By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Nature is not being completely cooperative, but many area farmers are looking at a better harvest than they have had in the past several years, when drought, hail, sawflies and severe heat decimated crops.
"All in all, we've had an above- average year," said Randy Olstad, who manages the Archer Daniels Midland-Cenex Harvest States elevators in Havre and Big Sandy.
Olstad said most dryland farmers bringing in winter wheat have seen bushel-per-acre yields from the mid-40s to mid-60s, with protein content from 7 percent to 15 percent. He said 12.5 percent is considered a good protein content.
Ruben Scheuerman, who farms near Kremlin, said he is getting a better-than-average yield on his winter wheat, a little above what he had last year.
He had some damage from sawflies, but the hailstorms that passed through the area missed his crops, Scheuerman said.
He said he expects that his spring wheat, once he starts harvesting it later this year, will have a slightly lower yield than his winter wheat.
The winter wheat yields were relatively high last year, following good planting conditions in the fall of 2002 and a wet spring in 2003, but extreme heat over the summer dropped the spring wheat yields for many farmers to near drought-level yields received in the previous years.
Elevators in the area said winter wheat harvested in 2003 often had yields of about 40 to 50 bushels an acre, but spring wheat was generally in the 20- to 30-bushel-an-acre range or lower.
In 2002, intermittent and poorly timed rain, heat in July and hail and sawflies damaged many farmers' crops, with some reporting a 15- bushel-an-acre average. Elevators said many crop yields ranged from 6 to 18 bushels an acre.
Trevor Wolery, who farms and ranches near Rudyard, said some some of his crops look good, and others don't.
"We've been fortunate enough to miss the hail," he added.
Chuck Elder, crop insurance manager for Koefod Insurance in Havre, said the hail has been spotty this year, with some farmers sustaining damage to several hundred acres of crops and others not hit at all.
"Mostly it hasn't been widespread, where it wipes out a whole farm," he said.
The worst area for hail damage has been from Inverness to Kremlin, but other areas including north of Havre and parts of Blaine County have also been hit, he said.
The reports on crops not damaged is promising, Elder said.
"The harvest is there. The spring and winter crops are reported as very good," he said.
Wolery said he had some sawfly damage. He said the insect, which eats the inside of the grain stem as it matures, devastated one variety of spring wheat he planted.
Wolery said the winter wheat he planted last fall didn't come up, but the rest of his spring wheat is looking good and he thinks the barley crop he is starting to harvest will have a good yield.
"I think it's going to be 50 (bushels an acre) plus," he said.
Hay and fields for grazing his cattle are in good shape, Wolery said.
"Everything looks great. The cattle market is strong. The grass has had moisture to keep growing," he said.
Not everyone received that moisture. There are places north of Joplin and Chester that are very dry again, he said.
Brian Britt, manager of Columbia Grain Inc. in Rudyard, said farmers around Rudyard are about half done harvesting winter wheat. Rain showers have been delaying harvest, he added.
The yields have been high, also from the mid-40s to mid-60s, Britt said.
Sawflies haven't been as bad in the Rudyard area as in some other parts of north-central Montana, but two hailstorms wiped out quite a few acres of crops, Britt said.
Leta Campbell, assistant manager at the Columbia Grain International Inc. elevator in Harlem, said the rain has delayed harvest in Blaine County.
"We're just barely starting the winter wheat harvest down here," she said. "What we have had in so far looks good."
Campbell added that farmers bringing alternative crops like Austrian winter peas to the Chinook elevator also have been having decent crops.