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Metz and Ostlie farm switches strategies for drought in northeastern North Dakota

“Every year seems to provide us with a different summer plan. Last year we spent a lot of time planning and installing drain tile ourselves because we had so much prevent plant due to the extreme moisture,” Tom Metz said.

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Tom Metz, 37, farms with his brother-in-law, Richie Ostlie, at Northwood, N.D. Following college, Metz worked full-time as a precision ag specialist prior to farming, which he began in 2008. From that point, he added acres and left his off-farm job to farm full time beginning in 2015. Photo taken June 29, 2021, south of Northwood, N.D. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
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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. Recently, Agweek publisher Katie Pinke visited with Tom Metz of Northwood, N.D. and will return for visits later in the growing season and harvest.

Tom Metz grew up with plans of being a sixth-generation South Dakota farmer, farming alongside his family in the northeast corner of South Dakota with a Browns Valley, Minn. address. Instead, Metz grew his role as a North Dakota farmer about 180 miles north.

Metz, 37, farms today in partnership with his brother-in-law, Richie Ostlie at Northwood, N.D.

Tom married Richie's sister, Jenny, in 2007. The two were introduced in 2006 when both of their fathers, Bob Metz and Rick Ostlie, served as president and vice-president of the American Soybean Association. Today, Jenny works as the pharmacy manager at Northwood Deaconess Health Center, and the couple is raising their three daughters ages 10, 7 and 5.

“Not long after we got married we were visiting my in-laws in Northwood, and Richie and I were out driving around looking at fields as farmers often do. He asked me what our long terms plans were, which I think he already knew, but it was a way to start the conversation he wanted to have,” Metz said. “He proceeded to ask me if I would consider coming up to Northwood and farming with them. Eventually, after a lot of conversations with Jen, we decided to give it a shot.”

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Metz and Ostlie farm in a joint venture and “don’t split hairs on every detail,” said Metz. Ostlie worked as an engineer for 10 years before farming full-time and is a “phenomenal numbers person” whereas Metz noted he is more mechanical and operations focused.

Metz earned a bachelor’s in business administration from Minnesota State University Moorhead but says most of his farming training was on the job, in his childhood and teen years on his family farm to working an off-farm job.

“After college, I worked at Titan Machinery for a couple of years as a Precision Ag Specialist in Fargo. When we decided to move to Northwood in 2008, I became the Precision Ag Specialist for Uglem-Ness Co. I was able to slowly pick up acres and farm with my father-in-law and brother-in-law and was able to farm full time beginning in 2015,” Metz said. Rick Ostlie retired from farming in 2018 and still helps out around the farm. The farm employs two employees and is adding one new hire soon.

Metz and Richie Ostlie raise a 50/50 corn and soybean rotation on their land and haven’t raised wheat in more than a decade.

“For us and our land, we feel this is the best way. We often look at other crops to put into the rotation, but we usually don’t see enough gain for the extra investment in time and money to make the jump,” Metz said.

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Tom Metz walks a cornfield on June 29, 2021 near Northwood, N.D. For now, despite severe drought conditions, Metz says the moisture is holding and the corn is rooted down. Metz grew up on a northeastern South Dakota family farm and farms today 180 miles north from his childhood home farm at Northwood, N.D. with his brother-in-law. His wife, Jenny, works as a pharmacy manager and together they are raising their three young daughters. (Katie Pinke/ Agweek)

The 2021 farming season got an early start as it was cooler and drier, allowing more time for the planting process, Metz said. High winds with dry conditions led to blowing dirt negatively impacting early crop conditions followed by a mild freeze, leading to a replant of some corn and soybeans.

This growing season, Metz and Ostlie planted corn and soybeans deeper, lightened up on tillage with the limited moisture and added a crop consultant service to the farm.

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“We often have the conversation that we cannot allow ourselves to fall into a routine and quit looking for things that could improve our farm and we felt this would give us another set of eyes and opinions that may provide something we missed,” Metz said.

He said the month of June gave them enough moisture to keep going, about 2.5 to 3 inches total. The corn is rooted down and should make it. The soybeans look OK but “I don’t like the glass completely empty all the time,” Metz said with a smile.

For now, despite severe drought conditions, Metz said the moisture is holding, noting the high water table they have on much of their farmland which is primarily around the Northwood and Hatton, N.D., area but includes fields as far north as the Emerado, N.D., area and south by Portland, N.D.

In the month of July, Metz said they’ll be spraying soybeans, checking crops, preparing machinery and adding a 30,000 gallon propane tank to the farm for their corn dryer.

“Every year seems to provide us with a different summer plan. Last year we spent a lot of time planning and installing drain tile ourselves because we had so much prevent plant due to the extreme moisture,” Metz said.

This summer, a drastic turn of events has Metz focused on moisture again, only in drought conditions.

“This year we have every acre planted and we are in drought conditions. We can’t do a lot about the drought conditions, just say a prayer that the plants can find enough subsurface moisture and get a few nice rains,” he said.

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