By Tim Leeds
The Golden Triangle got some rain over the weekend, but it probably isn't enough by itself to help crops in the area, producers said today.
"This spring wheat, we've still got a chance of getting about half a crop, if we get about an inch or two (more) of rain," said Jerry Hybner, whose family farms north of Rudyard. "I've seen where it's pretty droughty and you get about an inch of rain and you don't even recognize (the crop) but you have to get the rain."
Farmers and ranchers are struggling through the effects of three years of drought conditions. Lack of moisture has resulted in lower grain production and shortages of pasture, hay and water for livestock. The National Weather Service reported that as of midnight Sunday the Havre area received 1.88 inches of precipitation for the year, far below the average of 4.39 inches for that time period.
The forecast calls for rain and showers through Tuesday, with a drying trend through Friday.
Hybner said the Rudyard area got about a tenth of an inch of rain over the weekend. He said that's only about enough to dry up by noon, with the heat and wind the area has been getting.
The NWS reported about 31-hundredths of an inch of precipitation in Havre over the weekend. Farm Services Administration's Hill County executive director, Mike Zook, said that isn't even enough to bring the June average up to normal.
"We almost analyze this on a day-by-day basis," he said.
Zook said the precipitation in the area is about 53 percent of normal for the last three months. He said the rain is going to help, especially for the winter wheat, but more is needed.
Allen Chinadle of Hingham said the spring wheat still seems to be hanging on, although the rain over the weekend wasn't enough there to help a lot. He said he has seen other area farmers plowing their winter wheat crops under to reseed spring wheat.
Chinadle said a major question is how much hay will cost this fall to feed the cattle. He said people are already turning cattle out to graze on Conservation Reserve Program land, which has recently been opened by the federal government to help with the shortage of pasture. But the issue of hay for the winter is another question.
"There won't be any hay, I guess," Hybner said. "I don't think there'll be any."
Hybner said his family has already sold quite a bit of their cattle herd. He said one of their neighbors has sold their entire herd.
Montana State University Blaine County Extension Agent Mike Schuldt said the rain is too late to help many of the hay and pasture fields.
Schuldt said much of the pasture and hayland is cool-season grass, which is already heading out and going into the terminal stage. He said they aren't looking at any significant production for that.
"We need three inches of rain in June to make anything happen," he said.
Schuldt said some people have increased their planting of grasses for hay that could still have some growth, such as barley, millet and alfalfa. He said more moisture and just cooler temperatures and less wind could help with the growth of that grass.
Schuldt said the situation varies significantly by area, depending on how much moisture the area has received. He said the Chinook area received between a half and three-quarters of an inch, depending on where it's being recorded.
Chinadle said the same is true in the areas west of Havre. He said things look even worse in the Cut Bank and Galata areas than around Hingham.
"It looks like an oasis here compared to that," he said.
The help of future moisture also varies with what crop is being considered. Hybner said the spring wheat could still improve with rain, but a lot of winter wheat is already in trouble.
"It's turning brown, the bottom leaves are drying out, it's trying to head out," he said.
Zook said some winter wheat is already heading out while it is too short to be harvested effectively. He said the spring crops still need moisture to pull through, because of the lack of subsoil moisture. He said another problem is water for the cattle to drink.
"We need to see some major storms go through before we see these reservoirs fill," he said.
Zook said water levels in Box Elder have dropped as much as 15 feet, requiring people to deepen their wells to get any water.
He said many people have blends in their hay lands that could still improve with more rain and the right conditions. It is still going to be difficult, he said.
"We're going to have losses and no amount of rain is going to help," he said.
Hybner said many people are taking advantage of the wetter weather the Dakotas have seen to find grazing land.
"A lot of cattle are going to North and South Dakota where they have moisture," he said.
Schuldt said the dry conditions will also hurt the selling price of the cattle. While cattle prices rose last year to higher levels than in some time, Schuldt said, even if producers can feed and water their cattle through the summer, they're going to go to market lighter than they would in a normal year.