As hot and dry conditions continue, 100 percent of Montana is now considered in drought with at least 72 percent in severe-to-extreme drought according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. A growing grasshopper infestation has contributed to poor crop conditions thus far, but unfortunately it is coming to light grasshoppers aren’t the only insect of issue this year.
“I actually just had a producer walk in with a blister beetle today. We have had them before in our area, but I just think this is going to be a worse year,” said Jessica Murray during a phone interview on July 20. Murray is the MSU Extension agent in Beaverhead County.
First reported in eastern Montana counties, blister beetle sightings are now coming from various counties across the state and it seems they are not just isolated to alfalfa fields. A report out of Hill County said the nuisance bugs had also been spotted in some grass hay fields.
With hay supplies in Montana under the average and blister beetles now being reported, Murray said some producers in her area are exploring alternative feed options, but even feeding grain hay is a risk this year due to the elevated nitrate levels.
“I think the people that are buying hay this year need to have a really good relationship with their producer and trust them,” Murray said.
Hay shortage isn’t the only issue livestock producers in Beaverhead County are facing. A decreased forage base and pressure from forest fires has caused many public land leases to be cut short. The compounding troubles have forced many ranchers in Murray’s county to destock.
“I think we are going to see reduced inventories this year from a lot of people,” she said.
Moving to the fields, drought conditions continue to affect crops across the state. According to the NASS report for the week ending July 16, topsoil moisture conditions were rated as a mere 3 percent adequate-to-surplus, while subsoil moisture conditions came in at 4 percent.
Winter wheat harvest is in its early stages with 10 percent of the crop harvested, slightly ahead of the five-year average, which estimates 6 percent of the crop is usually harvested by now. Winter wheat conditions are rated at 13 percent good-to-excellent compared to 84 percent last year.
Spring grains are beginning their march towards harvest with 33 percent of barley, 31 percent of spring wheat, 16 percent of oats and 4 percent of durum starting to change colors. The spring grains, with the exception of barley, are all maturing ahead of their five-year averages. Interestingly enough, barley is just slightly behind its five-year average, which reports 37 percent of the crop turned by this time.
Looking at pulse crops, harvesting of lentils and dry edible peas has begun. Lentil harvest is just starting with 8 percent of the crop off the field, while 37 percent of the dry edible pea harvest across the state is already complete. Dry edible bean harvest can’t be too far off as 67 percent of the crop is reportedly blooming.
Montana’s oilseed crops are coming along nicely, too. Thirty-six percent of canola has changed color, ahead of last year, which had 23 percent of the crop turned at this time. Mustard, too, is slightly ahead with 29 percent of the crop turned compared to 23 percent at this time in 2020. Flaxseed and safflower as a whole have just begun to ready themselves for harvest with 11 percent of flaxseed and 10 percent of safflower already changing colors, as well.
It appears as though harvest is officially upon us here in Montana.