Hailed out beets

A snapshot of a sugarbeet field after the hailstorm. Note the broken stems and missing leaves. The dirt has also been washed away from the root crown. Photo by Sydney Gabel. 

Harvest is slowly picking up steam across areas of Montana as more crops change color and reach maturity. According to the NASS report for week ending Aug. 16, 96 percent of barley has changed color, with 30 percent of the crop harvested at this time. 96 percent of the spring wheat and 81 percent of the durum have changed, with 20 percent and 13 percent of the crops harvested, respectively.

Although small grains are slightly behind, it could be shaping up to be a bumper crop. The increased moisture year and cooler temperatures have been ideal for raising crops. 50 percent of the state’s barley crop is still rated good with 15 percent rating excellent. 52 percent of the spring wheat crop is rated good compared to 49 percent in 2018. Durum is rated 61 percent good, far ahead of 2018’s report of 42 percent at this time.

Montana’s oilseeds are progressing into harvest as well. 85 percent of canola has changed color and 10 percent of the crop is reported to be harvested, while the flaxseed crop is reported to be 80 percent turned by this time.

The harvesting of pulse crops remains slow, however. Only 5 percent of dry-edible beans have been harvested, well behind last year’s report of 23 percent and the five-year average of 45 percent. 60 percent of dry-edible peas have been harvested compared to 74 percent by this time in 2018. Lentils are lagging as well with only 29 percent of the crop harvested.

Soil conditions remain incredibly strong for this time of year, especially when compared to previous years. Topsoil moisture conditions for the state rated 76 percent adequate-to-surplus compared to just 35 percent in the previous year. Subsoil moisture showed a similar trend, also rating 76 percent adequate-to-surplus for the week compared to 43 percent at this time last year.

The biggest challenge facing Montana producers right now is weather. On Aug. 11, a massive hailstorm swung through parts of Montana decimating crops and damaging homes and vehicles in its wake. Hail three-inches in diameter was reported around Billings, which was accompanied by hurricane force winds.

“I’ve never seen a hail storm this bad,” stated Leroy Gabel, who has been raising sugarbeets on the Huntley Project, located just a few miles east of Billings, all his life.

He reported that all of his sugarbeets were heavily damaged by the storm because hail stones ripped through the leaves of his crop. With six-weeks left until harvest, Gabel explained the plant will now put all of its energy toward growing new leaves and the root will therefore be stunted. It is likely that sugar content won’t improve beyond this point either.

“All I can do is take care of the sugarbeets and irrigate them until it’s time to harvest,” Gabel said.

Thankfully the worst of the storm was concentrated along the Yellowstone River. Producers up in Daniels County, located in the northeast corner of the state, were hit with rain, but not hail. Inga Hawbaker, MSU Extension agent for Daniels County, says that for the most part, things are actually looking pretty good in their neck of the woods where they grow a lot of pulse crops, spring wheat, durum and a mix of forage crops.

Hawbaker did note, however, that some producers have seen some high nitrate levels in their oats, but aside from that, it is shaping up to be a normal year. This particular area of Montana received a lot of rain early in the summer, but things leveled out as the growing season progressed.

Unpredictability is the name of the game when it comes to production agriculture and producers in certain regions of Montana are being forced to pick up the pieces of what is left and move on as best they can. It may be too soon to tell exactly how many acres of crop land were damaged or how tonnage may have been affected by the mid-August hailstorm, but there is no doubt that Montana’s agriculturalists will continue working hard to raise high quality products.

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