Some statistics about Montana grain farming, July 2017

From the July 2017 issue of Montana Grain News (1)

  • The last five years, Montana has exported 73% of our wheat crop. The main destinations during those five years are Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, Korea, and Guatemala/El Salvador.
  • The top importer of U.S. wheat overall is Mexico.
  • Mexico is also the top importer of Montana barley.
  • The Pacific Rim is the top destination for Montana wheat.

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Catching up on USDA FSA bulletins, Jan 17 – Feb 22

Between some traveling and other things in life, I fell behind on posting information from the USDA Farm Services’ Administrations e-mail bulletins. So here is some belated information from earlier this year.

Feb 1, Montana’s state Farm Services’ Administration’s February e-newsletter (requires .pdf reader to view):


  • Upcoming sign-up dates
  • Information on which agriculture programs were and weren’t extended recently.
  • Information on adjusted gross income and payment limitations.
  • Information on various other programs, deadlines, and reporting requirements.

Jan 17, List of upcoming deadlines for Montana FSA for the coming year (web page):

Jan 24, Reminder on deadlines, link to information in .pdf format:

Feb 16, Reminder of deadline for claims from women & Hispanic farmers and ranchers claiming discrimination from the USDA (web page):

Feb 20, Press release announcing 45th general sign-up for the Conservation Reserve Program (web page):

Currently, about 27 million acres are enrolled in CRP nationwide. Producers that are accepted in the sign-up can receive cost-share assistance to plant long-term, resource-conserving covers and receive an annual rental payment for the length of the contract (10-15 years). Montana currently has 11,140 contracts on more than 2 million acres enrolled in CRP making it the fourth largest CRP state in the United States. In 2012, Montana CRP participants received more than $91.7 million dollars. Approximately 366,000 of CRP acres in Montana will expire on Sept. 30, 2013.

Also, a text-only e-mail sent out Feb 22 reminding everyone again of upcoming deadlines.

New Chouteau County Farms Services Agency Newsletter, Dec 3, 2012

Link is

Anyone can sign up to receive the bulletins by e-mail. As always, the people who write it did a great job creating a clear and easily-readable newsletter.

This newsletter covers a ton of upcoming signup dates.

It also has a lot of information about various loan programs for farmers and ranchers. Quite honestly, I had no idea there were so many.

And also some details about what programs are in hiatus due to lack of a new Farm Bill [1]. Some programs are not affected, some programs are affected. Even affected programs are still running for existing contracts, it’s just that no new contracts under those programs can be signed unless more money is allocated to the program, which can’t happen unless a new Farm Bill is written or the old Farm Bill is extended.

[1] Given how what percentage of money goes where, the “Farm Bill” should really be called the “Food Stamp Bill” since something like 80% of the money in the “Farm Bill” actually goes for supplemental food assistance. But that’s another topic for another day and not one that affects the information covered in the newsletter.

USDA Farm Services Agency Newsletter for Chouteau County, Montana, dated November 6

Link for full newsletter. 


Deadline for filing acreage reports for fall-seeded crops is later this month. Producers in some parts of Chouteau County will be receiving election ballots for members of the FSA County Committee. And for producers who did early preparation this summer to seed their CRP acres to crop this fall, those acres must be seeded this fall (regardless of cheatgrass, dry weather, or any other reasons).

See the full newsletter for more details, link is at the top of this post.

Chouteau County Farm Service Agency bulletin, October 11 2012

A very short bulletin. Fall reporting deadline is November 15, 2012. Things that need to be reported include fall-seeded crops and perennial crops. And some general things needed for the acreage reporting process, such as picking up & updating 2012 map sets from the Farm Service Agency, letting them know about any new or changed leases, land purchases, etc.

Emergency grazing extended in Montana, and other news from August 30th Montana Farm Services Administration bulletin


Only five Montana counties (out of 56) were not authorized for emergency haying and grazing of CRP: Liberty, Lincoln, Mineral, Sanders and Toole counties are the outliers.

For all the rest, yesterday was the deadline for emergency CRP haying.

However, emergency CRP grazing normally has a deadline of September 30th and this year that’s been extended to November 30th. There are some types of CRP that still can’t be grazed, and in all cases a request must be submitted to the local FSA office and written approval of the request received before any emergency grazing is allowed.

