With August drawing to a close across the Big Sky State, consistent reports of hot and dry conditions were noted at the Mountain Regional Field Office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), USDA.
According to their latest report, for the week ending Aug. 28, topsoil moisture conditions were an estimated 31 percent adequate-to-surplus, falling slightly from the previous week’s estimation of 32 percent and way behind last year’s report of 69 percent. Subsoil moisture conditions were down, as well, rated at only 33 percent adequate-to-surplus.
Despite the drying conditions, overall harvest reports from across the state seem to be positive.
“August was certainly hot and dry, but I think for the most part people faired pretty well. I got reports that things were at least average and some even above average,” said Callie Cooley, MSU Extension agent for Yellowstone County.
As of the end of August, Cooley said small grain harvest was wrapping up across her county and the harvesting of early-planted sugarbeets was set to begin. Although the heat was indeed less than desirable, Cooley concluded by saying the pressure from grasshoppers this year was far more stressful to crops and producers in the area.
In contrast, Roosevelt County MSU Extension agent, Jeffery Chilson, said the hot and dry conditions of 2020 have caused some issues for farmers in his area.
“Our spring rains weren’t what we were hoping for and the cereal grains did experience some heat stress earlier in the year. Despite that, the farmers I have talked to have been pleasantly surprised by the test weights this year,” he said.
The heat continued to cause issues for producers in this northeast portion of Montana, according to Chilson, as reports of fieldwork-caused fires kept coming into his office.
“This is turning into one of those years were you have to have a disk hooked up at all times when you are working in the fields,” he added.
Chilson estimates small grain harvest is 50-75 percent complete across Roosevelt County at this time. The warmer weather has had its payoffs, especially when compared to the extreme wet conditions experienced by producers in the area last year. Even so, he says growers are cautious as they continue harvest.
Across the state, winter wheat and dry edible pea harvest is nearly complete, with the latest NASS report estimating harvesting of the crops at 93 and 92 percent respectively. Lentil harvest is ahead of last year with 89 percent of the crop processed compared to 69 percent at this time last year. Oat harvest too is well ahead of average. Seventy-seven percent of the crop is harvested now compared to 52 percent last year and 72 percent as the five-year average.
Harvesting corn for silage is a bit ahead of schedule with 10 percent of the crop chopped at this point compared to 7 percent at this time last year. 2020’s silage harvest is also ahead of the five-year average for the crop, which estimates only eight percent of corn chopped by now.
Spring wheat harvest showed progression, according to the last NASS report. As of the week ending Aug. 28, 74 percent of the crop was harvested compared to 55 percent the previous week. Barley harvest also continues. The crop is estimated at 69 percent harvested, just ahead of last year at 63 percent, but behind the five-year average of 80 percent harvested by this time.
Montana’s oilseed harvest keeps chugging along, as well. Canola harvested is at 50 percent, compared to only 19 percent by this time in 2019. Mustard harvest is a little over half done, as well, with 54 percent of the crop processed. Safflower harvest is just starting out with only 20 percent of the crop complete. However, that is well ahead of last year’s report of only 1 percent by this time and it is ahead of the five-year average, which estimates only 11 percent of the crop harvested by now.
The lack of rainfall and insistent pressure from grasshoppers continued to stress rangelands. As a result, cows and sheep are beginning to trickle off of summer range. Hopefully with the onset of fall, cooler temperatures and an increased chance of moisture can occur.