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VIDEO CROPSTOP: Napoleon, N.D., farmer considers calling it quits

NAPOLEON, N.D. -- Clarence Moch hopes to throw three strikes in a row and keep his farm in the black this year.He needs a 45-bushel-per-acre wheat yield, 1,800-pounds-per-acre canola yield and 1,500-pounds-per-acre of sunflowers to cover the mort...

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Clarence Moch, 78, of Napoleon, N.D., tends his 1981 Spra-Coupe as he uses glyphosate to burn down weeds on a field planted recently to spring wheat. Photo taken May 5, 2016, near Braddock, N.D. (Mikkel Pates / Agweek)

NAPOLEON, N.D. - Clarence Moch hopes to throw three strikes in a row and keep his farm in the black this year.
He needs a 45-bushel-per-acre wheat yield, 1,800-pounds-per-acre canola yield and 1,500-pounds-per-acre of sunflowers to cover the mortgage payments on his inputs. “If I don’t get those yields, I don’t know what,” Moch says. “There’s crop insurance, but it doesn’t cover those kinds of yields.”
He says, “We can do our part, but we need rain,” as he fills his sprayer. “God’s got to do the pitching.”
At nearly 78, Moch this year let his grandson-in-law Josh Becker do some of his spring wheat planting with a high-tech planter. Becker, who is married to granddaughter Caitlin (Moch) Becker, seeded 155 acres of wheat using a side-banding machine, 48 feet wide. The new planter had three compartments, delivering micronutrients with the seed, and side-banding the nitrogen. It only took the kid a day to plant a whole quarter of land.
Moch and his son, Cary, 54, a full-time farmer, farm separately and share some equipment and trucks. Cary also has a cow-calf operation and is on the board of Farm Credit Services of Mandan, N.D.
They use a 20-foot-wide John Deere 1590 drill, but this system is different. “I’m thinking about hanging it up, so I’m just trying some new avenues,” Moch says.
He says most of the area’s spring wheat was already planted by May 5. “I don’t have all my wheat in yet, because my son is using the drill we share to put in canola,” he says. “After the canola, we’ll finish the wheat. After the wheat we’ll put in sunflowers. There’s a lot of corn being planted right now around here.”
Staying ahead
Moch is tasked with the burn-down of weeds with glyphosate using a 1981 Spra-Coupe. “We no-tilled, so there’s no cultivation of weeds,” he says. “We spray them so they don’t get ahead of the crop. We’ll also do a post-emerge spraying”
Moch has been farming steady since 1974, and maintains about 577 acres in two locations - in and south of Braddock, N.D., which is west of Napoleon. “The Spray-Coupe is the third one I’ve had,” Moch says. “They’re versatile. You can breeze along with them, almost like a car.”
The low commodity prices are a concern for farmers, and Moch is no exception. “I can’t cash-flow,” he says. “I’m getting less for my wheat than I got in 1975. Back then we were a plow-plant operation. We sprayed 2,4-D and MCPA at $3 an acre. Last year, I spent $27 on no-till. I’m only getting $4.40 per bushel for it now, compared to $4.75 a bushel back then.”
Moch says his banker thinks it’ll be five years before the commodity markets turn around. “That’s what he predicts, but nobody knows.” He says he “should be” planning to quit.
“I’m depleting my net worth by staying in it,” he says. “It’s a matter of getting things organized so I can up and quit.” There are many ramifications to quitting, including the fact Moch has taken depreciation on equipment. He has to continue farming because quitting means he’d have to recapture depreciation and pay taxes that current commodity prices won’t cover, he says. “I always sell my crop the following year,” he says, “If I’d have quit this year, I’d have sold my crop and had no deductions. And I’d have rented out my land for $100 an acre, and would have had to pay taxes on that.”
When Moch thinks about quitting, he realizes it would mean his son would rent his land. “I’d be out helping him; that’s the way we are,” he says.

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Clarence Moch, 78, of Napoleon, N.D., tends his 1981 Spra-Coupe as he uses glyphosate to burn down weeds on a field planted recently to spring wheat. (Mikkel Pates / Agweek)

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