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Moisture improves conditions for farmers

Havre Daily News/Nikki Carlson

Montana Grain Growers Association Vice President Ryan McCormick of Kremlin sprays chemical on cheatgrass in his brother's winter wheat field in between Kremlin and Gildford Tuesday afternoon.

While much still depends — as it always does in north-central Montana — on the weather in upcoming months, recent snow and rain has helped the outlook for local crops.

"We've got a real good start, " said Larry Johnson, who farms in the Kremlin area. "We're kind of in the same boat every year. We always need, we're always looking for, a rain. "

The amount of moisture in north-central Montana has been an up-and-down affair in the last year-and-a-half, with precipitation in February and March this year helping out what had been an increasing shortfall in moisture.

The area saw a heavy winter that hit — and stuck — early in 2010, with snow falling in mid-November and staying until late in the spring, and with weather below zero degrees on several days before Christmas. However, fall and most of the winter in 2011-12 was extremely mild. Few snowfalls occurred in north-central Montana through the start of February, with those generally melting off quickly. Few days have had highs below freezing; and many lows were higher than 32.

The main turnaround in Havre was a blizzard March 19, which dropped a foot or more of snow and knocked out power, for as long as two days or more for some north-central Montana residents.

March 18, Havre reported a shortage from the average value of precipitation for that date as. 23 inches for the month,. 29 inches for the calendar year and. 9 inches for the water year that starts Oct. 1.

By March 25, the National Weather Service reported a surplus of moisture of 1.49 inches for the month at Havre, 1.43 inches for the calendar year and. 82 inches for the water year.

As of this morning, Havre showed a. 11-inch shortfall for the month with. 5 inches recorded, but 1.2 inches above normal for the year at 2.96 inches and. 59 inches above normal for the water year.

Talana Klungland, district conservationist for the U. S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resource Conservation Service in Havre, said things have started turning around.

In the Bear Paw Mountains, she said, 6 inches to 7 inches have fallen since September.

"The majority of it came in February and March, " she added.

Hill County Extension Agent Joe Broesder said more moisture is needed. Soil he has tested from Havre north to Canada has shown 12 inches to 14 inches of moisture, but the soil is dry below that.

"I don't know that we've gotten the widespread moisture we need to keep things going …, " he said. "I think we are still needing some rain, definitely. "

Johnson said the same, but that the conditions have created a good opportunity for planting spring grains, which is well under way in his area.

He said that, in the Kremlin area, the winter wheat seems to have survived being exposed through the winter fairly well, although he has heard of other areas in the county where the crops suffered more, including from being uncovered during high winds.

He said he has completed planting his spring wheat, while other farmers in his area are about half-done and others have not yet started. It is a turnaround from last year, when heavy snowcover kept many farmers out of the fields until late, and prevented some from planting at all.

"Last year at this time most people hadn't even started, so we're well ahead of last year, by all means, " Johnson said.

With just the top part of the soil having good moisture, how the crops turn out will depend on the weather over the next few months.

"We're going to need timely rains from here on out, and with this warm weather we've had the last few days we're going to need moisture before very long, because it just starts to deplete the top, " he said.


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