Montana wheat is right on track
September 11, 2018
The wheat harvest in Montana is getting close to being wrapped up for another year. According to three farmers from the state, so far, the crop is looking good.
"The farmers that I'm talking to are generally happy," said Lyle Benjamin of Sunburst in north central Montana.
Benjamin farms wheat, durum, small barley, chick peas, and lentils just south of the Canadian border.
"I would say that over the area the crops have been good with high quality yields that are just a touch over average," he reported.
Benjamin said that the barley crops in his region "got hit with late heat," so a lot of that grain will go into the feed market instead of going for malt. "It really needed one more rain storm in July," he explained.
Thankfully the wheat was more tolerant of the heat and is resulting in high protein and test weights.
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The harvest itself isn't the main concern on farmers' minds so much as the trade situation. Montana exports 80 percent of its grains, so trade and the policies that affect trade, are important to agriculture in the state.
Currently the United States hasn't sold any wheat to China, it's number 6 exporter, since early in the spring. Trade deals typically take a while to evolve, but farmers are hoping that the issues will be resolved in the near future.
"So far we're seeing record movements of crops and really good rail movements," Benjamin explained. He went on to say that right now it's all old crop that's entering the trade rings.
South of Benjamin's operation, Ken Slezak of Shelby Montana said that his area is also experiencing a normal harvest.
Slezak is the grain department manager at CHS and said that "the crops are coming off pretty nicely."
He estimates that around 75 percent of the wheat is cut down and the rest should be finished within the next three weeks.
The wheat in his region is "running about normal," and he said that just south of Shelby there are some "beautiful crops."
As far as prices go, Slezak said that winter wheat is bringing $5.25 per bushel and spring wheat is worth about $5.50.
Benjamin also discussed prices and explained that "There was a good pricing opportunity in early August for guys to price crops if they made that move."
The weather is one aspect of agriculture that can make or break a growing season—if it is too dry, or if early hail storms damage crops like wheat, farmers may be forced to cut their grains for hay, but if the year is too wet that can change the crop quality as well.
According to Michelle Erikson-Jones from Broadview Montana just north of Billings, it was "a really wet year," for her part of the state.
"We had too much snow cover—at least in this area," she explained.
Jones is a 4th generation farmer along-side of her father and husband. Their operation produces wheat, small barley, alfalfa, forage grain, and other crops along with running a cow calf operation.
She reported that her region experienced "record breaking snow" this past winter that sat a little too long on their winter wheat crops.
"It definitely impacted the winter wheat in a negative way, but was good for the spring wheat," she reported.
Despite her experiences with excessive moisture and winter wheat, she said that other parts of Montana produced a "tremendous winter wheat crop."
All three producers explained that this year's moisture and lack of hail resulted in most all of the wheat crop going to grain instead of being put up for hay.
Jones also had some concerns about the current trade/export situation and explained that "prices are not terrible, but they're not as good as they could be if we had better export demand."
Along with running their own farms, both Jones and Benjamin serve on the Montana Grain Grower's Association board of directors and are the current president and vice president, respectfully.
The Montana Grain Growers Association focuses on representing the interests of Montana producers by paying attention to farm policies and working with Montana producers to advocate for beneficial legislature. The association also does outreach and lobbies at the state and national levels.
The Farm Bill is one piece of legislation that the group pays special attention to. Benjamin explained that the Farm Bill "has come full circle since I've come onto the board." He went on to say that the different cycles and changes that the Farm Bill has been through is interesting to study and be a part of.
Looking forward, farmers are watching the legislation that is currently being passed while experiencing a good winter and spring wheat crop in the last few weeks of harvest.