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Published September 30, 2013, 09:32 AM

Mont. turns to beans

The National Agricultural Statistics Service on Sept. 22 indicated a mixed to positive picture for the march toward row crop harvest across North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Minnesota.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — The National Agricultural Statistics Service on Sept. 22 indicated a mixed to positive picture for the march toward row crop harvest across North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Minnesota.

Soybean harvest took center stage last week. South Dakota soybean leaves are dropping. North Dakota soybeans were dropping leaves in 82 percent of the crop, ahead of the 70 percent average, with 3 percent harvested, compared with the average 12 percent, NASS says. Minnesota soybeans were 46 percent dropping leaves, compared with an average of 69 percent. South Dakota soybeans are 72 percent dropping leaves, just behind the 80 percent average.

Corn is only 24 percent mature in North Dakota, less than the 40 percent average for the date. It’s much the same in Minnesota, with 17 percent mature, compared with a 45 percent average. Ditto in South Dakota, where corn is 40 percent mature, compared with an average of 45 percent.

In Montana, harvest of durum wheat is 44 percent complete, compared with an 80 percent average for this date. Harvest of most other crops — alfalfa, oats, potatoes, sugar beets and spring wheat — is largely normal. South-central Montana generally is ahead of average in the moisture game for the season. The southwest part of the state, including Bozeman, is slightly behind normal and the central areas including Great Falls are highly variable, according to the NASS report.

About 23 percent of Montana’s potatoes are rated poor to very poor, which is a big change from last year’s 4 percent in the two categories. Sugar beets, meanwhile, are 59 percent good to excellent, compared with a 64 percent five-year average.

Agweek traveled through central and southwest parts of Montana, with stops in the Billings, Bozeman, Great Falls and Cascade areas.

New safflower grower

LAVINA, Mont. — Gene Haaland and his wife, Rebecca, farm and ranch near tiny Rapelje, Mont., but their ZIP Code is at Lavina, Mont. They live about 50 miles northwest of Billings.

Haaland runs about 100 beef cows and usually raises winter wheat and field peas. His biggest crop is about 500 acres of winter wheat. He’s been raising field peas for the past four years.

“This year, we had about 130 acres of winter wheat where it was so dry that it wasn’t going to make a crop,” he says. “You could see where it had sprouted (in the fall of 2012) and dried up, so we sprayed it out. Later on, it started raining. Then we decided maybe I should try another crop so I tried safflower.”

Haaland tried harvesting his safflower on Sept. 24. He’s now hoping it’ll freeze so it dries and can be cut. Haaland says one reason he turned to safflower is he didn’t need any special equipment to get into it.

“I can seed it with my grain drill and harvest it with a regular combine,” Haaland says, adding that he got a contract and delivered to Broadview, Mont. “It’s a kind of deep-rooted plant. It’s like thistles. We used to have a lot of antelope around there and that kept them out there. That’s okay — them staying out of the field. It’s unreal.”

This year was extremely dry in the spring. “The cattle were starting to go to town,” he says. “Nobody was going to have grass. It was pretty serious. Then it started raining. The hay crop didn’t do too well.”

But he had really good grass pasture. September brought plentiful rains, so it’s green and lush, as it’s been all year. As of Sept. 24, Haaland was half finished planting winter wheat.

“I haven’t seen these good conditions for planting winter wheat for several falls, so I’m fairly excited about getting it in good condition,” he says.

It was a bad year for cutworms in the wheat, as well as in hay and some spots in pastures. Winter wheat ran a bit below average at about 27 bushels an acre. He usually looks for 30 to 35 bushels an acre.

A heck of a fall

MANHATTAN, Mont. — Bill Cole of Manhattan, Mont., raises seed potatoes, wheat, barley, alfalfa and field peas. All of it is irrigated — some with wells and some with canals from the Gallatin River.

“On Aug. 1, we had the worst hail storm that anybody around here can remember,” Cole says. “It pretty much wiped out a good portion of this whole valley, as far as our grain.” The storm was about 10 to 12 miles wide, and perhaps 100 miles long. Cole was in the middle of it.

“It’s been real hard on the dairies in this area because they lost a lot of their feed sources — silage corn was destroyed. A lot of barley was taken,” Cole says. There were combines in the fields, but it was “more stubble management than harvesting” going on, Cole says.

Cole lost all of his peas, disked them up, irrigated them, got them to sprout and plowed them under again. About 75 to 80 percent of his grain was gone. “I didn’t have any crop insurance but for most that did, it was 100 percent loss,” Cole says.

The seed potatoes were battered but survived and came back.

In late August, Cole was accompanying Eileen Carpenter, a potato inspector with the Montana Potato Improvement Association, as she inspected his potato crop. Carpenter noted that there were places in the potato field where she could see a line where the hail came through from the southwest to the northeast.

Cole plants early generation cultivars from Schutter’s Seed Potatoes of Manhattan, which in turn gets its seed from Montana State University in Bozeman, about 15 miles to the east.

“Each year is a generation — first nuclear, and then generations 1, 2 and 3,” Carpenter says. The “G3s” are sold to commercial growers and planted one more time as seed. Cole thinks “a lot of the early generation stuff was hurt bad,” by the storm.

Carpenter selects survey sites randomly through the field, trying to cross every row. She uses a hand counter to determine the plant count — assuming she sees 10 plants per click.

“This is a 40-acre field,” Carpenter says, walking among the Umatilla russet plants. “I need 8,000 on my counter when I’m done to show that we had 200 plants per acre.” Cole started his potato harvest on Sept. 23, and says it’s a surprisingly beautiful crop, despite the early hail. “We feel very blessed to be getting what we’re getting,” he says.

A dry, hot year

GREAT FALLS, Mont. — Bill Nelson of Great Falls in late August was cutting wheat in the Cascade area, just south of Great Falls, where Carl Taft has cattle and crops.

Taft raises winter wheat, spring wheat and a little barley. Nelson was harvesting re-cropped spring wheat in the Cascade area, meaning there was no fallow period. The crop had a great start on everything — lots of rain, Nelson says. “But it turned 90 degrees and it quit raining June 9. And hail after that beat things up.”

Taft says much of the wheat in that area saw hail three times. The straw looked better than the results, he says. “The hail stripped the heads so there wasn’t much wheat left,” he says, adding the farm had 3 inches of precipitation behind the 30-year normal.

Typically, a 35- to 40-bushel-per-acre wheat crop would be good, but this year, even the fallow-wheat rotation didn’t make that, although some of Taft’s fields to the north would be better.

“I think quality will be awesome,” Nelson says. Protein was very high, 16 and 17 percent. “If you fertilize for a 40-bushel spring wheat crop and you don’t get it, the protein’s generally high.” Taft figured test weights ranged from 59 to 62 pounds per bushel.