By Robert Lucke
Like that old real estate maxim location, location, location', area bankers shout weather, weather, weather' when talking about what might be the agricultural outlook for 2001 in this part of Montana.
Jim Stegmeier, agriculture expert at Western Bank in Chinook, looked at grain farming and cattle production for this season.
"Right now I don't see a lot of improvement in grain because of low commodity prices. In our area we are dealing mostly with wheat and grain farmers who have been fairly dependent on government support to help them," Stegmeier said. "In business, that is not a good trend. You know farmers and ranchers are an independent sort. They don't appreciate having to go to the government for support like that, and it is not the best thing for the economy in an area like this to depend on."
With government support payments there are no excess funds for capital investments.
"There is just not much left over for upgrading farms and equipment. I don't think that farming is very healthy now, and there is nothing on the horizon to indicate that it will improve in the short term," Stegmeier said.
Ranching is a horse of another color for Stegmeier.
"Ranching, on the other hand, is experiencing good prices and there is the opportunity to make a good profit at this time," Stegmeier said. "There is some concern about meat consumption possibly being curtailed as a result of a worldwide scare with regard to livestock diseases. How that is going to effect beef consumption in this county has to be a question. It may be good for exports or it may be difficult for the livestock industry worldwide."
Stegmeier does not look for any great shake up of people leaving the family farms this year.
"We are relatively stable here. Our numbers will be the same and that is more positive than it was a year ago," concluded Stegmeier.
Meanwhile in Havre, Lance Johnson at Wells Fargo looks at things about the same way.
"We are starting off about the same as before. The price is bad and we are short of moisture again. With our guys, winter wheat production is down as far as actual acres. Just wherever there was a little moisture, it was planted last fall,"Johnson said.
Johnson, as well, is concerned about government farm programs and the low prices.
"Overall, a lot of people have entered CRP. With depleted prices, that program is attractive to some producers," continued Johnson.
Moisture is the key to livestock success in Johnson's mind.
"Again, moisture is the big key. If we are short on grass and short on hay for the next year, it won't be good, but it is still early. Livestock prices are good, but if you eat it all up in extra hay and extra pasture, it doesn't go far," Johnson said.
Across town at the Farm Credit Agency, Chuck Wimmer separated grain farmers from livestock producers as well.
"Grain is a hard question," Wimmer said. "It is so dependent on moisture. But you know, I am still fairly optimistic that we are going to have a wet spring. The biggest concern I have is that the price of grain is in the tank right now."
That could change too, Wimmer said.
"Actually I do have a little hope. I feel that world supplies are less than everyone says they are and that could give us a little bump in the price and not as many acres were planted in the Midwest. That may mean a short supply in the fall, but again it all comes back to the weather," Wimmer said.
Stock? A mixed bag, but optimism there, too, in Wimmer's eyes.
"The price is doing well. I think the next few years we are going to see good prices. My concern is that we are short on snowfall and if we don't get anymore moisture, it could be bad for the cattlemen," Wimmer said. "But there again, we still have a couple months of moisture and the range is going to be depending on spring and summer moisture."
Cow diseases don't concern Wimmer.
"I have not had any feedback on that. Our beef supply is pretty safe and if it does anything, it might be helpful to our cattlemen because they might be exporting more beef," Wimmer said.
"But the big thing with cow guys is, what is going to happen with the range conditions this summer?" Wimmer asked.