Imagine a summer with timely rains - crops would have a good chance of high yields.
Patrick Gilchrist, meteorologist from the National Weather Service office in Glasgow, is forecasting higher precipitation – a 'wetter' rest of the spring and into mid-summer – across Montana.
That spells good news for farmers in the state.
“We are experiencing a weak El Nino pattern, which means we can’t be ‘so certain’ about forecasts,” said Patrick Gilchrist, meteorologist from the National Weather Service office in Glasgow. “However, it is certainly looking like we have a better chance for above normal precipitation across the state for the rest of spring and early summer.”
The exception is in the northwestern corner of the state, which is currently showing drier conditions on the U.S. Drought Monitor. But even in that region, Gilchrist is forecasting at least an equal chance for lower than normal, normal or above normal precipitation.
More than likely, temperatures across the state will be normal for the late spring, early summer outlook.
“The El Nino looks like it will continue to be weak in the June and July timeframe, but the outlook overall is for more normal temperatures with wetter conditions,” he said.
However, that could all change because a weaker El Nino allows another weather pattern to come in, such as the North Atlantic Oscillation. That could change the weather immediately.
Montana entered the 2018-2019 winter with a weak El Nino, which in February allowed the Artic Oscillation to drop cold air over the whole state. The cold temperatures persisted, with a large loss of calves in many parts of the state.
“Everything in agriculture is tied in with the weather and climate,” Gilchrist said.
Currently in the state, there have been scattered rainstorms (just like Gilchrist forecasted), along with strong winds.
Producers in Phillips County reported that winds were drying out the soil profile and cold temperatures were limiting grass growth.
In many areas in the state, planting and field work began last week on Monday or Tuesday, April 22 or 23.
Tyler Lane, Montana State University’s Chouteau County Extension agent in the north central region of the state, said producers have been out planting wheat and pulses the last week in April.
“The drills have been going – at least in the northern part of the county. In the southern part of the county, producers are getting ready to go,” Lane said.
Just as producers were getting ready to seed, a cold front moved through much of the state.
Temps across the northern and eastern regions of the state were in the mid-40s-50s during the day, but plunged down into the 20s-mid-30s during the night hours.
“Producers are concerned about frost damage,” Lane said.
In the northern part of Chouteau County, producers received up to 3 inches of rain.
A snowstorm hit Judith and Fergus County the last weekend of April. Field work has halted for the time being.
In the south central region near Billings, snow fell on Tuesday, April 30, keeping producers, who had been seeding barley and sugarbeets, out of the fields.
At MSU’s Western Triangle Research Center, Gadi V.P. Reddy, entomologist, said producers were just starting to work fields or plant in the Golden Triangle the last week of April.
“We have seen producers out seeding barley, canola and some pulse crops,” Gadi said.
At the center, the scientists have been seeding pulse crops as well.
In the southern and eastern part of the state, Extension agents reported producers were planting wheat, barley and peas, and sugarbeets.
Nearly all the winter wheat planted last fall has broken dormancy, and was in good to excellent condition - at least before the cold temperatures came through.