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Though dryer, warmer weather has helped ward off disease and pest issues in much of Montana, one exception has been Ascochyta blight in chickpeas. (Lance Lindbloom photo)

Strategically placed footprints

Moisture wise, Montana as a whole did not fare well in the month of June. Uncomfortably dry morphed into a severely parched landscape. All of Montana, especially the eastern region along with the Flathead Valley, have had a rough growing season with large areas in extreme drought conditions.

To top off the lack of moisture, July has been blazing hot. Winter wheat and pea harvest are in full swing. Lentil harvest has just begun, and chickpeas and spring wheat crops are turning quickly. To help balance the negativity of our weather, one major positive would be the uptick in the wheat market.

Somewhat of a benefit of dryer, warmer weather is that our disease and pest issues have been minimized in most crops. One exception would be Ascochyta blight in chickpeas. We have seen a strong increase in chickpea acres this growing season, and unfortunately, a major increase in Ascochyta outbreaks. Being positive here, most producers were mentally ready to aggressively attack this fungus.

Since talking about burned up crops is dry and boring, I thought discussing how agronomists use information to help make decisions. Notice, I did not say that four letter word — DATA! Data this, data that, big data, small data, data everywhere, absolutely drives me crazy. Data is the X's and O's, the pile of papers, charts and graphs, etc, etc. The information gleaned, hopefully from good data, is what helps drive decision making.

So what type of information do we need to have at our fingertips each and every day? You begin at the beginning — with basic historical information. In this category, on the top of the list is crop protection history. There are many crops out there, especially pulses, that will develop a severe allergic reaction, i.e. keel over and die, if certain formulations and potions have been used in the past. Another good example of readily needed historical information is cropping. When tracking why we are seeing certain bugs and diseases, it is crucial to have past cropping history. One more example of historical information that also blurs into present is weather information. Wow! How big of a role does moisture and BTUs play in what we see happening each day, week, month and year? Understanding and modelling weather is a significant piece to decision making each season.

If historical is the beginning, our next piece, analytical information, brings us back to earth. Data is a file folder or desk drawer cluttered and full of soil and tissue tests. On the other hand, analytical information is the ability to visualize and measure nutrient trends on not only farm or field level, but also "field within field" or zone level. The more soil, tissue, and resin tests that we can accumulate, track and access easily, the closer we get to hitting that moving target. Senior AGRI-TREND Coach Elston Solberg is always pounding in the concept, "biggest fish to fry" when it comes to big picture cropping strategies. Where is our greatest opportunity for return on investment? Where should we focus our time and resources? Not on what makes us feel all warm and fuzzy, but where we achieve the biggest bang for our buck. To answer these questions, one must have access to deep analytical information.

The list of types of information is endless, but the last type I would like to discuss is the most colorful and seems to draw a large audience. MAPS! Remote imagery maps, drone maps, yield maps, topography maps, soil survey maps, etc, etc. — we need to be cognizant that we do not end up with PMS — pretty map syndrome! Maps are only a rainbow of color or Xs and Os until we translate the colors into values that are measurable and deployable, two incredibly crucial pieces to decision making. As an agronomist, I am ecstatic about layering spatial information. It ensures where we strategically place our footprints across each field.

Data transformed into measurable information is like a cake — the more layers you have the sweeter it is!

Until next time, hoping everyone has a safe and bountiful harvest.

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