SIDNEY, Mont. – It’s the planting finale for Sarah Rachor at Fresh Hopped Farm in northeastern Montana.
Sarah and her dad, Mike Degn, finished seeding the last their crops, including the soybeans last week.
Now the growing season begins and Sarah will be scouting the new wheat, beet and soybean fields to see if the seeds have germinated and are coming out of the soil well.
“We finished seeding the night before it rained, so it was perfect timing,” Sarah said. “Now, we have wheat, sugarbeets and soybeans in the ground, and the hops are growing, too.”
The duo seeded all day and finally finished around 8:30 p.m. The next day, it rained all day, providing a good start to the seeds. They received a little over an inch of rain.
“The more it rains, the less early irrigating we will need to do,” she said.
When increased irrigation due to dry weather is needed during the growing season, the more costly the crop becomes, both in labor and in operating expenses.
“Our pumps are electric, so every time we fire up a pivot, the costs go up as well. I like when Mother Nature assists,” Sarah said. “In a dry year, irrigation might be needed right after planting all the way up to September for the beets, longer than for other crops like spring wheat or durum.”
Water for irrigation is already in the pipeline system from the Yellowstone River. On the eastern side of the Valley, the water is pumped directly into a pipeline rather than a large canal.
“The canals near our place were buried four years ago, and now the water is delivered via pressurized pipeline,” she said.
After working with NRCS, they have a new pivot that they put in to cover a part of the farm that has been hard to irrigate.
“It will be nice to have the soybeans under a pivot,” Sarah said. “That field we put the pivot on was tricky to get crops watered evenly, so I’m excited for the upgrade.”
The weather has been cool in the 50s, and dry, so the recent rains have helped. There have been a few days of temperatures in the 60s-70s, with some sun and warmth.
Sarah and Mike were out scouting fields, checking to see how the seeds were germinating and coming out of the ground. Unfortunately, weeds also like the moisture, so they will start checking for weeds, and spraying to eliminate any weeds that are cropping up.
“We found that the wheat has germinated and is coming up well. The sugarbeets will be following soon,” she said.
Sarah is working with her mom, Jill, to train the mature hops to wrap around the coir all the way to the top of the poles to encourage growth.
The hops also must be trimmed back when they start making shoots during the season in order to improve air circulation and help prevent dampness, which could cause disease.
“We’re getting there. We’ve been working really hard to get it all done. Everything with hops is done by hand is pretty labor intensive,” Sarah added.
Sarah is a member of Montana Farmers Union, as well as the national organization, where she was a part of the Beginning Farmer Institute in the last class.
The state organization will have its mid-year meeting in Kalispell the first week in June.
While Sarah won’t be able to attend, she is on the policy committee, and there will be meetings via phone ahead of their annual convention in late October.
The head of the policy committee at the Montana Farmers Union, Jeff Bangs, wants every member on the committee to provide insight as to what the policy will be this year before the state annual convention.
“For sure, low prices and trade will be policy issues, but there are other issues that are coming up, such as health care and trying to erase the stigma of asking for help when you’re struggling mentally,” Sarah said.
In the meantime, there are repairs to be made, and preparations for spraying, as well as gearing up for a busy summer now that school is almost out.
“We are ready for our summer routine, playing in the mud and hanging out down by the Yellowstone River,” Sarah added.