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- DTN Headline News
View From the Cab
By Pamela Smith
Sunday, September 17, 2023 5:00AM CDT

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- The itch to open a field finally got the best of Zachary Grossman this week. The Tina, Missouri, farmer and his family nosed the combine into what they considered one of their driest fields and found corn moisture content still running at 23%.

Adjusted yield averaged 130 bushels per acre (bpa). "That field contains the thinnest soils we farm, was on the lower end of our farm rainfall totals and it had some hail injury. I'm confident that's the bottom end yield of what we will be looking at this year based on our yield checks," said Grossman. Opening another field just a mile to the north, they found better results and calculated 180 bpa (dry).

"Given the year we've had, we'll take that," he said.

Most of the corn is still a tad wet for Grossman's liking, but everything else is dry, dry, dry. The area has been in a drought scenario most of the summer--except for one big downpour in early August.

Chandra and Mike Langseth have also eaten their share of dust this summer. Irrigation pumps have worked overtime to keep the sandy soils watered on their Barney, North Dakota, farm. Meanwhile, heavier clay soils have hung on with spits of rain. Their southeastern portion of the state remains in a D1 drought going into harvest.

The Langseths and Grossman have been reporting in this crop season as part of DTN's View From the Cab feature. This is the 20th article where they cover current conditions and other aspects of rural life.

DTN ag meteorologist John Baranick said both farms have a potential for rain next week. "Models are still trying to decide on when, where, and how much, but a system will move into the Plains in the middle of next week with a couple of bursts that could lead to some showers Wednesday through Sunday on the current forecast," he said. "It could be substantial enough to limit harvest progress or other fieldwork later this week and weekend, but at least it would get some moisture into the soils which has been hard to do over the last month."

This week the farmers give a harvest update and reflect on how they absorb market reports, such as the most recent USDA estimates. And, just for fun, they talk about personal bucket lists or "want to" dreams.

CHANDRA AND MIKE LANGSETH: BARNEY, NORTH DAKOTA

Cool temperatures have slowed crop dry down a bit in these northern reaches of the country. Chandra and Mike Langseth still have the end of September on their harvest calendar, but October 1 may be more realistic, they figured.

A few local farmers have taken soybeans and sugar beets are beginning to be lifted, Mike noted. The most recent USDA crop progress report for North Dakota had 47% of the soybeans dropping leaves, ahead of 34% last year, and near the five-year average. Corn condition was rated 2% very poor, 7% poor, 25% fair, 58% good, and 8% excellent. Corn dough was 96%, ahead of 91% last year, and near 94% average. Dented was 67%, ahead of 58% last year and 61% average. Mature was 7%, near 10% last year, and behind 15% average.

"Crop-wise, it's a little boring right now as we're in waiting mode," said Chandra. "A shot of rain would probably help soybeans continue to fill. But right now, I'd rather not see anything come that would impede harvest."

This "lull" in operations is allowing Mike to get to some last-minute projects. Heading this list this week was installing a poly liner in the grain cart. "The bottom half of the unload auger had been replaced and was in good shape, but I didn't look closely enough at the top and found wear that needed attention," said Mike. Lesson learned to look even where you don't expect wear next time, he acknowledged.

House repairs don't always come to the top of farmer's chore lists. But Mike has also been working on remodeling a rental house located on the farm. The farmhouse he and Chandra share is testimony to his skills. "My grandfather had done everything he could to strip all the vintage out of it. We have done what we can to put some of the charm and history back," Mike said.

Doing -- whether it is farming or fixing -- is always on his preferred chore list. But grain marketing is also an important part of the job. He follows several marketing services to keep up on global situations and demand. "As a farmer, we often pay more attention and give more weight to the bullish news because that's the one you want to believe," he said. "But on the other side, we're definitely not running out of corn this year."

All the farm's soybeans are sold as seed and while a premium is paid, the contract is still based on market price, he added.

When it comes to bucket list items then, there's always the unrealistic wish to always sell at the market high. When it comes to more down-to-earth thoughts, Mike reflected to a summer memory of an evening on the lake with family and a guitar and a surprise display of the northern lights. "That's about as good as it gets," he said. Chandra, for her part, is still remembering the August hike the couple took up Colorado's Mt. Elbert, the second highest summit in the lower 48 states at 14,433 feet. Now, she's eyeing California's Mt. Whitney.

"If it requires ropes, harnesses or helmets, I'm out," she said. "But a long walk up. That's cool. Let's do that."

ZACHARY GROSSMAN: TINA, MISSOURI

A season (or more) without worrying about rain would easily be top of Zachary (Zach) Grossman's ultimate bucket list. With a job as an ag loan officer to tend during the day, after hours and free time is usually devoted to farming, so his wishes and goals lean toward the practical. However, the cowboy life calls to Grossman, and he wouldn't mind one day seeing more of the western United States.

Anxious to get on with the 2023 harvest, he also wouldn't turn away a rain right now. It won't do much to help add to this year's corn and soybean crop, but there are some wheat acres to seed and pastures are once again beginning to show stress. Going into 2024 with a soil moisture deficit feels too much like a rerun of this season.

What he can't complain about is how well the crops have held up, despite heat and sporadic moisture. While there are some sand ridges that won't yield much, if anything, the remainder of the crop has managed to hang tough. Standability is good and so is grain quality, he said.

The 12 to 13 inches of rainfall received during late July and into the first weeks of August did a lot to restore potential on the acres he farms with father, Curt, and brother, Trent, in Livingston and Carroll counties, Grossman said.

Cutting into what they expect to be their worst field first was therapeutic, he acknowledged. "It probably sounds weird to say we were encouraged by 130-bushel (per acre) corn. But if we are confident that's the bottom of the barrel, then we have a positive outlook," he said. The hail damage in that field stripped away enough leaves to generate an insurance claim on that field, too.

While harvest may have just begun and his outlook is upbeat given the variable conditions, he's still shaking his head over the September 12 USDA report -- the first estimate of crop yields with input from field data. USDA estimated the national average corn yield at 173.8 bushels per acre (bpa), just half a bushel above the pre-report average estimate. While the yield estimate fell from last month, acreage increased, resulting in a 15.13-billion-bushel (bb) production estimate. On soybeans, farmers are expected to harvest an average of 50.1 bpa, a 0.8 bpa decline from last month. Production was forecast at 4.15 bb.

According to DTN Lead Analyst Todd Hultman, this new-crop U.S. ending stocks estimates were bearish for corn, bullish for soybeans and neutral for wheat. Hultman found the world ending stocks estimates from USDA as bearish for corn, neutral for soybeans and bullish for wheat.

"They just keep finding a way to increase corn bushels even though they lowered yield," Grossman said. "I'm having a tough time getting my head around a 15-billion-bushel corn crop."

The young farmer genuinely enjoys the challenge of following the markets and using different pricing tools. For the first time this year, he followed the advice he's heard often and established a written marketing plan.

"I put it on paper and posted it on the front of my fridge because I knew that was a place, I'd look at it every day. But it was still hard to stay disciplined when the markets started jumping around," he admitted.

This spring when the market was headed down, he jumped the gun on his sales plan. "If I'd been more patient and stuck to the increments I had set, I would have a slightly better average contracted price. But that is hindsight and I'm feeling pretty good about where I'm at," he added. "There's a lot to learn when it comes to marketing."

Harvest should be in full swing next week for Grossman. When it comes to bucket lists, the most important one is always for a safe harvest.

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

Follow her on X, formerly known as Twitter, @PamSmithDTN


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