Six Montana counties (Beaverhead, Big Horn, Custer, Madison, Rosebud and Yellowstone) were designated as primary disaster areas by Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack.

And there was some other paperwork stuff in that bulletin, changes to IRS forms 1099-G & 1099-MISC, and reminders to all livestock producers to keep good records of how they were affected by the drought.

Some recent bulletins from the Montana Farm Services Agency

Actually got notices about these over a week ago, but was so swamped with harvest didn’t get around to checking them.

A short notice that Glacier County was approved for emergency grazing and haying of CRP. That brings to 49 the number of Montana counties for which emergency CRP haying & grazing has been approved for due to the dry weather. (There’s only 56 Montana counties total, so at this point only 7 of the 56 have not been approved for emergency haying and grazing.)

August 2012 Montana FSA Newsletter. PDF format. Information about disaster relief programs and emergency haying and grazing of CRP land. Changes to some reporting dates for various crops. Addition of two new continuous CRP practices: pollinator habitat and highly erodible land. Announcement and details of a 1st Annual Rocky Mountain Intertribal Agriculture Council Symposium in Polson.

48 out of 56 Montana counties authorized to use emergency haying & grazing on CRP acres

For those not familiar with the acronyms, “CRP” is the Conservation Reserve Program.

The whole purpose of the CRP program is to reduce erosion and provide habitat for wildlife. Usually CRP acres cannot be “harvested” or otherwise used, they are to be planted with a combination of native and beneficial plants and noxious weeds have to be kept suppressed or controlled.

But in extreme conditions haying and grazing of CRP acres can be allowed, usually on a county-by-county basis. As of July 23, 48 out of the 56 counties in Montana were considered to be unusually dry enough that CRP haying and grazing is allowed.

See the July 23rd USDA bulletin for the Montana Farm Service Agency for more details.

New bulletin from Chouteau County FSA, look in the mail for a form CCC-931 for adjusted gross income for years 2009-2011

Bulletin sent out Friday. Full text of bulletin at

Some local producers will be receiving a letter in the coming days concerning the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) compliance requirements that were set forth in the 2008 Farm Bill. This mailing will also include form CCC-931. Producers that receive this mailing MUST complete the enclosed CCC-931 and return it to the Chouteau County FSA office within 30 days of receipt of the letter. . . . Many of the recipients of this letter may feel that they recently completed the CCC-931 form. The form that was recently completed, however, was for program year 2012, not 2009, 2010, or 2011. Again, producers receiving this letter are strongly encouraged to complete the enclosed CCC-931 and return it to the Chouteau County FSA office as soon as possible. For more information, please contact FSA at 406 622 5401 (ext 2).

The bulletin has additional information, as well as instructions and explanations for the entire form CCC-931.

Harvest 2010, Days 1-9, Aug 9-17th

We started harvest for this year last Monday.

This year has seen an unusually damp and wet spring, so the wheat was a little bit behind when it usually get ripe. Typically we start harvest around the first week of August. But this year we didn’t start until August 9th.

Monday, we tried the wheat around the middle of the day and while it was still too wet in low spots in the field, it was dry enough on the sides and tops of hills. Thank goodness for the in-combine moisture testers that give the driver an idea of moisture content as they’re cutting. For combines without that, you have pick a likely spot, cut enough that there’s a bit to augur off into a truck, then stop the combine and wait while someone brings out a moisture tester and tests what’s in the back of the truck. And even if it’s dry enough to cut at that point, the combine driver might not be aware they’ve gotten into grain that’s too wet until the next time someone tests some out of the back of the grain truck.

So the real-time moisture testers built into the combine that the driver can see as they’re cutting are very nice, even if sometimes it’s not quite as accurate as a stand-alone moisture tester.

Here was what we had for dinner Monday, August 9th:

  • Iced Tea & Lemonade
  • Bread & Butter Sandwiches
  • Ham
  • Scalloped Potatoes
  • Salad
  • Blueberry pie


On Tuesday August 10th, we resumed cutting. Still just our one combine, no custom cutters yet. Still patching it out as some areas were wetter than others.

