From the rolling prairies in the east to the snowcapped mountains in the west, Montana not only offers a varied landscape, but a varied climate, as well. Parts of the state are contending with drier than normal conditions, while other parts couldn’t be happier with the timeliness of moisture. Still, some areas of the Big Sky State are battling a whole other challenge entirely: grasshoppers.
Mark Manoukin, MSU Extension agent in Phillips County, reports crops in his area received some wind and hail damage from the weather front that occurred around the July 4. As producers rally from that disaster, they find themselves nearly at a loss as they battle a grasshopper population 10 times the economic threshold.
According to Manoukin, eight grasshoppers per square-yard is considered economically viable. Grasshoppers have been recorded as dense as 83 per square-yard and as sparse as 30 per square-yard across most of Phillips County.
“There are some people that have lost their barley crop entirely,” he added, somberly.
It is a frustrating battle, trying to control grasshoppers. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has some cost-share programs available to producers and Manoukin has reached out to the agency, asking for assistance.
Aside from those damaged by weather and insects, Manoukin says crops are progressing well across the county. The wheat, in particular, he noted as really looking “decent.”
In Ravalli County, located right on the Idaho/Montana boarder, timely rains experienced through May and June helped crops start off on the right foot.
“We are just drying out now and we are just starting to see some grasshoppers, but they are really just in the back of people’s minds right now,” explained Patrick Mangan, Extension agent for the county.
He says overall conditions are really favorable across the county. There have been no reported wildfires yet, which can be extremely detrimental in the narrow valleys of Ravalli County. Producers all along the valley are busy harvesting their first cutting of hay, and so far, both quality and tonnage are looking on point.
Looking at Montana as a whole, many of the state’s crops are in their final push right before harvest. According to the latest report from the Mountain Regional Field Office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), for the week ending July 17, topsoil moisture conditions for the state were 75 percent adequate-to-surplus and subsoil moisture conditions were estimated at 79 percent adequate-to-surplus.
Thirty percent of Montana’s barley is estimated to be turning color compared to five percent the previous week and 22 percent the previous year. Durum wheat, too, is making a turn towards harvest with 65 percent of the crop headed out and an estimated five percent beginning to turn.
Oats across the state show a similar trend, as well, with 73 percent of the crop headed out compared to 61 percent by this time in 2019. In some areas the crop is even slightly ahead of normal, with the latest NASS report estimating 15 percent of the crop turning color already.
Some of Montana’s commodities are already in the very early stages of harvest. Three percent of the state’s winter wheat crop has been harvested, in addition to an estimated one percent of dry edible peas. Both crops are ahead of last year at this time, but behind the five-year average, which reports nine percent of winter wheat and 10 percent of dry edible peas are typically harvested by now.
Oilseed crops continue to progress, as well, with 81 percent of the flaxseed crop estimated to be blooming, ahead of last year’s report, which showed 74 percent of the crop blooming at this point. Two percent of the crop is also turning color, according to NASS. Mustard seed is trucking along, as well, with 90 percent of the crop completed blooming and 25 percent of it turning color.
Pasture and range conditions are holding steady with 69 percent of it still considered to be in good-to-excellent condition. That is far better off than the five-year average, which estimates only 46 percent of rangeland in good-to-excellent condition by this late in the summer.
As harvest is in its early stages for some and drawing ever nearer for most everyone else, growers across Montana are facing different challenges. No matter the hurdles, however, Montana’s agriculturalists are doing their part to grow and cultivate some of America’s finest crops and livestock.