Diversification = opportunity: Harpoles of Dawson, ND, set to tackle 2019
DAWSON, N.D.—As a long, tough winter melts into spring, no one is busier than Terry Harpole, 58, and his son, Landon, 22, and their Harpole Farm and Ranch in central Kidder County.
The Harpoles have fewer than 1,000 acres for grain but a lot of it is irrigated. Landon joined the farm full-time immediately after graduating in 2016 from Kidder County High School at Steele, and it's a good thing because his dad needed the help.
Most of their crops are raised under three irrigation pivots. They raise corn, irrigated alfalfa, as well as non-irrigated alfalfa and soybeans or wheat for a cash crop. They raise sorghum and millet on smaller spots and have a deal with a neighbor to put wheat straw for cattle roughage.
The Harpoles will start by getting non-irrigated wheat in the ground. Corn will go in about May 5 to May 7. Sorghums and hay barleys for cattle feed will probably be planted in late May.
The Harpoles use much of the feed for their 440-head beef cow-calf enterprise. "Normally we'll background our calves into the following year, about 10 months of age," Terry says.
They direct-sell replacement heifers, finding customers mostly through word-of-mouth or repeat sales. Some customers buy complete loads of about 70 head. The cows are a red Angus, Simmental and red Simmental cross. "We do all the work: we give them all the shots, Bangs-vaccinate them," and offer them verified to be bred, Terry says. Separately, the Harpoles contract-sell steer calves.
The Harpoles started calving heifers about March 1. The cows started calving April 1. On April 23, they'd just finished the end of their first heat cycle, with 50 calves dropped in three days. "They're really coming. We had 22 yesterday," Terry said. Heifers and second-calf cows are artificially inseminated. Older cows are bull-bred.
The winter was pleasant for the cow operation Jan. 15, when the weather turned harsh, leaving the Harpoles shorter than expected on hay. The cattle consumed 35 pounds to 38 pounds of feed a day while running on corn stubble earlier in the winter, but bounced up to 55 pounds per day in the matter of a week. "The cows have got to eat to keep body heat, they've just got to eat—cold weather and pregnancy," Terry says.
Diversified x 4
In a period of lack-luster commodity prices, the Harpoles have the strength of diversification. In addition to the farm itself, Terry's wife, Barb, has an off-farm job as a hair stylist in nearby Steele. Landon's fiance, Tiffany Simpson, is a registered nurse in Bismarck. (A wedding is set for Sept. 14.)
Terry and Landon each have a truck for custom cattle hauling in the fall and winter.
Within the operation, Landon started investing in the farm by purchasing a 2016-model Vermeer 605N round baler—one of his first big purchases.
"I'm hoping to get 10 to 15 years out of it," he says," Landon says, of the baler. "At least until it's paid for in five, or six years." Landon will start by baling some corn stover under an irrigator he's renting.
Another new thing in 2019: he plans to plant teff grass— a new variety crop to the farm. "It's really good on protein and high on relative feed value. They call it a horse-lover's hay," he says, smiling. It's a bloat-free hay, compared to alfalfa.
If all that isn't enough, Landon also works part-time in a honeybee operation, Simpson Apiaries at Tuttle, N.D., with honey production and occasionally helping in pollination work in California.
Ethanol, potato effects
Terry has seen a lot of changes, and is thankful for the high-value crop enterprises in his region that simply weren't there when he was a kid growing up on a farm north of Steele.
After studying welding and farm machine shop work at North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, he initially farmed with his parents.
By 1987, Terry and Barb went on their own. Terry put his first irrigation unit into production in 1999, rotating land with Mike Sitzmann of Dawson Farms. "We trade land back and forth, a three-year rotation with potatoes," he says. "He'd have a year and I'd have two years. That rotation is working very well with me."
Last year's corn yields were good, averaging about 212 bushels per acre on his irrigated land. "That goes into storage and goes out to the ethanol plant at Richardton, N.D.," he says, referring to Red Trail Energy LLC, trucked 125 miles to the west.
In addition to corn for grain, the Harpoles plant about 40 acres for corn silage. Last year, they got a respectable 38 tons per acre for silage, and this year, Terry is shooting for 42 tons. The success in that area has a lot to do with "natural fertilizer with manure from the cow-calf operation," he emphasizes.
"Corn in general does very well with manure," he says. "The organic matter (content) is terrific when you get this natural fertilizer into the ground."
He hopes the soil tests come back to indicate not much extra fertilizer is needed. If he's short of goals, he side-dresses with dry fertilizer at planting. He tissue-samples the crop during the growing season and can apply more in liquid form through the irrigator.
Terry says he's enthused about farming, which he describes as a free-style, hardworking way of life."
"I enjoy the farming if it's rewarding," Terry says, getting set to tackle another crop year. "There are times that aren't rewarding but you continue on. You take it all in stride."