My brother William volunteered to bring over rib steaks he’d been marinating. I cooked those, sliced them up into strips, and we had steak fajitas.

Menu for supper Tuesday:

  • Iced Tea & Lemonade
  • Bread & Butter Sandwiches (which were still quite popular even with the rest of the food that was there)
  • Sliced marinated rib steak
  • Lots of sauted onions & green peppers
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Shredded cheese
  • Flour tortillas
  • Refried beans
  • Rice
  • Various toppings such as salsa, sour cream, sliced black olives, and quartered cherry tomatoes
  • Cherry pie

I can’t remember for sure, but I think there were some scattered showers in the area Tuesday night. Even if we didn’t get much rain right where we were, it was still cloudy and windy by the time we quit Tuesday night.


And on Wednesday August 11th, it was more of the same. Straw was a little bit tough in the morning until everything got warmed up and dried out a bit by 10 Am or so. Still just our one combine, still just patching away.

Wednesday’s dinner:

  • Iced Tea & Lemonade
  • Bread & Butter Sandwiches
  • Salad
  • Pork Steak
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • White Gravy
  • Oatmeal cake

Again, cool, cloudy and blustery by the end of the day.


And the same thing again Thursday August 12th. Although each day the weather forecast had been calling for more and more chance of rain. On the other hand, between weather systems coming off the Rocky Mountains to the west and heading east, weather systems coming south from Canada, weather systems coming from the south or east and being pushed up against the Rockies, and the occasional times the jet stream sits right over the top of us . . . yeah, weather forecasts here are not nearly as certain as a lot of other areas.

Thursdays dinner:

  • Iced Tea & Lemonade
  • Bread & Butter Sandwiches
  • Salad
  • Meatloaf
  • A thrown-together rice & vegetable dish (recipe follows)
  • Blueberry pie (we make other pies during harvest, but blueberry is always the favorite and gets made the most)

And here is the recipe for that thrown-together rice & vegetable dish. It turned out quite well.

Leftover Rice with Vegetables & Cheese

  • Approximately 4 cups of leftover brown rice
  • One package frozen peas, about two cups
  • 1 – 1-1/2 cups chopped parsley
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp Italian herb blend
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 6 slices Swiss cheese

Spread the rice out in a shallow baking dish. Microwave on high for a minute or two until starting to warm.

Take out of microwave, stir in frozen peas and chopped parsley. Return to microwave and microwave for 2-3 minutes.

If still cool in spots, take out of microwave, stir, and microwave again for 2-3 minutes.

Take out of microwave, stir one last time and spread out fairly evenly in the dish. Sprinkle with Italian herb blend. Top that with sprinkled parmesan cheese. Finally, top with sliced Swiss cheese.

Return to microwave, microwave until cheese is melted and bubbling.

And then Thursday night, it rained.


And Friday morning August 13th, it was still raining. And when it wasn’t raining, it was cool and cloudy.

And no, I didn’t realize it was Friday the 13th until a friend mentioned it to me. 🙂

Overall, we got about 0.4″ of rain Thursday night.

So no, we didn’t cut Friday.


And then Saturday August 14th it rained some more, maybe about 0.05″. And while 1/2 of 1/10th does not sound like a lot, when the ground is already wet, it just makes it wetter for a while longer.

Saturday was cool and cloudy, with highs in the 60s.

(Yeah, that’s right, middle of August and the daytimes highs are in the 60s. That’s why I said weather forecasting here is a bit more uncertain than in some other parts of the country.)


Sunday August 15th was warmer, and things started drying out. But while driving around a bit, I realized the rain had knocked down a lot of the wheat.

The last few years, this area has had a lot of problems with a pest called Sawfly. Sawflies are very small, and the females lay eggs in the wheat stem. The larvae hatch in the stem, slide their way down to the ground, and stay there until they are adults. Then they emerge from the stem and the process starts all over again.

All this drilling and emerging, besides stressing the wheat plant and lowering yields anyway, also weakens the wheat stem. Not a big deal when the wheat stem is still green and flexible, but it does become a very big deal when the wheat ripens and the stem is dry and brittle. Especially since sawfly mainly travel on the wind, so whichever side of the stem they drill on is the side the wind was blowing from that particular day, and the height is a bit random too.

