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August crop report paints pretty picture
Montana Tribune, August 13, 2004
Montana's wheat crop could be larger than projected, topping last year's harvest by as much as 14 percent, according to a report issued Thursday.

The August crop production report from the Montana Agricultural Statistics Service says grain producers expect to harvest 157.4 million bushels of grain this year, up from 137.5 million bushels last year. The all-wheat forecast is 9.7 million bushels above the July forecast. If the forecast holds true, the state could see its largest wheat crop since 1998.

The weather last month played a role in improving the outlook for Montana's grain industry.

"The hot temperatures didn't come along last month like they did last year," said Curt Lund, deputy director of the statistics service. "I think that really helped the crop a whole bunch."

The state's winter wheat crop is looking a little better than last year, based on harvest reports. With the harvest about 38 percent complete, average yields are forecast at about 40 bushels per acre, up two bushels from the July forecast and three bushels higher than last year.

The overall size of the winter wheat crop is projected to be slightly smaller than last year's. The projections call for 62 million bushels, slightly below the 63.6 million bushels harvested in 2003.

"I've heard in the Great Falls area in particular, yields have been pretty good," said Lola Raska, a policy associate with the Montana Grain Growers Association. "I heard from one farmer who said it was the best yield he has ever had."

About 1.55 million acres of winter wheat are expected to be harvested this year, about 170,000 acres below last year.

As for spring wheat, the state's largest grain crop, prospects look much better than last year, when hot, dry summer temperatures scorched spring grains.

The forecast is for a harvest of 78.3 million bushels, up 32 percent from 2003. If that many bushels make it to grain bins, the spring wheat crop would be the largest since 1999. But spring wheat in many areas is just beginning to ripen, and it may be too early to get reliable yield information, observers say.

Lund said wet conditions in early summer and cooler temperatures than last year have the spring wheat crop maturing later.

"I think that's going to turn out to be a good thing," he said, noting the crop prospects look strong.

Raska was taking a more cautious approach on spring wheat, noting severe drought conditions are hurting producers in some regions.

"There are a few areas of the state that are having just a so-so harvest," Raska said. "People are just getting started with spring wheat harvest, and I'm curious how that's going to be."

The prospects for the state's barley crop look strong, with yields expected to average 51 bushels per acre, 12 bushels better than last year. Barley production is projected to be 39.8 million bushels, up from 31.6 million bushels last year.

Raska said dry-land barley growers are reporting a mix of high-quality barley and low-grade, with little middle ground.

Most growers with irrigated barley, like many of those in the Fairfield area, have yet to begin harvest, making talk of the crop's size and quality very speculative, Raska noted.

The August report will be the last issued by the agricultural statistics service until September 30, when it issues a final small grain summary.
MGR Archive 14.8.2004
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