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Published October 14, 2013, 10:11 AM

A good wheat crop

Agweek recently talked with farmers and elevator operators in north-central and northeast Montana. Here’s what they said.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — The Oct. 7 National Agricultural Statistics Service weekly crop progress and condition report fell victim to the partial federal shutdown. Farmers in the region were also stopped by heavy to moderate snowfall in western South Dakota and southwest North Dakota, and by rain in the east.

Agweek recently talked with farmers and elevator operators in north-central and northeast Montana. Here’s what they said.

Good wheat, despite hail

CHESTER, Mont. — Gordon Standiford and his father, Gary, farm between Chester, Mont., and Lothair. The place has been in the family since 1909. They usually raise winter wheat, always spring wheat and sometimes barley or durum — but not this year.

This spring, when the Standifords were planting, the wind was blowing hard. “We kind of wondered what we were doing out here,” Gordon says. Things turned out better than expected, despite a whipping they got from hail early in June. The storm had 78 mph winds and broke windows in the house. They shoveled the remains of 1.5-inch diameter hail off a deck the day after the storm.

“It just cut the wheat off at the ground but it came back nicely,” Gordon says. “Considering it was bare dirt after that hailstorm, things looked pretty good.” A couple of subsequent hailstorms later in the summer seemed to do less damage.

All told, the growing crop received close to 10 inches of rain after it was planted, which is a great plenty in the Chester area. Spring wheat yielded in the 45- to 50-bushel per acre range. Quality-wise, the test weight was 62 pounds a bushel and proteins were in the 13.5 to 14 percent range.

The Standifords didn’t have winter wheat this year. Conditions for planting last fall weren’t good. “Some of it I saw around here had kind of an iffy stand spring — kind of winter-killed. But then it rained all summer and it turned out pretty good.”

Carrying on legacies

KREMLIN, Mont. — Nick Pyrak, 35, and his wife, Vida, live in Havre, Mont., and farm near Kremlin, Mont., on farms initiated by his grandfather, Kenneth Flynn. The Pyraks raise spring wheat and winter wheat. Pyrak says his 2013 crop year was in the top three he’s had since starting farming 1996.

This year’s rainfall was timely and above-average. “I think the average is about 12 inches around here and I think we got 18,” Pyrak says. He had 1,300 acres of spring wheat this year. The first 700 acres yielded 50 bushels an acre. The 600 acres remaining went about 40 bushels, which is good for the area.

“My winter wheat averaged 60 bushels across everything.” He had 3,000 acres of winter wheat. The winter wheat was a bit light — 59 pounds per bushel, with 12.5 percent protein. The winter wheat harvest took longer than he expected because of rain delays.

The rain also added more weed growth in the summer fallow planting. “I just finished seeding winter wheat on Oct. 5, which is the latest I’ve ever seeded,” he says. “My grandpa used to say to start seeding winter wheat after Labor Day.”

Pyrak has price goals for this year’s crop. He averaged about $8 per bushel for all of his wheat from 2012. In late August, he was able to get about $7 and the price has climbed back to $7.50. “By December, if I can’t get $8, I’ll sell a third of my crop,” Pyrak says.

Pyrak’s farming mentors were his grandfather, who died in 1998, and his uncle, Jeff, who died in 2010. His uncle helped finance him at Montana State University at Bozeman, but Pyrak transferred to the University of California, Davis, where he found Vida and acquired an agriculture degree in 2000.

Grandfather Kenneth lived a rags-to-riches life.

He grew up poor near Gildford and went on to be a real estate man in Havre, Mont. In 1974, he bought a farm near Kremlin, where his family moved after the kids got through high school. At one time, the farm was 18,000 acres, owned by Kenneth but mostly farmed by others.

One of the distinctive features of the Kenneth and Audrey Flynn farmstead is a line-up of 45 bins in a row on the south side of the farm — a silent statement of prosperity. The bins are 7,000-bushels each, so the facility holds about 300,000 bushels. Pyrak has another 150,000 bushels of storage in a facility near Gildford.

“I only hauled in 10,000 bushels to the elevator for sale,” Pyrak says. “The rest, I stored.”

Another distinctive feature on the farm is its prominent tribute to the founder. Audrey, 83, placed Kenneth’s body in a sarcophagus — a box-like granite funeral container. The structure is in her flower garden, where she can see it from the house. She also installed a columbarium, for cremated remains. Jeff is already there and she has plans to lay the rest of the family there, too.

Some wheat in October

FRAZER, Mont. — Lonnie Harms has been interior facility manager for EGT LLC in Frazer, Mont., since last April in the so-called “Kintyre Flats” area.

EGT (originally Export Grain Terminal) has three facilities in Montana — Kintyre Flats, Chester and Carter, and then there is an export facility in Longview, Wash.

The Kintyre export terminal has a 110-car load-out on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad. It handles corn, soybeans and wheat. EGT doesn’t handle peas or lentils yet, but the company is looking into that.

“We try to get trains loaded in 10 to 12 hours,” Harms says. “We handle spring and winter wheat here right now. We are going to take a little corn and soybeans this winter.” The area has some irrigation along the Missouri River. “We also have a few guys trying dry land corn. I think we will develop a crop with that, as we develop the hybrids,” Harms says.

Wheat is still king around here. Little winter wheat was planted for 2013 harvest. Spring wheat yields were considerably better than average, but protein levels were on the low side — ranging from 11 to 15 percent, but averaging about 12.5 percent. As the harvest progressed to the north, protein levels were running 12.4 percent. “Rain was very good, we never stressed the crop,” Harms says.

Harms figures the wheat harvest was about one-third complete at the end of August and he predicted some might wait for harvest until October. Some farmers near the Canadian border were still harvesting wheat on Oct. 8.

“It’s been a cool summer with a late start, with all the rain,” he says. “A lot of wheat was planted in the first part of June.”

The facility draws commodities from the Canada border, 60 miles north, to the west at Malta, south to Jordan and east to Poplar. He says it takes about a month to get crops to EGT’s mostly Asian ports.

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