Then once the wheat field ripens and dries out, if the wind blows from approximately the same direction as it did the day the wheat stem was initially cut into by the female sawfly, the wheat stem breaks.  And it creates of mess with wheat stems all falling over.

Sawfly were first seen in this area for a few years back in the mid 1990s — prior to that, they had only been documented once in California for one year in the mid 1950s or 1960s. In the 1990s they were mostly an edge effect, which means they mostly affected the west-facing 20 feet of a field. (While we can have wind blow from any direction, it most commonly blow from the west and southwest.) At that time there were a lot of narrow fields around here that ran north-south on the long direction, which creates a lot of west-facing field edges. Sawfly in the mid-1990s led to a lot of those strips of narrow fields being consolidated into much fewer larger fields.

Then the sawfly went away, right about the time a bunch of researchers had finally gotten geared up to start studying it again.

Then sawflies came back a few years ago, and this time they’ve been sticking around. And this time they are no longer just an edge effect, but will infest a field throughout the entire field. Depending on . . . well, a lot of factors that aren’t completely understood yet, sometimes a field will be completely infested with almost all the plants having weakened stems, and sometims only a fraction will be infested.

So, if about 30% of the plants are infested and it’s a thick stand, the remaining intact stems might hold up the broken stems until you can cut the field. If it’s a thin stand, then however much of the crop has weakened stems will probably fall to the ground. A couple years ago on one field of ours that had a medium stand, the custom cutters estimated that because of sawfly damage and fallen stems they probably left 10 bushels an acre on the ground. That field ran around the low 40s in bushels to the acre so that 10 bu/acre loss was just a little bit under 25% yield loss.

There is a lot of research going on with sawflies now, but so far a lot of it is discovery with not much into mitigation, control or suppression yet. It has been found that solid-stem wheat varieties seem to be less affected than hollow-stem varieties. Which is good to know, but also a shame since in areas with lots of rain hollow-stem varieties typically produce about twice what the solid-stem varieties do.

(My understanding is that until sawfly came along, most breeding efforts were focused on hollow-stem varieties which have a bit of higher top-end yield anyway because the less energy the plant is putting into making a stem the more it has available for kernels in the head.)

However, this area we are in does not get “lots of rain”. It gets little enough rain that the difference between highly-infested-hollow-stem and lightly-to-modeerately-highly-infested-solid-stem is not that great. And once you factor in the damage to the combines from trying scrape up a field with a lot of wheat laying on the ground, and dockage you get from having bits of rock and dirt in your wheat because so much of it was scraped off the ground, then the difference isn’t that great at all.

So, the last couple years we’ve been planting solid stem wheat varieties and it’s been working a lot better. But with the rain, there are portions of a lot of our fields that were highly infested this year and with the rain are now looking much flatter.

But not absolutely flat, and not the entire field. So, it’s still better.

And yes, pesticides for sawflies have been discussed a number of times. They don’t really work out because most pesticides only have a 12-24 hour (maybe 48 hour max) effective time once they’re applied. And that works fine for most insects since most insects all fly, molt, hatch, etc. in a short time frame and if you catch it right, the pesticide application window overlaps the insect pest vulnerability window.

But sawflies emerge and fly over the course of about a month. So there’s no way economically (or really even environmentally) you can do anything but hurt yourself by applying 15+ applications of pesticide over that whole month.

Anyway, enough about sawfly. Maybe I’ll right a longer piece about them another day.


Monday August 16th was warm and dry. Some neighbors tried their field around 10 AM and had 19% moisture. Which is much too wet, for wheat it’s better to have 13% or maybe tops 14% moisture when you cut it.

But by 3 PM it had dried out enoughwe could start again. Still just our one combine, the custom cutters we’re planning on using are in the area but finishing up the last few hundred acres for another farmer off by Geraldine.

Dinner Monday night was . . . well, if I’d had more confidence and experience in how it would have all turned out, it would have been a type of sheperd’s pie. But as it was, I wasn’t sure until it was done if the meat part would be thick enough, so it was a disassembled sheperd’s pie.

