DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- The weather outside might have been frightfully dry most of the summer, but the crop, pastures and people endured. When DTN's View From the Cab farmers look back on the 2023 season, the one word that stands out is resiliency.
"I sound like a broken record, but I can't believe how well things turned out here given the drought conditions we faced most of the summer," said Zachary (Zach) Grossman, of Tina, Missouri. "I realize not all farmers and ranchers were as lucky -- even in my own state of Missouri. But if you'd told me what our rainfall would have been like throughout this season, I never would have guessed our yields could have been at or slightly better than farm APH (actual production history)."
The sentiment is much the same in southeastern North Dakota for Chandra and Mike Langseth, who farm near Barney. There was much to be thankful for when the couple hosted a large family Thanksgiving feast at the farm home last week. Yields in their acres also met or slightly exceeded yield goals.
"Overall, it turned out to be a pretty good year," said Chandra. She pointed to a bounty of reasons for those results: irrigation on sandy acres; the water holding capacity of dryland soils; tile drainage; limited stress on the crop due to lack of pests and disease; and moderate temperatures.
But whew ... uncertain weather is still on the radar for these farmers, who have been reporting in each week as part of DTN's View From the Cab project. The counties where Grossman farms remain listed in D1 (moderate drought) on the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor. The same map lists Richland County, where the Langseths farm, as mostly D0 (abnormally dry).
DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick said El Nino will be in control of what happens this winter but will be waning in the spring. "Through the winter, that favors a split jet stream across North America. That favors the northern jet up in northwestern Canada and then swooping through eastern Canada. That usually keeps the northern tier of the country warmer than normal. The southern jet moves along the southern end of the country, favoring an active storm track for those from California through the Southeast, and sometimes up the East Coast," Baranick noted.
"That doesn't mean that warm and dry conditions are favored all winter long, but the threat for cold shots is lower and less intense than normal and precipitation is somewhat below normal as well. That's a little muddied in both North Dakota and northern Missouri, but there is a signal of reduced precipitation."
In the spring, El Nino's influence starts to fall away, and the pattern is a little more difficult to get a hold on, he added. "The DTN forecast does hold the typical El Nino temperature pattern through the spring, but with lower confidence later in the season. The precipitation forecast is also much more variable across much of the country, again especially later in the season. All-in-all, a typical El Nino winter is forecast, but confidence quickly drops off as El Nino fades into the middle of next year," he said.
In other words, more questions than answers remain when it comes to weather for many farmers, including the Langseths and Grossman.
This article is the final official segment of View From the Cab for the season, but both farms are participating in a DTN collaboration with The SCN Coalition. Soil from their farms is currently undergoing HG-type testing for soybean cyst nematode. Results of those tests will be reported when available. Read more about that effort here: https://www.dtnpf.com/….
Read on to find additional year-end thoughts from our volunteers -- including some tweaks they plan to make next year.
CHANDRA AND MIKE LANGSETH: BARNEY, NORTH DAKOTA
Cleaning the farm shop and putting equipment away for the winter was providing a therapeutic distraction for Mike Langseth this week. Likewise, Chandra was entering the final stretches of the fall semester at North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, where she teaches agriculture.
Both are looking forward to a winter schedule that will include sitting down with yield maps to parse out data to make informed decisions for 2024.
The process of publicly recording what's happening on the farm has already provided surprising perspective for the couple, Chandra observed. "I don't think I've ever had a season where I have thought so much about what's going on from week to week and from start to finish. Usually, we finish one thing and move on to the next step. This process has made us reflect in some different ways and pay a little bit more attention to some of those smaller details," she said.
This year of drought also emphasized the importance of continuing to install tile drainage and irrigation to even out or weather-proof acres to make them more predictable. "It's what we can do to control conditions and that will be a continued focus for us," she said.
This was a transition year for the farm as Mike took over operational leadership and his father, Paul, moved towards retirement. Paul remains an important part of the labor force and Chandra's parents, Dale and Jenny Heglund, also provided invaluable assistance during planting and harvest this year. Still, the couple figures adding additional employees to supplement the existing workforce is likely down the road.
Scrutinizing available labor also has them looking hard at current farming systems. One thing that is likely to change for 2024 is a switch away from anhydrous ammonia to liquid nitrogen. Anhydrous fill stations are not as available as in the past.
