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Published September 23, 2013, 09:18 AM

Mont. spring wheat harvest winds down

The National Agricultural Statistics Service is saying farm and ranch conditions in southeast Montana are good for this time of year, and fall is coming on.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — The National Agricultural Statistics Service is saying farm and ranch conditions in southeast Montana are good for this time of year, and fall is coming on.

A NASS report for the week ending Sept. 16 showed warm days but cooler nights throughout the state. Much of Montana had received 2 inches of rain, with topsoil and subsoil moisture above the five-year average.

Montana’s spring wheat was 83 percent harvested — slightly ahead of average.

Other harvest completion percentages were: alfalfa, second cutting, 91; barley, 98; silage corn, 25; dry peas, 96; lentils, 80; oats, 91; potatoes, 14; durum, 39. Of those crops, only durum was behind the five-year average of 71 percent complete.

Crop conditions in the good to excellent categories include: corn, 57 percent, five-year average 67 percent; sugar beets, 58 percent, 66 percent average. All of the east and north-central regions are out of drought danger, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Some 20 percent of the state’s cattle and calves have been moved from summer ranges, compared with an average of 24 percent for this date in the past five years. Range and pasture feed conditions are pegged at 45 percent good to excellent, compared with an average of 34 percent for this date.

Agweek made a few other CropStop visits recently. Here’s what aggies in the area had to say.

A good year, all told

WIBAUX, Mont. — Sam Scammon and his son, Kory, farm mainly small grains and hay near Wibaux, Mont., just a few miles west of the state line. It’s been a good year, really, they say.

The Scammons practice minimum tillage farming and are working toward no-till. They raise winter wheat, spring wheat, some safflower and canola, Kory says.

“And we run commercial beef cattle — calve out 150-plus,” Kory says. They’re background-feeding all of their calves through the winter and into the spring. “We calve a little later than most people — into April — and our calves will be into March when we sell them.”

“We had a lot of rain in May and June, but we didn’t have hardly anything since the end of July — that wind and rain storm on July 8, and that’s when we got all the damage,” Sam says. The storm laid down some of the winter wheat and canola. The hail damage was bad enough that a quarter section of safflower had to be sprayed out.

The hay crop went well. They got some second-cutting alfalfa that was fair.

Winter wheat harvest in late August was proving to be a decent crop, despite some wind and hail damage. The winter wheat ended up ranging from 25 to 45 bushels per acre.

Quality was pretty good, with test weight high, protein a little on the low side. The spring wheat harvest ended just as another storm came in Sept. 17, with yields from 35 to 45 bushels per acre, with test weight at 61 pounds but protein about 13 percent. Canola went about 1,200 pounds per acre, which isn’t bad. Remaining safflower was looking good.

A year of rain

GLENDIVE, Mont. — Verna Baisch sells insurance for Stockmen’s Insurance in Glendive, Mont. The 2013 year had some prevented-planting coverage and some hay, but generally, it’s a “great crop year,” in the area, she says. By late August, farmers had received about 10 to 12 inches of summer rains, twice what they normally would get.

Baisch estimates the average winter wheat yield to be 45 to 50 bushels per acre in Richland, McCone, Dawson, Prairie and Wibaux counties. Some farmers were seeing 70-bushel winter wheat, while, typically, 35 to 40 bushels would be a good average.

At this point, Baisch says she has no clients enrolled in rangeland insurance. Everybody went to the Farm Service Agency and insured through the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, she says.

“It was their own doing,” Baisch says, of her clients’ decisions. She says they based their decision on the fact that NASS data showed they had sufficient moisture to raise a crop. “It was a waste of money,” she says.

She thinks her clients projected they lost about $800,000 in unpaid claims because of the decision. No drought this year.

Premium year at Miles City

MILES CITY, Mont. — Mike Schuldt, Custer County Extension Agent, says it’s been a surprisingly good crop year in his county. “Those crops that escaped the hail? Better-than-average,” Schuldt says. The Kinsey Irrigation Project, which runs from just east of Miles City to about 10 miles west of Terry, had a six-mile wide, 18-mile long strip of hail go through in early July that decimated corn and damaged pinto beans, potatoes and alfalfa. Farmers are chopping corn now and are able to salvage some.

When Agweek visited, Schuldt was busy organizing the market hog show at the Eastern Montana Fair.

The fair is also known for its Champion of Champions show, where grand champion and reserve steers from seven county fairs compete for the overall champion title for eastern Montana. The contest has been held since 1978, and is judged by a team. All participants go in the “Steer of Merit” contest, a state carcass quality contest. That prize will be announced at the Montana

Stockgrowers Association Convention in Billings in early December.

One popular feature is a “jackpot” where spectators win prizes for the most accurate prediction of how animal carcasses will grade out.

One of this year’s stand-out contestants was Frankee Bice, 19. She graduated from Rosebud (Mont.) High School in 2012, but was still able to make the 18-year-old cutoff for the 4-H livestock beef showmanship competition this season.

“I have my own cow herd,” says Bice, a member of the Town & Country 4-H Club, which her mother, Jen, advises. Bice has been showing cattle since she was 4. These days, she artificially inseminates some of her cows to club-calf steers and heifers. She’s trying to start her own club calf business.

“Miles City is not much on the club calves at this point, but I’d like to make it that way. It’s my hometown and I really enjoy club calves.”

Cattle is in the Bice family DNA. Jen and her husband, Mark Peterson, work on the Bice Feedlot, headed by Jen’s father, Donald and his wife, Vernetta, some 40 miles southwest of Miles City. Jen’s brother, Lance and his wife, Sara, are also in the business. The Bices background-feed about 5,000 head a year. (Peterson also works in the oil fields.)

This year, Frankee Bice showed Avery in the Champion of Champions show, and picked up Reserve Champion honors, and a third in the carcass show. She made about $5,500 in prizes and premiums in the event. Avery was a progeny of the bull “Monopoly” and came from Streamside Angus in Manhattan, Mont.

Bice says her best ally is her mother. She has taken some college ag classes but wants to go to cosmetology school in Bozeman, and stay active in cattle.