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Montana Ag Network: Agricultural benefits of the snow and cold

Posted at 1:40 PM, Apr 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-15 14:19:17-04

GREAT FALLS – When you’re forced to deal with below freezing temperatures for over a month it’s hard to look on the bright side.

Although it’s tough on agriculture, the snow and cold does bring some benefits to Montana farmers.

The 2018–2019 winter season wasn’t as impressive in the way of snow totals as the previous year. But, officials say the snow we received couldn’t have come at a better time.

They say not only does the snow provide moisture come spring, but it also helps protect crops.

“Essentially it insulates the plants from the cold, said John Miller, Research Scientist with the Western Triangle Ag Research Center. “It also insulates the plants from the winds we get in this part of Montana.” 

The snow and cold can also cause a delay in plant growth, in turn affecting insect populations.

Western Triangle Ag Research Center Entomologist Dr. Gadi Reddy says if a plant grows slowly and doesn’t produce flowers, some insect populations can decline because of the inability for them to feed and lay eggs.

“The Wheat Midge for example, their diapausing larvae goes into the soil so extreme temperatures,” said Dr. Reddy, “That can kill those populations.”

However, unfortunately, officials are left to examine the impacts on a case-by-case basis.

“But maybe not a Saw Fly because Saw Fly diapausing larvae is inside the wheat stubble and is well protected and also produced certain chemicals to protect from around the body,” said Reddy.

The bottom line is although the harsh elements may have had some impacts on insects, the greatest benefit from this winter was the timely snowfall.

The latest USDA Crop Progress Report shows winter wheat is currently rated as 70% good to excellent compared to last years 58%.

-Jason Laird reporting for MTN News