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.

Late August rains helped fill the top pods of soybeans at Ostlie Farms, leading to better than expected yields in the drought-impacted 2021 season. Photo taken Sept. 17, 2021.
Trevor Peterson / Agweek
Late August rains helped fill the top pods of soybeans at Ostlie Farms, leading to better than expected yields in the drought-impacted 2021 season. Photo taken Sept. 17, 2021. Trevor Peterson / Agweek
"I think that made a big difference," he said. "That last bit of rain there while they were still growing, I think that filled the top pods a lot more than we were expecting them to."

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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.

Tom Metz farms with his brother-in-law Richie Ostlie on Ostlie Farms. Photo taken Sept. 17, 2021.
Trevor Peterson / Agweek
Tom Metz farms with his brother-in-law Richie Ostlie on Ostlie Farms. Photo taken Sept. 17, 2021. Trevor Peterson / Agweek
"It does seem with farming, anytime the prices are good with commodities, the prices on the inputs go up, follow it a little," he said.

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.

Ostlie Farms in 2021 grew corn on about 55% of their acres and soybeans on 45%, which Tom Metz said is a reflection of a better profitability outlook for corn. Photo taken Sept. 17, 2021, near Northwood, North Dakota.
Trevor Peterson / Agweek
Ostlie Farms in 2021 grew corn on about 55% of their acres and soybeans on 45%, which Tom Metz said is a reflection of a better profitability outlook for corn. Photo taken Sept. 17, 2021, near Northwood, North Dakota. Trevor Peterson / Agweek
Being 300-plus acres in by mid September is not normal. Metz said his earliest harvest was 2012, but 2021 has been "pretty close to that." He drives around to check fields to see what's ready and occasionally flies over them as well.

"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.

Soybeans as of Sept. 17, 2021, at Ostlie Farms were running near average, a pleasant development after a drought-filled summer. 
Trevor Peterson / Agweek
Soybeans as of Sept. 17, 2021, at Ostlie Farms were running near average, a pleasant development after a drought-filled summer. Trevor Peterson / Agweek
While Metz was combining on Sept. 17, that's not his normal position. He calls himself the "float guy," because he floats to whatever job needs to be done rather than stay in a single cab. The harvest season is busy, and he credits his wife and Ostlie's wife, Jane, for picking up the slack for them in childcare during the hectic season. Adding a crop consultant during the growing season made it a little easier on them to take more time with family during the summer, he said.

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.