As summer continues to progress, so does the severity of the drought across Montana. Some parts of the state have recorded receiving as little as three inches of precipitation over the last eight months. Crops are starting to show signs of heat stress, and as water sources dwindle, ranchers are being forced to sell livestock.
With 93 percent of the state facing some level of drought and 61 percent of the state in severe-to-exceptional drought, Governor Gianforte issued an executive order on July 1, 2021, declaring a statewide drought emergency.
“Every region of the state faces severe-to-extreme drought conditions, and the situation is getting worse. These alarming drought conditions are devastating our ag producers, challenging our tourism industry, and could bring a severe wildfire season,” Gov. Gianforte said in a statement.
The executive order directs that maximum assistance be provided to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help with drought. It also suspends regulations on carriers and commercial motor vehicles while they provide drought-related support.
As of July 6, the USDA has designated 31 Montana counties as natural disaster counties. CRP lands are being opened up for grazing and haying in critical areas, but the large question is, will they even be enough?
According to the Mountain Regional Field Office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service, USDA, for the week ending July 2, above normal temperatures and dry, persistent winds continue to deplete soil moisture. Topsoil moisture conditions were rated at just seven percent adequate-to-surplus compared to 22 percent the previous week and 88 percent at this time in 2020. Subsoil conditions are equally as devastated by this drought, rating only 17 percent adequate-to-surplus compared to 86 percent last year.
Much of Montana’s winter wheat crop was thankfully able to take advantage of earlier moisture, and with more established roots it continues to hold on through this dry spell. Thirty-four percent of the state’s winter wheat is rated as good-to-excellent. Unfortunately, that is far less than the 88 percent experienced last year. Harvest is fast approaching as 35 percent of the crop has already turned, which is slightly ahead of last year’s report, which had 29 percent of the crop turned by this time.
The heat has impacted the spring wheat with 50 percent of the crop already headed out compared to 46 percent last year at this time and the five-year average of 42 percent. Only seven percent of the crop is rated as good-to-excellent with 63 percent rated as poor-to-very poor.
Durum and oats continue to progress with 28 percent of both crops headed out. Both durum and oats seem to be just barely behind when compared to last year’s report, which had 31 percent and 29 percent of the crops, respectively, headed out by this time. Barley shows a similar trend with 49 percent of the crop headed out compared to 51 percent last year.
On average, pulse crops across the state seem to be ahead of schedule. Forty-four percent of dry edible beans are now blooming compared to 38 percent last year. Similarly, 60 percent of lentils are blooming compared to 55 percent last year.
The harvesting of dry edible peas has begun earlier than normal with 2 percent of the crop harvested by the week ending July 2. Fifteen percent of the crop is rated good-to-excellent compared 83 percent by this time in 2020.
First cutting of hay is just under halfway through with 48 percent of alfalfa and 45 percent of all other hays harvested. Tight hay supplies are a mounting concern for livestock producers as the uncertainty of a second cutting becomes ever more daunting.
Range and pastures remain in tough shape with only 5 percent rated as good-to-excellent and 77 percent rated as poor-to-very poor.