Wet cool spring and grasshoppers affecting area crops

 By Amanda Breitbach-Ragsdale
Yellowstone Newspapers

        An unusually wet, cool spring has affected producers throughout the region, with some crops running a little behind average.

Area producers are in the midst of their first hay cutting, said Custer County Extension Agent Christina McRae. With evening storms leaving moisture in the cut hay, it has taken longer to dry and may have to be turned, she said.
Corn silage crops in the region have been a little slow, but peas and lentils are doing well in the cooler weather, she noted, adding, "They haven't had to irrigate yet, so that's good."
Sharla Sackman, the extension agent in Prairie County, said many farmers are also behind on hay harvest.
"Typically there is some rain on first cutting ... but this year has probably been more of that," she added.
Moisture and cooler temperatures are having a positive impact on later seeded spring crops, Sackman said, noting that those crops should be doing better this year instead of drying out in the hot weather.
Area corn silage crops are behind, which may make it difficult for growers to reach the number of growing days required for corn to reach maturity. Pinto beans are also running a little late. Sugar beets look good so far, Sackman said, and area producers have not had to re-seed beets this spring.
Small grain crops may be a little behind, she said, but can probably make that up over the season. She estimated the wheat harvest would be about a week later than usual.
Increased moisture also increases the impact from certain plant diseases, especially fungal diseases.
"There are things that are always present, but usually with our arid conditions they never get a chance to develop," said Sackman.
Diseases like tan spot and septoria leaf spot have started to show up in the region. These diseases should not cause significant damage, Sackman said, but it is something for producers to be aware of.
"Overall, I think things are delayed," Sackman concluded, noting that the last week of higher temperatures has been beneficial for many crops.
"If you watch the wheat in this last week, that needed sun," she said. "And even the grass. The worry later on is that we will have lots of fuel for fire season."
Producer Steve Muggli, who operates a few miles northeast of Miles City, said this year's alfalfa hay and corn crops have been doing extremely well.
"Our primary crop is alfalfa hay, and it's actually just a tremendous bumper crop this year," he said.
Yields on one of the better fields' first cutting weighed in at about 3.5 tons per acre, and several other fields are comparable, he said.
"It's quite a bit better than last year was," he added.
Muggli attributed the crop's success to the cooler weather and high rainfall, which eliminated the need to irrigate with saline water.
He hopes to finish baling his first cutting of alfalfa this week if the weather holds out.
Corn is also doing well, he said, with many stalks already measuring 66 inches high. Even barley, typically a problematic crop, is looking good.
"We just got really lucky, I guess," Muggli said. "All in all, I'm really quite pleased with the way it's turning out – other than getting the hay up in a timely fashion."
Growers in the region are still waiting to see what kind of impacts grasshoppers will have on area crops and rangeland this season.
McRae said the first hatch of grasshoppers in Custer County may not have been as serious as predicted, but the second hatch could be worse.
A research group from the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service visited the Miles City area on June 10 to demonstrate spraying techniques but did not find enough grasshoppers in most areas of the county to spray.
Nonetheless, some producers have noticed a problem.
Muggli said he may have to spray alfalfa for the insects after his first cutting is complete.
"They're just absolutely terrible here," he said. "I don't recall seeing them quite that bad."
He has talked to other producers who have seen spotty infestations, but the problem seems to vary from place to place. "Around here it's pretty much just grasshoppers all over," he added.
APHIS did some spraying on several blocks of rangeland in Prairie County last week, according to Sackman. Each block covered a minimum of 10,000 acres.
She has heard some reports of people spraying for grasshoppers on crops as well, she said. Grasshopper reports have not been concentrated in any one area of the county.
Sackman said she thought "the jury was still out" on the extent of the grasshopper problem. Hoppers are hard to see when they're small, she noted, but it is often too late to treat them when they get bigger.
There may have been some grasshopper mortality due to the rain and cooler weather this spring, but Sackman said producers should not expect the problem to go away.
"I still would maybe anticipate some damage later on," she concluded.

Published July 14, 2010

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