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Published April 11, 2011, 06:04 AM

Spring planting: What to choose?

BOZEMAN, Mont. — Montana farmers have to consider several factors when deciding which crops to plant this spring.

BOZEMAN, Mont. — Montana farmers have to consider several factors when deciding which crops to plant this spring.

With heavy winter snows still lingering in some parts of Montana, and summer weather a mystery, Montana State University in Bozeman and Montana Agricultural Experiment Station specialists weigh several options.

Planting window

The window for planting spring crops such as spring wheat, lentils or spring peas is getting smaller. With the amount of snow that accumulated in the Golden Triangle this winter, some producers think it may be May before planting can begin.

If that prediction comes true, which spring crop should be planted first?

ll crops have optimum planting dates and late planting can lead to yield decline. But which crop is most affected?

Cereal grains

There is a lot of data on cereal grains such as barley and spring wheat in Montana.

Depending on how hot July is, the yield decline for late planting of these crops can be fairly severe.

On the other hand, if summer is as cool as it was in 2010, grain yields probably will not be reduced because of heat. In that case, the risk comes on the other end of the growing season because grains might not mature before fall.

In either case, the crops that need to be planted first probably are the cereal grains. These crops have been the bread and butter for Montana producers and will continue to drive the economic picture.


But might this be the year to try desi chickpeas? Pulse crops also are negatively affected by late planting, but maybe less so than cereal grains.

Unpublished data by Perry Miller, cropping systems specialist at Montana State University, show that in 2004 at Amsterdam, the yield decline for delayed planting after April 13 was 44 pounds per acre, per day for spring wheat, 30 pounds per acre, per day for dry peas and just 13 pounds per acre, per day for chickpeas.

Spring lentils

There is little Montana data on yield decline for spring lentils caused by late planting, but research in southern Saskatch-

ewan shows that when lentils are compared with spring wheat, the decline caused by late planting is less severe.

If time is getting short for planting crops, consider getting high-value cereal grains in the ground first. The potential for yield decline caused by late planting should not be ignored.