Wildfires destroy cattle, pastures in southeast Montana, dry temperatures stress crops

Wildfires destroy cattle, pastures in southeast Montana, dry temperatures stress crops

26 July 2012

published by www.theprairiestar.com

USA –  With the Ash Creek and Taylor fires destroying 300,000 acres, Mary Rumph said, “it’s really tough trying to find hay and grass for the people who are affected by it.” Rumph is the agriculture Extension agent for Powder River County in southeast Montana.

Dry conditions and high temperatures have caused the wildfire season to erupt earlier than normal, with already devastating results. And those dry, warm conditions are expected to continue. The end of July is expected to bring above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation on both the east and west side of the Continental Divide. During the middle part of July, Boulder received the highest amount of precipitation with 1.25 inches, while most other stations saw between 0.00 to 1.15 inches.

High temperatures during mid-July ranged from the upper 80s to the lower 100s, with the state-wide high temperature of 103 degrees recorded in Jordan, Roundup, Broadus, and Miles City, near the epicenter of the worst wild fires in recent Montana history. The coldest temperatures in the state were reported by West Yellowstone and Wisdom, both coming in at 35 degrees. Normal temperatures for this period in Montana are highs in the upper 70s to the upper 80s, with lows in the lower 40s to 60 degrees.

The heat and dryness have lowered topsoil moisture levels to 26 percent adequate and surplus. That’s an 8-point drop in just the last week alone. Last year at this time, topsoil moisture levels of adequate and surplus were 72 percent last and the 5-year average of 56 percent.

Subsoil moisture levels took a similar 8-point drop in the last seven days and currently only 37 percent of the subsoil holds adequate to surplus moisture. That is well below last year’s 88 percent rate and the 5-year average of 62 percent. Days suitable for field work remain above last year and the 5-year average with 6.6 days suitable.

Winter wheat harvest has begun around the state with 3 percent complete. Producers report that 43 percent of their crop is in good to excellent condition, a fall from last week’s rating of 55 percent and below last year’s 71 percent and the 5-year average of 68 percent.

Spring wheat has actually shown a slight improvement in recent days with 55 percent of the crop in the good to excellent category. That’s up from the last rating of 51 percent. Last year at this time the rating of good to excellent stood at 62 percent, which is equal to the 5-year average. Ninety-five percent of spring wheat is in the boot stage, 78 percent is headed and 16 percent is turning.

Durum wheat is showing similar progress with 94 percent in the boot stage, 79 percent headed, and 5 percent turning. Producers report that 76 percent of the crop is in good to excellent condition, compared to 61 percent last week, 87 percent last year, and the 5-year average of 59 percent.

With 94 percent of the state’s barley crop headed and 37 percent turning, producers are rating this year’s crop as 44 percent good to excellent. This is slightly ahead of last week’s 41 percent. Last year the good to excellent rating was applied to 66 percent of the crop and the 5-year average shows 65 percent good to excellent.

The oat crop across the state is also progressing toward harvest with 93 percent headed, and 37 percent turning. Producers rate their oats as good to excellent in 46 percent of the fields, compared to last week’s 40 percent, last year’s 73 percent and the 5-year 67 percent average.

Across the state, 99 percent of the camelina is blooming and 50 percent is turning.

Canola is also 99 percent blooming and 7 percent turning.

With 97 percent of the dry peas already in bloom, producers are moving ahead with harvest in 7 percent of the fields. Lentils are also 7 percent harvested.

As for alfalfa hay, 91 percent of Montana’s crop has received the first cutting and 3 percent has received a second cutting. Eight-four percent of all other hays have been cut for the first time. Already, though, that hay is being used to feed livestock displaced by wildfires or struggling to find ample forage on summer pasture and ranges that are well behind last year’s 86 percent, and the 5-year average of 65 percent. The dry and windy conditions across the state have reduced summer feed and increased the risk of wildfires.

In addition to declining conditions due to heat and fire, there are reports of large numbers of grasshoppers and grasshopper-related damage emerging. Producers are making hay purchases earlier than normal to ensure feed for their herds.

According to Rumph, who saw fires rage through the southeast corner of the state, “the worst livestock loss was 50 percent.” Those high losses came to producers with forest permits. As for grazing and hay losses, “some lost everything,” she said.

To help those producers find grazing lands and hay to feed their displaced herds, they have started a hay and help hotline. The hotline also lists fencing contractors who will be needed to rebuilding the hundreds of miles of fences lost to the wildfires. She is asking producers who can help to please contact her at 406-436-2424. For those needing help, they can check out the list—which is updated daily—at http://www.msuextension.org/powderriver/pdf/Listofsellers.pdf

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