Editor's note: This is a part of the ongoing Follow a Farmer Agweek series where the Agweek editorial team follows farmers across the Upper Midwest U.S. learning about their farm, background, and 2021 growing to harvest season. Agweek publisher Katie Pinke has been checking in with Tom Metz of Northwood, North Dakota. To read earlier stories about Metz, click here and here.
GRAND FORKS COUNTY, North Dakota — Tom Metz says he has "nothing to complain about" on his soybean yields as he gets into early harvest.
"Kind of seeing what we expected," he said. "Maybe slightly better, still probably below average. But on a year like this, it's nothing to complain about being close to average."
Grand Forks County, like all of North Dakota, has been mired in drought conditions this year, but Metz said those close-to-average conditions can be attributed to rains in August, ranging from three-quarters of an inch to 2 inches on various fields.
Metz farms on the Ostlie Farms with his brother-in-law Richie Ostlie. Metz is married to Ostlie's sister, Jenny. Ostlie Farms is close to 50-50 corn and soybeans most years, with a rare field of wheat thrown in for rotation purposes. This year, it's closer to 55% corn and 45% soybeans.
"This year it was just the prices really," Metz explained. "Soybeans just had a little less profit potential than corn did."
Metz and Ostlie had marketed some crop earlier in the season but less than typical because of the drought conditions. However, prices have stayed high and Metz anticipates a profitable year. What's worrisome, he said, is the already skyrocketing costs of inputs for 2022.
On Sept. 17, Metz was combining on the farm's farthest east field, about 8 miles east of Northwood. They had about 300 acres combined at that point and were seeing very mixed results.
"A lot of variation within the fields," he said. "We've seen from eight bushels to the acre to 60 bushels to the acre in one round many times, so there's a lot of variants there."
It's similar with moisture, he said, which had run from 8% to 18%.
"Most of it's blending off," he said. "First two fields averaged mid-12s on moisture, so not too bad at all," he said.
"But for the most part, it's just putting the boots on the ground and getting out there and feeling the plants, and feeling the pods," he said. "Sometimes, you just show up and hope it is, too."
In addition to Metz and Ostlie, the crew at the farm includes Metz's father-in-law, who retired in 2018, and three full-time hired men. Finding the right people to work on the farm, who had the right skills but were affordable to hire, was difficult, Metz said. But they've found that offering their current employees flexibilities has made it work.
As he combined, Metz said he doubts most people realize how farmers have to deal with good years and bad years, saving from the good years to make up for the bad.
"You just have to understand that and be conscious of it when making decisions," he said.
But even in a difficult drought year, Metz said he enjoys harvest.
"It's still fun just to see the crop come in," he said.