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Ostlie Farm hopes recent rain pushes corn, soybeans along

A timely storm did pass through on Aug. 9, dropping between three-quarters and 2 inches of rain on the Ostlie fields. Time will tell whether that will be enough.

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The soybean crop near Northwood, N.D. has done OK, despite a mostly dry late July and early August, says Tom Metz. Grand Forks County, where Northwood is located, is in a severe drought with a small portion classified as extreme drought. (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. Agweek publisher Katie Pinke visited with Tom Metz of Northwood, North Dakota, and will return for visits later in the growing season and harvest.

NORTHWOOD, North Dakota —The last couple of years on the Ostlie Farm near Northwood have been very wet. This year is a much different story.

"We've got fields that are going to be good, fields that are going to be average and fields that are going to be below average," said Tom Metz, who farms on the Ostlie Farm with his brother-in-law Richie Ostlie. Metz is married to Ostlie's sister, Jenny.

A timely storm did pass through on Aug. 9, dropping between three-quarters and 2 inches of rain on the Ostlie fields. Time will tell whether that will be enough.

Most of Grand Forks County, where Northwood is located, is in severe drought, with a small portion in the worse condition of extreme drought. Ostlie Farm raises corn and soybeans. The soybean crop has done OK, despite a mostly dry late July and early August. That's mostly due to the high water table and drain tiling they started during the wet years. They also planted deeper and did less tillage than normal, in the spring, expecting a dry season.

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"If we don't get more rain, the beans are going to decide whether they want to fill the top pods or whether they're going to abort the top pods and just try to fill the bottom ones," said Tom Metz, Northwood, North Dakota, farmer. Photo taken near Northwood, N.D. on August 6, 2021. Katie Pinke / Agweek

"If we don't get more rain, the beans are going to decide whether they want to fill the top pods or whether they're going to abort the top pods and just try to fill the bottom ones," he said.

The farm received, depending on the field, close to 2 inches of rain in July but nothing in August before the Aug. 9 storm.

"Our drier, sandier fields are really hurting this year," he said, saying those fields will be a "big disappointment." "Our higher moisture fields, higher water table fields, some of those are looking pretty good."

Prior to the Aug. 9 storm, Metz thought an inch of rain would help fill the pods. If the pods on the plants fill, he expects a pretty decent crop.

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Tom Metz raises corn and soybeans with his brother-in-law Richie Ostlie at Northwood, N.D. "We do have some fields, and we're thinking it was drought stress, where the seeds randomly didn't pollinate," said Metz about the corn crop on August 6, 2021 when Agweek visited. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)

Ostlie Farm is close to 50-50 corn and soybeans, with a rare field of wheat thrown in for rotation purposes. The story is about the same for the corn crop, if not worse.

"We do have some fields, and we're thinking it was drought stress, where the seeds randomly didn't pollinate," he said. "It's still going to produce something, but we don't know what yet. It needs more rain just to finish filling."

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"We've got fields that are going to be good, fields that are going to be average and fields that are going to be below average," said Tom Metz, who farms on the Ostlie Farm with his brother-in-law Richie Ostlie. Metz is married to Ostlie's sister, Jenny. Photo taken on August 6, 2021, near Northwood, N.D. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)

Timely rains have helped the corn immensely. Metz said some of the crop was showing drought stress earlier this summer, and a two-inch rain perked it up. On some land, the corn has been able to "root down" and find the moisture it needs. That's not possible on all the fields, making those timely rains even more important.

"On the sandy stuff, it can root down all day long and it won't find water," he said.

Filling a role

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Tom and Jenny Metz met when their fathers both served on the American Soybean Association board. They married in 2007. Tom left his family farm in South Dakota for an off-farm career and then to farm with Jenny's brother Richie Ostlie with Ostlie Farms at Northwood, N.D. Jenny is a pharmacist for Northwood Deaconness Health Center. Together, they are raising their three children in rural Northwood. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)

While Ostlie and Tom Metz wait to see what will happen with the crops, Tom's wife, Jenny, prepares for her busy season on the farm. Jenny and her mother bring meals out to the crew during harvest. That's in addition to her off-farm job as a pharmacy manager at the hospital in Northwood.

"It's a balance, but I enjoy in the fall during harvest," she said. "I enjoy making food and bringing it out to the guys when they're working late nights and working hard."

Moving back to her family's farm wasn't necessarily in her plans from the beginning. She and Tom met at an American Soybean Association convention when their fathers served on the board together. They married in 2007, when she was still in pharmacy school. Moving either to Tom's family farm in South Dakota or her family farm in Northwood were possibilities, as was not going back to either operation.

But now that they have their three kids back on the farm, she said she loves helping when she can.

Jenny Schlecht is the editor of Agweek and Sugarbeet Grower Magazine. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at jschlecht@agweek.com or 701-595-0425.
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