Havre Daily News - News you can use

Crop harvests generally good, but market not so much


August 30, 2019

Havre Daily News/Ryan Berry

Dust flies into the air as two farmers drive combines through a wheat field Thursday evening at a farm south of Havre.

Although some farmers saw a good growing season, others had a rough harvest, and with the trade war still playing a role in exporting United States goods farmers say many will suffer a loss this year.

"The markets look abysmal," Big Sandy-area farmer Lochiel Edwards said, adding that although the recent trade agreements with Japan look hopeful the fact is the market has an excess supply of wheat and it's hard for farmers to see their way out out of a rut. 

He added that most farmers feel the same way.

Jon Stoner, who farms north of Havre, echoed Edwards' opinion and said the current markets are extremely pressed.

"Our current trade policies have absolutely devastated our markets," he said. "It's something we have never faced before like this, maybe in our lifetime."

The USDA's evaluation of Montana Elevator Cash Grain Prices, which published Thursday, said the current ordinary market price for Hard Red Winter Wheat in the Golden Triangle is $3.51 to $3.66 a bushel and the ordinary market price for Dark Northern Spring Wheat is $4.13 to $4.26 a bushel. 

Stoner said that although those prices are not terrible he will experience a loss this year with his crops.

"At those prices, even with the yields that we had, we still will have a loss this year," he said.

He said that this year, for spring wheat on his summer grow was hit by four different hail storms and had about 45 to 50 pounds per bushels. His winter wheat, which was also hit by hail, was anywhere between zero to 20 pounds per bushel.

The past year, the area north of Havre experienced an unusually high amount of hail, he said, adding that despite the hail he still was able to harvest a decent crop.

He said his winter wheat all had good test rates and had high protein, between 14 to 15 points, and spring wheat yield was fairly similar to winter wheat. He added that most of his spring wheat looks like it's going to be between 56 to 58 pounds and high protein.

Moisture for the winter wheat this year was difficult, taking additional time to get his crop dried down, he said. He added that his spring wheat was doing good with only 12 percent, but because of the recent moisture in the past week he had to hold off on harvesting for a few days to let the wheat dry out.

"We're pretty surprised that we had the yields that we did," he said.

This year, like many other farmers in his area, he was hit with an extreme drought, he said, until June 19, which boosted his crop. 

"We were extremely blessed in June that we had those three weeks of cool rainy weather just when the crops really needed it," he said.

He said it was an incredibly efficient use of moisture with the weather causing his green peas to flowering, his mustard flower and his wheat to come to a head.

Mustard is selling for 26 cents a pound, he added and currently he is getting about 23 to 50 pounds a bushel and about 1,100 pounds per acre.

Edwards said the harvest has been fairly uneven across the Golden Triangle, with some areas experiencing good weather and harvesting a good crop.

Moisture is an ongoing issue, with frequent light rain showers and shorter polished days, creating a frustrating situation for farmers, he said. Most farmers are still trying to harvest and even a light rain shower can take up to two or three days for the grain to dry out. He added that as far as harvest goes, it is really weighing on farmers" minds.

He said the protein levels also are varying depending on the area. For example, he said, his proteins are a point below normal. He added that he thinks this year the market is going to see more disparity in proteins by area.

"I don't know what that means for our markets," he said.

A large number of variables can play a role in if the crop has good protein, he said, depending on the farmer's fertilizer program and the weather the area experiences during ripening. The biggest factor is the amount of nutrient available to the plant divided into the yield of the grain.

If a farmer expects a 45- to 50-pound bushel, they tend to fertilize for what the expected yield is, he said, adding that if a farmer knew their yield was going to be 20 percent higher they would fertilize for the extra 20 percent. But if the yields are higher, but the crop doesn't have enough nutrients the protein will end up lower. 

With grain prices down, farmers are also likely to put less fertilizer down and get a lower amount of protein, he said. 

"They are going to, in general, think about saving money where they can in the current price environment for grains," he said.

He added that the growing season in his area was, in general, dry, with no over-abundance of rain, but a few farmers in his area and around the Triangle got cool temperatures in June which was just as good as a rain and in some cases was enough to get a good crop.

"The cool weather in June really helped all the crops," he said.

Edwards said that the number of wheat diseases were also down this year, although sawfly, the major insect predator of wheat crops, prevalence was up. That caused a problem for many farmers.

Farm Service Agency Hill County Office Executive Director Russell Snedigar said that from the harvest reports he has heard, although drought crept across the Hi-Line, farmers had a good harvest.

"For the most part, I heard very positive harvest reports, where they had good winter wheat, good spring wheat and there was no quality issues as far as combining it and getting it into the grain bins," he said.

He said, from what he heard, farmers were able to fill their bins and even in some cases were running over capacity. He added that some farmers did file claims with the FSA due to crop loss because of the weather, but no one has called in and complained about any large loss.

"As far as production, Mother Nature cooperated and we had a good year," he said.

But market prices are challenging, he said. During harvest, market prices are generally lower due to the large amount of production. He added that also with the on-going trade war he is uncertain what impact it will have on producers.

He said the FSA is currently working on a number of programs to help stabilize the economy. The FSA is focusing on working on the Market Facilitation Program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's program to provide $14.5 billion in direct payments to farmers. He added that the deadline for the program is Dec. 6.

The FSA is also preparing to announce its fall program sign up, and are getting the materials put together to inform producers of deadline specifics.

He said producers have until Sept. 30 to produce Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program insurance and until Nov. 15 to purchase normal crop insurance.

He added that the FSA will be sending out a newsletter at a future date with more information.


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