over it so I could watch the header and keep a hand on the hydrostat.

"I know that's nothing compared to what generations before me endured without cabs, etc. What I do know is my back is very appreciative of the equipment we run today, and it helps us be more efficient."

CHANDRA AND MIKE LANGSETH: BARNEY, NORTH DAKOTA

The first days of harvest typically involve some troubleshooting. Mike knew he was pushing the envelope a bit with a new-to-the-farm grain cart and a new soybean header headed to the field.

Of course, it was a truck that had recently been deemed harvest ready that had an alternator fail. Then, a sieve actuator on the main combine decided to quit.

"We work toward being ready much of the summer, so it's frustrating when stuff happens. But we're up and running hard now," he said.

The "we" is a stellar harvest work crew that includes Mike's father, Paul, and Chandra's parents, Dale and Jenny Heglund.

"I'm having a severe case of FOMO (fear of missing out) this week," Chandra said, noting that her college teaching duties are keeping her pulled away from harvest. "Hopefully the weather will cooperate and I'll get to participate over the weekend. But I get a kick out of knowing my mom is driving the grain cart. Dad is driving trucks. They both seem to love it," Chandra added.

This week Mike and Chandra are also counting their blessings for some surprising yield developments. To say the farm was short on moisture this year is an understatement. The closest weather station recorded an accumulated 5.5 inches from Mid-May through mid-September. They received 4 inches of rain the last week of September, but it was too late to help much with yield. Half the farm is irrigated, which saved the day on fields of sandier soil types.

"I was pleasantly surprised that there was some real serious top-end yield in the first field we harvested," Mike said. The yield monitor tickled the 70-bpa mark in really good areas of the field. He estimated the irrigated portion of the field to be averaging 60 bpa and the whole-field average, including non-irrigated corners, to be in the mid-to-low 50-bpa range. There were some low areas of the field that weren't ready to harvest, so that had yet to be counted.

"We've been concerned this summer because our beans are very short in height this year. The inner nodes are shorter, and, in some cases, there are so many pods you can't see the stems," he added. "It's kind of crazy looking."

The soybean crop took a turn last week and has dried down enough that the Langseths aren't worried about frost this week. "We consider anywhere from 30 to 50 degrees to be pretty normal temperatures for this area this time of year," Mike said.

The latest USDA-NASS crop progress report for North Dakota found soybean condition rated 3% very poor, 14% poor, 35% fair, 45% good, and 3% excellent. Soybeans dropping leaves was 92%, ahead of 87% last year, and equal to the five-year average. Harvested was 23%, equal to last year, and behind 29% average.

Corn condition rated 1% very poor, 7% poor, 27% fair, 58% good, and 7% excellent. The corn was 73% mature, ahead of 62% both last year and average; 8% was harvested, ahead of 3% last year, and near 6% average.

Since Mike moved into the management role, he's driving equipment less and pulling wrenches and whatever else is necessary to make sure the family and fleet can keep moving.

And he literally is thinking about putting out fires. Dry conditions have him on alert for dust accumulation even more than usual. Combines are blown off each day with compressed air. Particular attention is paid to pinch points, pulleys, belts, bearings and anywhere debris can accumulate.

"I'm looking forward to getting through this first week of harvest and all the kinks that come with it, so I can give a true view from the cab next week," Mike said.

Pamela Smith can be reached at pamela.smith@dtn.com

Follow her on X, formerly Twitter, @PamSmithDTN

Pamela Smith

Pamela Smith
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