Helping producers reallocate scarce resources

Greetings from Montana! For the next few months, I will be discussing agronomy and ag technology endeavors within the Big Sky state. I am an AGRI-TREND agronomy coach in Havre, Mont., embedded within the Torgerson's dealership.

Malt barley emerges in Teton County near Choteau, Mont. (Lance Lindbloom/Special to Agweek)

Greetings from Montana! For the next few months, I will be discussing agronomy and ag technology endeavors within the Big Sky state. I am an AGRI-TREND agronomy coach in Havre, Mont., embedded within the Torgerson's dealership.

Havre is on the northeast corner of the area known as the Golden Triangle due to the millions of bushels of wheat produced each year and its geographic location. The other two points of the triangle are Shelby to the northwest and Great Falls on the south. This semiarid region located on the eastern front of the Rockies receives 10-15 inches of annual rainfall due to rain shadow effect.

Historically, the glaciated plains covering the Golden Triangle were blanketed in short grass prairie. The unpredictable and harsh weather patterns make small grains an ideal crop; the reason wheat has been king since the fertile, short grass prairie was first turned.

This dry climate is also conducive to growing pulse crops, with Montana ranking No. 1 for dry pea and lentil production. The traditional crop rotation of no-till small grains chem-fallow has been shifting chem-fallow acres to pulse crops due to the economic advantages, along with soil health benefits.

What exactly is an agronomy coach? Well, we coach. Our motto is "helping producers reallocate scarce resources," which for each grower has a varied and unique definition. Sustainability in agriculture has always been a moving target for producers, but in the 21st century, that target is now hyper-caffeinated.


We lean heavily on the science disciplines, back it with soil, tissue and resin testing, mesh that with technology and layers of data such as yield, electrical conductivity and imagery maps. Then, mix in equipment, culture, history and direction in order to create a strategy that clarifies targets for the long-term sustainability of producers. Our goal is not to deliver a recommendation, but to assist the producer in learning what we learn.

"The only thing predictable about the weather is its unpredictability." This seems to be more of a normal than extreme statement. 2016 began as a dry, warm spring with large numbers of acres seeded in early to mid-March. Drought was on everyone's mind. Then - the rains came.

We saw bountiful bushels in small grain crops and a replenished soil moisture profile. Traditional fall winter wheat planting was hampered by above normal precipitation. Producers also backed off seeding winter wheat due to low commodity prices.

Winter 2016-17 was a winter - no global warming to be felt! Spring has been late arriving and as I am writing this on May 15, we have had many days wondering if spring got lost on her way here. A majority of the producers across the triangle were not able to start seeding until mid to late April. Facebook and Twitter are loaded with pictures of equipment that has succumbed to the saturated soils!

Where we are now? We are finishing up last minute nutrient strategy adjustments as things do not always go as planned. And it may have hit the fan a couple times.

Crop scouting is in full-swing as multiple species of grazing creatures are on the prowl. Cut worms seem to be indiscriminately attacking anything we plant, and pea leaf weevils are enforcing that we need to be tracking fields with issues for future seed treatment as the best return on investment.

Wheat streak mosaic, with its little mites carrying a virus, really made a mess of beautiful wheat last year. There was a large amount of attention to controlling green bridge last fall, and I'm sure a few neighbors may have had some very candid conversations.

The lessons learned from 2016 include "Don't short Nitrogen and/or Sulfur" when we have been blessed with above average in-season moisture!!! Way too many bushels of low protein wheat ended up at the elevator last fall.


Soil fertility history, cropping history, yields achieved in the past, soil tests and texture all play an important part in understanding where we are in our protein potential. And above all, some in-season blood work, i.e. in season tissue testing definitely clarifies the picture.

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

Connect with Lindbloom at , on Facebook at agritrendmontana or Twitter at @AgriTrendMT.

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