Although scattered rain storms were experienced across the state of Montana during the second week of August, little drought relief was provided. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 99 percent of Montana is now considered in severe to exceptional drought.
The blistering hot temperatures continue to suck the soil dry. According to the Mountain Regional Field Office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), USDA, for the week ending Aug. 13, topsoil moisture conditions were rated 2 percent adequate-to-surplus compared to 34 percent the previous year. Subsoil moisture conditions are also well under par at 4 percent adequate-to-surplus compared to 41 percent at this time in 2020.
Harvesting continues to progress quickly around the state. Allison Kosto, MSU Extension agent in Broadwater County, estimates that second cutting of alfalfa is over halfway complete in her area. Broadwater County has a lot of irrigated acres, so for the producers that have access to adequate water, hay production has been near average.
Continuing, Kosto said producers are just starting to get into the thick of grain harvest. Again, irrigated acres seem to be faring better than the dryland.
“Reports vary, dryland doesn’t look good. One report I heard was about 50 percent grain fill on the heads. Other guys are reporting as low as 4 bushels an acre,” she said.
Even though the irrigated acres are yielding better in Broadwater County, those crops have not been exempt from the heat.
“Irrigated crops are looking okay. Maybe not as good as a normal year because that heat has been rough,” Kosto stated.
Looking at the latest NASS report for the week ending Aug. 13, small grain harvest, across the board, is ahead of normal. Barley harvest is 45 percent complete compared to the five-year average of 40 percent complete at this time. Durum is at 31 percent harvested compared to the five-year average of 28 percent and oat harvest is 41 percent complete compared to 37 percent for the five-year average.
Spring wheat harvest is just over halfway done around the state at 54 percent complete, according to the latest NASS report. That is well ahead of the five-year average, which usually has 34 percent of spring wheat harvested at this time.
Spring wheat crop conditions remain less than favorable with only 4 percent of the crop rated as good-to-excellent and 78 percent of the crop in the poor-to-very poor category.
Pulse crop harvest continues around the state, as well. Dry edible beans are reportedly 25 percent harvested compared to 22 percent at this time in 2020 and slightly behind the five-year average, which has 30 percent of the crop harvested at this time. Dry edible pea harvest is at 82 percent complete, well ahead of the five-year average of 69 percent complete at this time. Sixty-six percent of lentils have been harvested, as well, which is well ahead of the five-year average of 56 percent.
Pasture and range conditions remain humbling as summer progresses. Not only have the drought and grasshoppers wreaked havoc, but damaging wild fires have also impacted producers.
“Reports I’ve heard is most people are going to be pulling cows out of the mountains early and potentially weaning early,” Kosto said of producers in her area.
According to the latest NASS report, 10 percent of cattle have already been moved from pasture as range conditions continue to deteriorate. Pasture and range conditions are rated 98 percent poor-to-very poor, an increase from 87 percent the previous week.
Despite the drought, markets continue to remain relatively favorable for producers, which is a bright spot during this trying year.