Flooding and standing water, or icy and snowy fields was the story across much of Montana the last week in March, first week in April.
Eastern and central areas of the state experienced flooding, however, much of the soil remains frozen, contributing to massive run off and standing water in fields, according to the National Ag Statistics Service, Montana field office.
In the Gibson Flats area south of Great Falls, flooding was significant and sheep and calves were lost. On April 2, fields and pastures are still filled with standing water.
Near Glendive and Sidney in eastern Montana, there have been ice jams and high river water. Ranchers have moved their cattle away from the banks, and dozens of Richland County (and McKenzie County, ND) farmers, ranchers and rural people have reported flooding damage to fences, building, barns, pastures and fields.
In south central Montana, Callie Cooley, Montana State University Yellowstone County Extension Agent, said the flooding on the southern highway leading to Wyoming has mostly dissipated into the surrounding fields and pastures.
“Across the county, we have plenty of saturated fields, and it looks like seeding will be later than last year,” Cooley said. “Producers are getting anxious to get into the fields.”
The forecast in the area is for a snow/rain mix, so that puts back field drying. February was a very snowy, cold month in Yellowstone County, and while it didn’t break any records, the weather was extremely cold.
Up in northwestern Montana in Lake County, Jake Stivers, MSU Extension agent, said the area is still covered with snow.
“There is still a lot of snow in the ranges and pastures and no one has been able to harrow their fields yet,” Stivers said.
Last fall, they received good moisture but the ground wasn’t frozen when snow started falling. Because of that, there will be plenty of moisture in the soil when the ground warms up and the snow melts.
They had significant snowfall and very cold temps throughout the winter.
“Calving is not going well. There were extreme conditions in February and March, and we had a terrible storm in mid-March. Cow/calf losses are high,” he added.
In addition, cow/calf producers had a late season last year, so hay stocks may be running short between the two years.
The status of the winter wheat in Lake County underneath the snow is unknown.
“I haven’t been able to check the winter wheat condition yet,” Stivers said.
But it is always possible that the wind could come out and dry the fields.
“We may not be planting until the end of May or maybe the first of May if the fields dry out,” he added.
Up in the northeast region of the state in Roosevelt County, Jeff Chilson, MSU Extension agent, said the soil is still cold.
“The soil temperatures are still in the 30s, so no one is able to do seed yet,” Chilson said.
There was flooding in the low-lying areas, so water is still standing on field and pasture edges.
“Last Sunday, temperatures rose to 60 degrees, but it dropped to the 30s at night. The temperatures aren’t consistent,” he added.
Cow/calf producers are still calving, and it is going well.
“Producers would like to start planting by the end of April. It’s possible, but so far, I haven’t seen any tractors out there,” Chilson said.
Throughout the state, the NASS reports winter freeze and wind damage to winter wheat “remains high with 69 percent of reporters observing freeze damage, and 44 percent reporting wind damage in the winter wheat that is exposed.”
Winter wheat condition is rated 62 percent good to excellent, compared with 65 percent last year. Only 1 percent has broken dormancy.
According to NASS, grazing accessibility was limited with 42 percent of grazing lands reported as inaccessible or closed, and 25 percent rated as difficult.
Livestock producers are providing supplemental feed at a slightly lower rate than last year, with 95 percent of cattle being fed, compared to 98 percent at this time last year.
Some 97 percent of sheep are being fed, compared to 100 percent at this time last year.