OAKES, N.D. – Corn harvest is winding down at the Courtney farm in the southeastern region of the state, while fall work is beginning.
“Corn yields are doing very well considering the lack of moisture,” said Drew Courtney, who was reporting about corn harvest while strip-tilling fields ahead of corn planting next spring.
A belt broke on one combine that was cutting corn, so they had to make do with just one machine.
“We had one combine break a belt this morning, so we were down half a day with one combine, but we’re still running the other one right now. If all goes well, we might be able to finish today (Oct. 22) or tomorrow,” Drew said. “There’s a good chunk of farmers in the region who will be finishing corn harvest this weekend.”
The Courtney families, Drew and Lindsey, as well as Kyle and Megan, were pleased with both soybean and corn yields, especially in light of the dry conditions this fall.
“The corn yields this year have been like the soybean yields – better than average,” he said. “Compared to last year, the corn yields ended up higher and the soybean yields were about the same.”
Fortunately, precipitation was forecasted for Sunday and Monday, Oct. 23-24, with temperatures cooling down into the 40s and 50s for highs with lows in the 30s.
“They are calling for rain from Sunday through Monday,” Drew said. “If we can get a good inch or two out of that, it will help tremendously with the quality of strip I’m making with the strip-tiller.”
Corn hybrids often have long roots that can dig down deep for water and nutrients, depending on the hybrid, and that could have helped yields on the farm this fall.
“Some of those roots (for corn) can go up to about 3 feet deep, but I think we have burned up all the subsoil moisture we started with, along with excess moisture from the spring, and we’re now in desperate need of a rain,” he said.
Drew began strip-tilling the third week of October and realized the field he was in was “pretty dry.”
Much like soil sampling, he decided to switch fields and move a few miles away, adjusting to conditions to get the job done.
“I decided to move about five miles north where there was about 2 more inches of rain this summer than in the other field,” he said. “It’s working much better.”
However, Drew is having to change out the tips and knives more often on the strip-tiller because they wear out quicker when they have to cut through dry soil as opposed to soil that is moister.
“We are still going to be going through tips and knives faster than we would like, but that’s what happens when we are strip-tilling into dry soil,” he said. “We will be spending a fair amount of money on those this year.”
As the Courtneys combine corn, they are finding it is at a dry enough moisture that it can be taken straight to the elevators in town. Some 70 percent of the harvested corn was previously contracted.
“We have been able to haul a lot of the corn straight to town because it was already dry enough at 15-20 percent moisture. The rest of the corn was still a touch wet to store in the bin, so we ran it through the dryer a little bit,” he said.
The elevators ship corn from the southeastern region out to markets by rail.
The Courtneys have some plans for next year’s seeding.
“We usually just flip corn and soybean acres,” Drew said. “We are also planning to have two fields of wheat and a little bit of barley in 2023, and we will save that seed to use for cover crops. We’ll plant the barley to address some saline issues.”
After they harvest the wheat and barley, they plan to come back in and put in drain tile on those acres.
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“We are able to take off the wheat and barley about a month before soybean harvest starts, so that gives us the time in the summer to get the tiling done,” he said.
In the winter, the Courtneys work on their machines in their shop in Guelph, N.D.
“In the wintertime, we’ll fire up the heater in the shop and start getting equipment ready for 2023. We will go through all of our equipment, so it keeps us busy all winter long,” Drew added.
Drew also gets caught up on paperwork in his office at home.
“The office work gets long, but it needs to get done. I try to manage my time before I spend too much time in the office. I try to get out a little bit so I don’t get frustrated,” he said. “I’m an outside type of guy. I would rather be outside working than inside sitting in front of a computer.”
One thing Drew enjoys reviewing in the office is the on-farm tests and trials they conducted each year to see what products or methods could be used in the future for better yield outcomes or improved farm management.
“My favorite part of being in the office is analyzing all the yield data and examining any tests that we tried,” he said. “This year, we tested fertilizers and hybrid varieties and looked at fungicide practices, as well.”
Drew looks at yield data from the combines and compares it to where they applied different products, seed, or different practices and evaluates if they want to keep trying more tests next year or whether they’re happy with the results.
“We have a lot of tests across the whole farm,” he said.
One test they conducted this year was applying fungicide on corn at tasseling.
“This was the third time we did the test, and we have seen a yield bump in the past,” he said.
In another fungicide test, Drew looked at micronutrients.
“I am also checking to see if there was a yield response with some of the fungicide micronutrient packages. I applied them at V5 as a side dressing,” he said.
Another test they conducted was examining some growth-enhancing products to their fertilizer when planting corn. There are many products out now, and they wanted to see if any would boost the germination or stands.
The Courtneys are happy with the way the farm is going and feel they have the right amount of acreage.
“We are just trying to better utilize the land we have with practices like drain tile and analyzing a lot of this data that we have,” Drew said.
With the North Dakota Corn Growers Association (NDCGA), Drew, secretary/treasurer, said there would be a meeting in December. Everyone took a break for harvest with in-person meetings and dealt with business through phone calls and e-mails and will now be getting back to looking at what corn growers in the state need.
“We are always pushing for ethanol,” he said. “At our next meeting, we want to see what hot topics we need to promote and push for in the next farm bill. With election season coming up, too, we keep an eye on the legislators that have helped us advocate for state agricultural policy and issues.”
Drew represents the NDCGA, as vice president, on the North Dakota Agricultural Mitigation Bank, which has the potential to benefit farmers who participate in the wetlands mitigation program. A meeting is coming up soon.
On the home front, Drew said the girls are still enjoying school. They have Halloween and other events coming up. Lindsey has been very busy with harvest and fall work.
“It has just been school, work, and church,” he said. “We have also had a lot of visitors at the lodge, and we hope that continues in the future.”
As this is the Courtneys last report, Farm & Ranch Guide wishes to sincerely thank the family for allowing us to follow along and learn about their operation this summer. We appreciated hearing about how Drew and Lindsey balance their busy farm enterprise with enjoying family time with their three young daughters, and wish them success in their future endeavors.