HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Helena Valley farmer Joe Dooling steered his combine through the final rows of malt barley, capping off a solid growing season on his 300 acres of irrigated ground.
“The early rains helped set the crop, and we have great irrigation out here but nothing beats rain,” Dooling said. “I’ve seen some personal records this year,” with some yields up 25 percent.
Dooling has heard from farmers across the Helena area reporting a strong harvest. A rainy spring and no hail helped barley and wheat flourish while the recent cooler weather with chilly nights is exactly what his malt barley needs to thrive. Monitoring moisture levels in the crop is the most important aspect of timing the harvest, he said, and the earlier to seed the better.
“These are big machines that we only use for a short period of time,” Dooling said, as he worked on the combine. “It always seems like once you get the bugs worked out it’s time for them to sit for the year.”
The early moisture does present some challenges when it comes to weed control. Early rains hindered spraying and thus increased weed competition with grain.
Prices on Dooling’s barley, which goes to Great Falls and then to both macro and micro brewers and distillers, are up slightly from last year but still on the lower side.
Hay producers have also put up a surplus this year, which is already drawing interest for neighboring states that may have seen drought or poor growth for other reasons, Dooling said.
Recent reports from the USDA reflect solid production across the state.
The second cutting of alfalfa hay was up 11 percent over the five-year average while spring and winter wheat was closer to average in terms of harvest. Areas such as northwestern Montana reported some crops still too green to harvest while recent rains in other parts of the state have also delayed some harvesting, according to the USDA.
“It’s quite a different picture from last year, when you think about with the drought,” said Andy Fjeseth, communications officer with the Montana Department of Agriculture. “Moisture in the spring complicated things for a few people, but overall production looks quite a bit better. Some of the numbers are staggering.”
Oat production in Montana is forecast at nearly 50 percent above 2017. Both barley and winter wheat are up 13 percent, and spring wheat is up 101 percent from last year. Alfalfa hay production is up 200,000 acres from last year as well.
Farmers do have questions about how recent trade policies will affect sales, but prices on wheat and barley are also up from last year, Fjeseth said.
Prices are affected by a variety of factors, said Cassidy Marn, trade and marketing manager with MDA’s wheat and barley bureau.
“In part, some of it are the prices were very low last year due to just a huge world supply, so really anything is an improvement,” she said.
The past fall, the U.S. overall saw record low acres of winter wheat planted as well as some drought in “Bread Basket” states, including Kansas and Oklahoma, she said, which Montana has largely escaped. So far this year’s wheat crop especially looks really good, she said.
“It’s an excellent year quality- and yield-wise in Montana,” Marn said.
As farmers head through fall and toward winter, Fjeseth says that winter wheat has mostly wrapped up while spring wheat is currently in harvest. Reports from the field indicate farmers may try to get their winter wheat planted early to capitalize on recent moisture.
Information from: Independent Record, http://www.helenair.com