Havre Daily News
Some got rain this weekend, but they need a good deal more. It's a critical time, but all farmers and ranchers can do is wait and watch the sky.
Crops and grasses across north-central Montana are under stress from scorching record-high temperatures, wind and low precipitation. Winter wheat crops are at a critical point, and rain also is needed for spring wheat crops and rangeland grasses.
Havre has recorded a quarter-inch of precipitation for the month, about an inch below the monthly average.
“Last week was a devastating week for the area,” Taylor Aviation Hi-Line Chemical saleswoman Arleen Rice said today. “Last week, with the heat blast, the crops took a hit.”
Rice farms in northern Hill County, and her job takes her to fields across the area. Spotty rain showers over the weekend have given her and producers some hope, she said. She spent some time this morning in a field that had received a little of the wet stuff.
“It's nice to be able to kick mud off your boots,” she said. “Every little bit of precipitation adds to the enthusiasm. Farmers are the ultimate optomists.”
Rice repeated a mantra probably as ancient as agriculture: “Pray for rain.”
The forecast for the coming week calls for less heat, with highs near 80, and up to a 30 percent chance of rain on some days.
Hill County Extension agent Joe Broesder said the hit-and-miss moisture of late has been a help, but farmers and ranchers need more during the critical growing season of May and June.
“We need rain for all of it right now,” he said.
Broesder said winter wheat is “in a tight situation,” with the leaves on some crops starting to roll up from the lack of water.
“It's going to need some moisture so it can flower and start filling,” he said. “It's going to be critical to get some moisture pretty sudden here.
“The spring wheat ... it's going to need some water. Some of the rangeland, I don't know if it'll come back with a lot of rain now. Some of it would.”
Low precipitation is one thing, but heat and wind are other important factors, he said.
“It just sucks the moisture out of the plants and out of the ground that much more quickly.”
Conn Hellebust, who farms on lands north and south of Havre, said his crops have withstoood conditions so far.
“It's held up amazingly well,” he said. “The next week is pretty critical, I believe. And of course these record hot temperatures and no precipitation are worrisome.
“It is drying up, and some of the low spots, some of the hard-pan spots, are starting to burn down,” he added.
Rice said some areas in northern Hill County have been looking “like a moonscape.”
“People are having to make decisions about moving cattle,” she said. “It's a mess.”
Last year, May was relatively dry but much cooler, Rice said, and that made a difference. The rain started to fall in June.
“Last year we stayed cool, and that really saved us,” she said. “When the heat index goes up, you can really see the difference.”
Broesder said much of Hill County farmers work on dry lands. A small portion is irrigated, he said. Good snowpack in the Rocky Mountains have left irrigators in a positive water situation. At Fresno Reservoir, water has come over the spillway in recent weeks.
Irrigators still have to deal with the costs of pumping that water, Rice said, and are happy to get any rain they can.
“There's nothing like rainfall,” she said. “You can irrigate all you want, but it's nothing like Mother Nature gives us.”