BILLINGS (AP) — Montana's 2011 wheat crop is valued at $1.3 billion, surpassing $1 billion for the second consecutive year, according to the state bureau of National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Officials told the Billings Gazette (http://bit.ly/AsE9l3) that strong and lasting wheat prices kept values high despite challenging weather during the crop year. Crop values in 2010 were $1.4 billion. Montana wheat values have exceeded $1 billion only four times, all in the last five years.
"In 2010, prices were low through the first half of the year before they picked up," said Lola Raska, Montana Grain Growers Association executive vice president. "In 2011, they started out higher and maintained that."
Officials in the report released Thursday said wheat and cattle are both valued at more than $1 billion in 2011, making them the biggest components of the state's economy.
Experts say demand for wheat in developing countries combined with weather problems that have hammered other wheat-growing regions are the cause. Russia's wheat crop suffered because of drought, and the country in July announced it wouldn't be exporting wheat.
Planting got off to a slow start in Montana because of flooding and soggy fields. But some farmers planted before wet weather in May.
"We finished seeding on May 10 and it turned out great — 13.5 to 15 percent protein and 40 bushels to the acre," said Tom Jurenka of Hingham, who was at the Montana Agri-Trade Exposition in Billings on Thursday looking at farm equipment.
Alex Chvilicek, Jurenka's neighbor, planted his wheat by May 16. He said those who didn't get their wheat planted by then probably had to wait until June. Chvilicek's fields produced 45 bushels to the acre.
"We would take these values every year, rather than farm programs," Raska said.
Montana farmers who suffered because of the weather received, for all crops, more than $133 million from crop insurance indemnity payments, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Risk Management Agency.