But safety and workflow are the key factors the decision. "As Dad steps back on hours he wants to put in, that leaves me as the only other one trained in anhydrous application and I need to be other places," Mike said. Duties this winter will involve shopping for an applicator that works with their strip-till system and a better tender trailer.
This harvest included a few more hiccups than he would have liked on the front-end of harvest. That was frustrating since he'd spent a fair amount of time in the shop working through equipment and doing what he could to avoid downtime.
"You know, we got it done," Mike said of harvest. "It wasn't as fast as we wanted, but we got done and the crop was good. And we should just be happy about that."
While the final numbers haven't been crunched, Mike estimated soybeans averaged about 48 bushel per acre (bpa) and corn between 200 bpa to 205 bpa across irrigated and dryland acres. The closest weather station to the farm 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.
Irrigation helped on those sandy acres, but dryland crops on better soils held their own, the Langseths reported. Mike gives a lot of credit to that resiliency to no-till soybeans and strip-till corn. "On those years it stays wet, maybe it hurts us. But the years it doesn't rain, we come out ahead holding on to that moisture."
ZACHARY GROSSMAN: TINA, MISSOURI
Bring on the mud. Grossman has made a promise to himself not to complain about that gunky black stuff this winter. The 4 inches of wet, heavy snow that arrived last week gave him an opportunity to test his resolve. About an inch of rain also came this week as temperatures increased.
The cattle part of his operation is where he dreads wet conditions the most. Most of his cattle are presently running on cornstalks or pastures and he has higher ridged areas where he can feed hay to try to avoid adding to the muck and mire. Complaining about mud doesn't seem right when you've wished for rain for the past nine months.
"This year was a grind, but everything came out. It's still hard to believe we raised the crop we did. Even with the cattle, everything looked so dire early in the year, but we really ended up in pretty good shape," Grossman said.
He estimated final yields totals for the northwest Missouri farm will tally around 175 to 180 bpa for corn and approximately 55 bpa for soybeans. All the acres he farms with his father, Curt, and brother, Trent, are dryland.
One thing they'll be looking at closely for the coming year will be fungicide applications. "There were a few soybean fields where we didn't apply fungicides and I'm wondering if we left a little yield on the table in those fields," he said.
The farm has owned a sprayer in tandem with another farmer and ended up buying the other share of the sprayer this fall. While they already had access to the machine, owning it outright frees it up to be used more liberally next year.
This summer the farm hired some custom fungicide application by drone and found it works especially well in small, oddly shaped fields or those bordered by trees. That's a practice Grossman said they will likely use again in 2024.
This year was also the first year for on-farm storage. They waited until elevator lines began backing up to fill that new bin space. Grossman hopes they can eventually add more on-farm storage.
He and his family partners will look at those and many other decisions this month as they do their year-end math. Grossman's other job as a loan officer at the local banker makes him keenly aware of farm profitability.
"I think cash flows are going to be a little tighter next year, but, so far, projections are that we stand to be profitable," Grossman said.
"Inputs have come down some, but they haven't come down enough to completely compensate for declining commodity prices. So, it's going to be a little bit more of a squeeze," he noted. Many of the farmers in his area are diversified in cattle, which has mostly been a benefit to the balance sheet, despite some recent market downturns.
While he was pleasantly surprised on crop yields, it's pasture management that Grossman is most pleased with for the year. "I held cattle off grass in the spring a little longer and gave the pastures extra fertilizer. I really felt like that paid off with the way the year turned out.
"I never had to feed a bale of hay this summer and I was pushing my grazing capacity to the max," he said. "I know there are those who had to sell off cows and I feel fortunate to say I wasn't one of them."
This year, he's given thanks for every raindrop, even though most of it came in a two-week period during August that delivered nearly 12 inches of precipitation. "Next year will be different, but hopefully telling the story this year helped others understand a little more about some of the challenges farmers face," he said.
Editor's Note: Interested in volunteering for 2024 View From the Cab? Read more about the opportunity and how to apply: https://www.dtnpf.com/…
Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on X, formerly known as Twitter, @PamSmithDTN
(c) Copyright 2023 DTN, LLC. All rights reserved.