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Sandy Rock Farms Hill County, Montana Red Lentils Soil moisture probe three feet deep! (Lance Lindbloom/Special to Agweek)

Pieces to complexity

What a difference in 30 days! Last month, producers were struggling and wondering when to begin building an ark. Today, we would like even a small shot of agua. Winter wheat in many areas is showing stress with purplish-blue colors and spring wheat is not faring much better. Pulse crops are hanging in there, especially those seeded early into moisture. In some locations in southeastern Montana, producers are cutting and baling stressed out winter wheat.

However, if you are going to plant and expect something to grow, one must always be an optimist. Our short-term forecast has a high probability of rain across much of Montana. If Mr. Weatherman is even remotely as accurate for precipitation as he is for wind, it could be a million-dollar rain. On a positive spin of the dry spell, the opportunity for disease to gain a foothold early in the season has been lessened.

This time of year, our time is heavily invested in tissue testing and crop scouting. Why do we tissue test?

Agronomists use as much analytical information coupled with culture, equipment, data and marketing information to create cropping strategies. Soil testing is the backbone, the big picture overview, while tissue testing mimics a blood test representing what is going on in the plant.

One needs to remember that a single tissue test is a snapshot, with no indication of direction of movement within plant nutrient levels. To accurately track, we need to be deploying at least two or three tests across the growth cycle of the plant. Currently in the Triangle, winter wheat has been sampled at least twice, and spring wheat, along with pulse crops, are being sampled for the first time this season.

This year, a majority of the tissue tests show that producers keyed in on how shorting nitrogen in 2016 was a costly strategy, and have since adjusted fertility levels. The results we are seeing from the tests have two purposes. One, if timing and favorable conditions exist, we can be reactive and deploy a foliar nutrient application. Our second, more important purpose is that this information is layered with a robust analytical, yield and other data and used to pinpoint future cropping strategies.

We are also seeing an increase in producers embracing the use of technology to assist in reducing the risk associated with deploying all fertility at the beginning of planting season. Even with how fickle our weather has been, in some locations producers are applying the second pass on their small grains.

One of the cost-saving features of variable rate is the ability to not apply full rate at the beginning of the season when our weather or moisture situation is yet to be determined. In my geography, I have growers that have applied 80 percent on the first pass, and aborted the second pass due to lack of moisture. Others in the same county who had adequate precipitation pull the trigger on the second pass.

As the daylight fades, clouds are rolling in across the Hi-Line, and downpour pictures are coming in from my daughter's friend's Snapchat in Billings. Life is good and always better with a little extra H2O.

One can only wonder what the next month will bring. Until next time.

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