BILLINGS – Montana’s winter wheat crop has been rated in the best shape among the seven states that produce the crop, but the drought has farmers worried there will be enough moisture for a successful growing season.
Half the winter wheat crop is rated good to excellent in this week’s crop weather report by the National Agricultural Statistics Service. That’s compared with just a 24 percent rating a year ago.
Other winter wheat states like Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and parts of Colorado suffered crop damage from freezing. Drought has also been a problem in those states as well as South Dakota and Nebraska.
Even though the fields are greening up in Montana, the U.S. Drought Monitor shows the southern part of the state is in drought.
Molt farmer Dave Kelsey said there will have to be more rain to escape what is shaping up to be an extremely dry start to the growing season, the Billings Gazette reported Thursday.
He said he held off planting the crop last fall, hopeful that some late-season moisture would come, but none arrived.
Farmer Greg Matthews, of Buffalo, agreed the soil is unusually dry, as evidenced by the T-shaped soil probe he pushes into the earth to test moisture.
“Normally, in the spring we can push the probe clear to the handle, which is about 3 feet,” Matthews said. “It’s a little better than a third of that.”
But crop conditions on farms 10 miles from Matthews in either direction vary, which is why the state outlook as a whole is the best in the country.
Even the driest parts of Montana are doing better than wheat-producing areas of other states. In Nebraska, just 11 percent of the crop is rated good to excellent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In South Dakota, wheat rated good was just 3 percent of that state’s crop.