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Montana Ag Network: Drought conditions and the recent harvest

drought october 2023.jpg
Posted at 8:49 AM, Oct 09, 2023

GREAT FALLS — Montana's farmers and ranchers are no strangers to drought. With a recent string of wet conditions across the southern and central regions of the state, drought conditions have been pushed further north to Montana's Hi-Line.

"Currently for the drought situation, we have improved quite a bit between the Great Falls and Lewistown area and we've actually been removed from the drought area," explained Jim Brusda, Lead Meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

Although much of southern Montana has seen above-average precipitation, Glacier County and Northwestern Montana are in arid conditions.

"As you push northward, there's a pretty sharp gradient between Power and Conrad, where the drought conditions increase. As you get north of Conrad, they are still in a pretty significant drought situation, especially in the Browning area."

Following the late summer harvest, Montana farmers have had record years and others have had some of the worst years.

"The bad can be 100 miles away or 10 miles away. It's just crazy how the weather patterns were this summer and actually, it's still going this fall. Some people are getting three or four inches and some people haven't received any yet," shared Boyd Helig, Vice President of the Montana Grain Growers Association.

With cover crop farmers wrapping up their Winter Wheat seeding season, staying ahead of the game can be a challenge.

"There is some more drought-resistant seed. Maybe you change from wheat to barley or you change to a hay crop for a year because we're forecasting these dry conditions. But these are all things that you have to plan ahead. And it does make it tricky because Winter Wheat, most of the winter wheat has been planted right now," said Brusda.

The Montana Grain Growers alluded to that with the passing of a new Farm Bill no delayed, now more than ever is campaigning for key aid important to producers.

"$5.50 is below cost production right now. We've talked about it over and over and $6 to $6.50 is what we're shooting for and if we could get six, it'd be a win," expressed Helig.

Pulling out of the drought isn't out of the picture. The National Weather Service says that many didn't expect California to pull out of its drought. It saw an extremely wet year in 2022 and with the right meteorological conditions, Montana could pull out of the drought.

The National Weather Service is reporting that the Western United States is entering El Nino, which brings warmer and drier conditions.

Brusda told MTN News, that because we are entering that weather pattern doesn't mean it won't get cold and snow this winter. It's a matter of when the snow will fly.