Mother Nature giveth and she taketh away. That is the sentiment felt by most Montanans after much of the state received desperately needed moisture for the week ending May 21, just to have temperatures reach record-breaking highs by June 1 and dry everything out again. Areas of eastern Montana even experienced temperatures in excess of 100 degrees during first weekend of June.
Temperatures that high rapidly deplete snowpack and soil moisture holdings. According to the
Mountain Regional Field Office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service, USDA, for the week ending June 4, topsoil moisture conditions were rated at 48 percent adequate-to-surplus, decreasing from 57 percent the previous week and way off from the 74 percent experienced last year at this time. Subsoil moisture conditions actually picked up a bit from 40 percent adequate-to-surplus the prior week to 44 percent for the week ending June 4.
Most of Montana is still classified in some level of drought with the eastern one-third of the state rated in extreme drought.
Emily Standley, MSU Extension agent for Fergus and Petroleum counties in central Montana, says her area is rated as severe drought. She said a lack of snowpack this past winter and little spring moisture has led to these conditions.
“We are not too bad compared to the places east of us, but we are still definitely not on par with normal,” she stated.
Wheat and hay are the predominate crops grown in Fergus and Petroleum counties, as well as some pulse, specialty, barley and cover crop acres. Standley said, aside from the drought, the biggest concern for her area producers is grasshoppers.
“I am already getting reports of people seeing small grasshoppers, which of course is when you have to control them,” she added.
Grasshoppers were predicted to be bad in 2021 and several producers across the state have looked into an APHIS program that offers partial funding for grasshopper control. With early sightings of the destructive bugs being reported, farmers and ranchers are forced to be proactive.
Also of great concern this year is stock water quality. With water sources expected to be more and more stressed as summer progresses, the worry is salt, sulfate, and nitrate levels may rise as stock water reservoirs become more depleted. Standley said she has had a lot of phone calls from producers interested in having their water tested in an effort to stay vigilant to worsening conditions.
“I wish I wasn’t having to help people prepare for drought this year, but here we are,” Standley concluded.
Despite drought conditions, Montana farmers were busy in the fields during the first week of June. Barley planted is at 96 percent, dry edible peas are 91 percent planted, and dry edible beans are 85 percent planted.
Sugarbeet planting progressed slowly with 84 percent of the crop in the ground compared to 83 percent the previous week. Corn planted is at 73 percent, behind last year’s report that had 90 percent of the crop planted by this time.
Winter wheat across the state is right on track with 45 percent of the crop booted and 6 percent headed already. In 2020, NASS reported 41 percent of the winter wheat crop booted and 4 percent of it headed by now.
The drought has taken its toll on spring wheat. According to the NASS report, for the week ending June 4, 47 percent of the crop rated as good-to-excellent compared to 59 percent the previous week. Eighteen percent of the crop is now classified as poor-to-very poor, which is an increase from the 11 percent reported the prior week.
Warmer than normal temperatures and less than normal precipitation is predicted for much of Montana in the coming weeks. As summer continues, all anyone can do is keep their fingers crossed and hope for rain.