ARVILLA, N.D. — Corn harvest has been going on for months, but is only just over half done at Petsinger Farms of Arvilla in northeast North Dakota.

Taylor Petsinger, 35, and his father, Terrly, 63, have separate farming operations but work together. They’ve been combining corn for about a month and are just over half done. That’s about par for the course in a state where 49% of the 2019 corn crop and 67% of sunflowers were harvested at the end of January, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Taylor lives in Grand Forks, N.D. The Petsingers raise wheat, barley, soybeans and edible beans, as well as corn. They harvested all of their soybeans on frosty ground last fall, but figure they lost more than 8 bushels per acre in field losses because of snow.

Together, Taylor and Terry raise about 2,300 acres of corn, including about 400 irrigated acres. They only got 500 acres harvested last fall. They harvested another 700 acres by March 17, so have about 1,000 acres left to go.

The irrigated corn is running a respectable 170 bushels per acre and 147 bushels on non-irrigated. The headlands — accounting for about six rows on the north and south side — are ranging zero to 70-bushel-per acre results.

The market has offered some chances to sell at profitable levels, but they’ve been brief. “It’s tough to pull the (selling) trigger when you don’t know what kind of crop you’re getting,” Taylor says. You don’t want to sell crops that you ultimately can’t get off the field.

Combine kid

Petsinger Farms started spring combining in mid-March, when daytime temperatures were about 25 degrees and lows were above zero. The farms use two Case-IH combines and added rear-wheel-assist on both of them last fall because of the mud in the soybeans, and then in the corn. They have tracks on the tractor that pulls a grain cart.

Taylor found that rear-wheel assist on the combine wasn’t as helpful in the snow because it “pushes the front down.” “But if you do fall through — because this year the frost isn’t very deep — it helps you back out of the mud” unless you get hung up on a drift. He’s still glad he put the money into it.

Taylor Petsinger, 35, farms at Arvilla, N.D. Photo taken March 17, 2020, at Arvilla, N.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Taylor Petsinger, 35, farms at Arvilla, N.D. Photo taken March 17, 2020, at Arvilla, N.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

The Petsingers are hauling corn directly to the nearby Columbia Grain elevator at Arvilla, saving their on-farm bin storage capacity. It’s coming in at about 17% moisture, avoiding charges for foreign material. Taylor says he sees one or two kernels” per cob with mold, on corn from the headlands, in the one field where they could get it. But moving them through augers seems to clear that up.

“When everyone fires up (combining), we have enough room to hold our own crop and we can put in longer hours before it gets warm,” Taylor says. They’re taking their irrigated, sandier fields now, anticipating those be planted to dry edible beans in the spring.

“It looks like edible beans this year are the most promising to make a profit,” he says. The family early-on locked in their edible bean seed for 2020. “You had to speak (for it) before December to get the seed. Everyone’s sold out on edibles.”

Fire ahead?

Getting fields ready for planting will be the next challenge. Taylor last spring purchased a Kwik-Till with two-rows of 20-inch smooth flat center disk blades. “That does a really nice job on turning it over,” he says. "It has rolling baskets on the back to chop up residue, but if it’s muddy, the baskets will plug.”

“Fire is another option,” Taylor says, for field preparation, adding, “but I hate to burn all of my fields to lose my organic matter and residue.” He burned some of his heavier black soils acres in 2018, and one other prior year.

Taylor and others in his area think most people are leaning toward working the borders of the fields, turning them over black as a fire break and then burning the centers of the field.

All that will depend on how wet and cold the spring is. A wet spring could mean a lot of prevented-planting acres.

Taylor says that with lower anticipated crop prices, farmers will concentrate more on variable-rate fertilizer applications in 2020. He thinks there will be plenty of fertilizer available, especially with slower field progress.

Last fall, the Petsingers started harvesting Nov. 19 but quit because the corn moisture was 29% and test weight was 49- to 51-pounds per bushels. “We had some contracts to fill at the elevator and had our propane bullet (storage tank) full, so we started combining and the discounts on our test weight were about 40 cents at that time,” he said. Corn at that quality wasn’t even wanted for feed.

“When we got our contracts full we decided to quit, just because of how much money it was costing us.” Propane became hard to find because the Corn Belt states were taking it before it was getting farther north.

Taylor and his wife, Dr. Fallon Hoverson, a family medicine physician at Altru Hospital, live in Grand Forks. They have four children and these days 6-year-old Tatum has been with dad during the harvest.

Younger children are at a child care facility, but there wasn’t room in the afternoons, possibly because University of North Dakota college students have left town due to the COVID-19 precautions.

So with a 6-year-old at his side, Taylor says he’s particularly cognizant of safety. He realizes “a lot of accidents” that have been happening in grain bins, so he’s focused on avoiding problems.

“Kid safety is No. 1 priority on a farm,” Taylor says.