BECKY BOHRER AP Farm Writer
BILLINGS The condition of Montana ranchers’ range and pasture land worsened over the past week as the hot, dry summer wore on, a federal agriculture agency said Monday. Thirty-nine percent of the lands were considered to be in poor to very poor shape, according to Montana’s branch of the National Agricultural Statistics Service. A week earlier, 29 percent fell into that category. “It’s not getting any better,” agricultural statistician Thomas Chard said. Continued deterioration could cause producers to move their cattle from summer pastures earlier than normal or leave ranchers looking for supplemental feed, such as hay, sooner than usual, Chard said. Errol Rice, executive vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association, said wildfires in parts of the state may have already caused some ranchers to move cattle to alternate grazing areas. And the recent, prolonged hot, dry spell has jeopardized a second cutting of hay for some producers, he said. “I think we’re due some much-needed precipitation,” Rice said. “The landscape is getting pretty parched.” Soil moisture conditions last week were worse than a five-year average that included drought years in the state. Eighty-seven percent of topsoil and 83 percent of subsoil was short to very short of moisture, the statistics service reported. The five-year average showed 70 percent of topsoil and 73 percent of subsoil in that category. As for grain crops, most have been stressed by high temperatures, and the rate of harvest is well ahead of last year, the agency said. Farmers have brought in 83 percent of their winter wheat more than double last year’s harvest by this time, the agency said. Chard said the rapid progression of the crop and the dry conditions have aided in a speedier harvest.