Montana battled a hard winter and early spring which affected some producers in different parts of the state. Judith Basin and Choteau counties reported some of their winter wheat and hay is starting to show signs of stress and hindered growth due to the seasonally low temperatures. The coming weeks show increased sunshine and producers are optimistic. Scattered precipitation was reported in some areas of Montana during the week ending May 10, which benefited crops.
According to Prairie County Extension Agent, Sharla Sackman, producers in her area came through the winter fairly well and have been able to get most of their cool season seeds in the ground.
“We have had pretty good conditions for early seeding. Farmers were able to get in the field in April this year,” Sackman stated.
Prairie County has been experiencing rain more recently, so some of the follow-up field work has been delayed. Producers in the area are working on planting sugarbeets and the small grains are on track as well.
“We had extreme cold in February but had good snow cover, so our winter wheat crop is average at this point. I haven’t heard much about winter kill,” Sackman went on to explain.
All and all, things look good for the western portion of Montana. Sackman reported that grassland and hay grounds are performing well. There is even left-over grass from last year for producers to turn cattle out on.
On the other side of the state, producers in Gallatin County are seeing a similar situation to last year where moisture and cool temperatures have put everything about two weeks behind. Growers have been taking advantage of this overdue warm weather and are busy making up for lost time.
“There is a lot of wheat and potatoes being planted. We are supposed to have high temperatures and then we are expecting rain, so things are looking better,” Gallatin County Extension agent Josh Bilbao stated.
Producers in the area have been battling the encroachment of an invasive annual grass known as Ventenata. The grass has a high silica content, so no animal will really graze it, which is creating a problem. Bilbao has been working with MSU Extension Natural Resource Specialist, Jane Mangold, to help producers identify and find ways to manage this weed.
The Montana Crop Progress Report for the week ending May 10 reported topsoil moisture at 85 percent adequate-to-surplus compared to 87 percent last week. Subsoil moisture is rated 80 percent adequate-to-surplus, which is ahead of last year.
Across the state, barley is reported as 59 percent in the ground with spring wheat at 55 percent, sugarbeets at 71 percent, canola at 46 percent and corn is reported as 39 percent in the ground. Most crops are ahead of last year at this time, but behind the five-year average with the exception of some pulse crops. 54 percent of lentils and 67 percent of dry edible peas are planted, with both crops ahead of last year at this time.
Winter wheat conditions are rated as 74 percent good-to-excellent compared to 58 percent at this time last year. As of May 1, the winter wheat crop in Montana was forecasted at 75.25 million bushels, down 4 percent from last year’s forecast of 78.50 million bushels. However, acreage of harvest is up 180,000 acres to 1.75 million compared to 2018’s forecast.
Calving is winding down and is reported as 93 percent complete compared to 88 percent the week prior. 57 percent of cattle are still receiving supplemental feed compared to 38 percent at this same time in 2018. Summer range is opening up with 86 percent of grazing lands now accessible.
During the January-March dairy quarter, Montana dairies produced 64 million pounds of milk, down 8.6 percent from 2018.
According to the NRCS office in Bozeman, Montana is looking positive moisture wise with river basins across the state forecasted to have 98 percent streamflow. Cooler temperatures have held snowpack in the higher elevations as well with exception to the Kootenai and St. Mary River basins, which report slightly below normal snowpack.
The coming days will keep Montana producers busy. The sunshine and increased working field days have allowed growers to make up for weather caused delays earlier in the season. The encouraging moisture reports from the NRCS has Montana farmers and ranchers looking hopeful leading into summer.