By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
With winter wheat crops now sprouted but dormant for winter, the next worry farmers have is how the changes in temperatures will affect those crops.
A good snow cover probably protected area crops during the recent cold snap. But warm days and cold nights expected this week may pose a problem.
The National Weather Service is predicting highs in the 30s and 40s at least through Sunday, with lows from 15 to 25. That follows several days with highs lower than 10 below zero and lows in the minus 30s.
Dick Pollington, who farms near Kremlin, said thinks the crop will do OK.
"I don't think the lows they're predicting is really a lot of problem," Pollington said.
Hill County Extension agent Joe Broesder said the snow cover is key during cold weather. It insulates the crop and protects it from damage from severe cold.
"You will get some winter damage there if it isn't covered by snow," he said.
Pollington said his crop was looking good before the winter weather set in, and had sufficient snow cover during the extreme cold.
"It came up great. I think we'll probably have as good a start as we've had in many years," he said.
Winter wheat is planted and sprouts in the fall, then goes into dormancy during the winter. It typically is harvested earlier than spring wheat, and often produces a better yield.
Mike Zook, executive director of USDA's Farm Service Agency office in Hill County, said the fall conditions led many area farmers to plant winter wheat.
"I think quite a bit went in," he said.
That was common in the state. The Montana Agricultural Statistics Service Web site reports that farmers seeded 250,000 more acres to winter wheat last fall than in the previous year, totaling 2.15 million acres.
That is the largest number of acres seeded to winter wheat since 1996, when 2.15 million acres also were seeded.
During the drought year of 2001, Montana farmers planted 1.3 million acres with winter wheat, and lost 430,000 acres of that.
Pollington said many farmers in Hill County planted winter wheat, and have a good start to their crop.
"Pretty much everybody I know planted 50 percent of their ground to winter wheat," he said. "I don't think there was an area where it didn't come up good."
Extreme weather was a problem for Pollington last year. After a relatively warm January, a storm that hit at the end of January and beginning of February damaged his crop.
Pollington said he harvested only about 130 acres of 600 acres of winter wheat he planted in the fall of 2003.
Broesder said the 40-degree days and colder nights shouldn't cause a lot of damage, as long as the crops are covered when extreme cold hits.
He said the main danger would be if the soil warmed enough for the crops to come out of dormancy before another cold snap set in. That would take an extended period of very warm weather, he said.