  • Iced Tea & Lemonade
  • Bread & Butter Sandwiches
  • Salad
  • A very thick meaty stew, with some onion and parsley and cabbage thrown in (sounds odd, but got rave review)
  • Mashed potatoes and hash browns, mixed up and browned a bit in a frying pan
  • Shredded cheese
  • Banana Bread Cake

Also Monday an article appeared in the Great Falls Tribune (no, I’m not going to link the article or the newspaper, their website is HORRID for trying to find articles on, even if you know the exact title and date of publication) about a local farmwife who cooks dinner for all her family and hired hands and custom cutters too.

In the article, it described how that farmwife would sit down a couple days before harvest started, plan out her entire harvest menu, with no dish ever repeated, and do most of her grocery shopping then too. It even showed the laminated recipe cards she’s made over the years.

No, I am not that organized. Even in my wildest daydreams and most unrealistic fantasies I don’t even dream of being that organized. So my menus are much more impromput and often consist of “what’s in the freezer, what’s currently in the fridge, and did I serve it yesterday?”  🙂


And that brings me up to today, Tuesday August 17th (and yes, I do plan on posting this a bit more regularly from now on).

Still just our one machine, but supposed to have custom cutters with two more combines and another grain truck show up tomorrow.

Cutting went well, even the down areas haven’t been too bad. Or at least, not so far.

Dinner was:

  • Iced Tea & Lemonade
  • Bread & Butter Sandwiches
  • Pot Roast
  • Gravy
  • Rice (yes, I know it’s more typical to serve potatoes with pot roast, but I don’t like serving the same starch multiple days in a row).
  • Blueberry Pie

Last night’s menu, Third Thursday of February 2008

NOTE: Also crossposted to the Nightowl Camille blog on Myspace.

So, I’ve decided I’m going to try posting more regularly on this blog. No guarantees that I’ll stick with it, but I do feel like I need to back to writing more often.

That said, I’m also going to start posting more about the Thursday night dinners. As some of you know, since I moved back to Montana my brother (who lives only about a mile away) and I have started getting together with three or four friends and family members every Thursday night at his place to cook up a nice dinner. We’ve been doing that weekly for about three months now, and it’s pretty fun. My brother usually takes care of any meat cooking that needs to be done (he’s really good with the grill and also the oven) and also the bartending and general entertaining, while I take care of the rest. I am posting the menus here so I can keep track of what I’ve been cooking recently, and so any of my friends can write me and ask for a recipe if they see something that looks good.

(Note: I am ALL ABOUT food with a lot of flavor that doesn’t take incredible amounts of work to prepare. The recipes where you start hand-grinding and steeping the spices three days beforehand so you can baste and knead the very rare and expensive goat’s-milk-cheese every three hours for the next two days prior to starting on the very delicate and easy-to-screw-up light souffle six hours before your dinner are NOT the types of recipes I go for.)

So here (in no particular order) is what we made last night, the third Thursday of February 2008:

  • Green salad,
  • Steamed broccoli,
  • Farfalle pasta with a sage butter sauce I found in a fancy cooking magazine (maybe Bon Appetit?) a couple months ago. It’s absurdly simple but surprisingly tasty – melt a little bit of unsalted butter in a saucepan (for a whole box of farfalle I used only half a stick of butter) and once it starts to bubble a little bit, throw in some fresh sage leaves and continue cooking and stirring until the butter starts to brown a little bit. Take out the sage leaves, toss the pasta with the flavored butter and there you go!
  • Leftover pork steak, cut up into small pieces and cooked with some reduced and thickened chicken stock, a little bit of dried oregano and some garlic pepper, and a whole bunch of fresh shittake mushrooms. Wow, that was good, especially on the pasta! My sister said it was like a pork stroganoff.
  • Ice cream (store-bought) with butterscotch sauce (homemade) and some fresh bananas. The butterscotch sauce comes from a recipe I saw on Food Network from the show Throwdown with Bobby Flay. It was the first time I saw a butterscotch recipe that used real scotch, and WOW!!! was it good. We all agreed that none of us could go back to store-bought butterscotch sauce after this. Which on the one hand is a great compliment, but on the other hand only reinforces something I’ve found with these Thursday night dinners – once you have really good homemade, it’s HARD to go back to storebought. 🙂