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Farmers now looking forward to a decent crop


Recent rain caused severe problems in some parts of Montana but should be keeping area farmers and ranchers smiling.

"Barring hail or horrendous levels of heat or wind, there should be pretty close to 30 bushel-plus spring wheat," Northern Agricultural Research Center agronomist Gregg Carlson said today.

North-central Montana received more much-needed rain in the last two days. Other parts of the state experienced severe weather along with the rain.

Heavy thunderstorms hit Montana in the last two days, dropping 1.79 inches of rain at the Havre-Hill County Airport between midnight Saturday and midnight Monday, National Weather Service meteorologist D.C. Williamson said. The rain was widespread, although it dropped different amounts in different areas. The worst-hit with severe weather was on the southern edge of the storms, in Fergus County and Judith Basin County, he said.

"It was pretty much like a line of thunderstorms that came through yesterday afternoon and evening," he said.

The southern edge of the storm didn't drop as much rain, although it created high winds, with gusts up to 90 mph near Jordan, and some hail, Williamson said.

At Neihart, a windstorm ripped trees from a hillside, downed power lines and severely damaged about a dozen homes. The storm also dropped golf-ball size hail.

Six houses were severely damaged, including a mobile home behind the fire station that was lifted off the ground, said Steve Heppell, chief of the Neihart volunteer fire department. Another half dozen houses had some damage.

The storm also brought a tornado north of Lewistown, 70 mph winds to southern Cascade County and 2.5-inch hail to Stanford.

Several weather watchers spotted funnel clouds in Judith Basin, Fergus and Petroleum counties, but the National Weather Service said the only one that touched down was north of Lewistown, near Hilger.

Hail, ranging from pebble to golf-ball size and larger peppered central Montana as the storm moved from Stanford and Neihart east through Fergus County.

The level of Fresno Reservoir, which went from nearly empty to completely full after the extensive precipitation the second week of June, had dropped before the rain. It can handle a considerable amount of runoff before severe flooding would occur downstream.

The conservation pool is 2 feet below full at about 2,573 feet. The level is about 20 feet below the flood level. It would take close to 3 billion gallons to fill the conservation pool.

Deana Grabofsky of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Havre said the rain in the last few months has helped immensely, although the area will need more to overcome several years of drought.

"You can't overcome a five-year drought with one growing season, but timely rains will help our crops a lot," she said. "This is great, it's just wonderful to see."

Carlson said the precipitation in May set up conditions for the early June storm to be very beneficial. It takes about 4 inches of precipitation to create enough soil moisture to produce the first bushel of wheat on an acre of land, he said. After that, each inch of rain, if it drops in a timely fashion, equates to about 5 bushels of wheat an acre.

If Hill County had received average rainfall from the beginning of May, the county would likely average about 20 to 25 bushels an acre, Carlson said.

If the county had received the same precipitation as it did in 2001, the harvest would yield about five to 15 bushels an acre, Carlson said.

Because of the amounts and timing of the precipitation from June on, there is actually some surplus of moisture, Carlson said. There are some things going against the crop, such as how late it was planted, but "the potential is there to exceed 30 bushels (an acre,)" he said.

The rains since the big storm in June have been timely and very beneficial to the crops, Carlson said, especially the rain in the last two days.

"It was timely. Things were getting a little toasty," he said.

The National Weather Service is predicting hot, dry weather for most of the rest of the week, but Carlson said enough rain fell in the last two days to withstand a few days of heat.

The research center received just short of 2 inches of rain, which should moisten about 6 inches of soil, he said. A few days of heat will probably dry up about an inch of that, but the rest of the moisture will remain.

The amount of precipitation has varied tremendously in north-central Montana. The five-day storm in June dropped less than an inch in Fort Benton, more than 3 inches in Havre and more than 7 inches in the Sweet Grass Hills. But the entire region has benefited from the rain, Carlson said.

"Most of the area really got bailed out," he said. "Some only saw a couple of inches, others saw 6 or 7, some saw a lot of damage. For the most part everybody got an appreciable chunk."

The rain made many people happy, even in areas with damage, Carlson said.

"When you're that bad off, you take it any way you can get it," he said.

The National Weather Service predicts a cooler day today, with highs in the 70s and clouds moving into the Havre area. The rest of the week will probably be very hot, in the 90s, and dry.

"Enjoy the cool weather today your air conditioner will get a break," Williamson said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.


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