MALTA - There’s a common word being thrown around a lot in Montana’s agriculture community — unprecedented. That’s how many people in ag are describing this year’s drought conditions, as many farmers and ranchers have never seen anything like this weather.
With not much snowfall this past winter, many are hoping spring rains will be plentiful. 2022 got out to a rough start, especially for the Malta area. They recorded less than 1/10" through the first two months of this year. As of last week, they’ve gotten more than 1/2" in the month of May but need plenty more.
The Ranchers Stewardship Alliance in Malta has been working with farmers and ranchers in the meantime to come up with ways to endure the drought. Alliance president Leo Barthelmess has lived in Malta since he was eight years old and has been working closely with local ranchers through the drought to come up with ways to get by.
“There’s been a number of strategies the RSA and other entities have been funding,” Barthelmess said. “Water development, educational programs so that the ranchers can have new tools to deal with the situation that we’re in. This drought is unprecedented. It’s the worst I’ve seen, and I have friends that are 30 years older than me, and they’ve never seen anything like this either.”
The RSA has been in Malta since 2003. One of the biggest issues the alliance is seeing is ranchers having to cut down on their livestock, says executive director Angel DeVries.
“The hardest decision I’m seeing ranchers making is the de-stocking and that’s a really hard thing for them to let go. What I’m also seeing is that no one is alone in this, and everyone is facing that main decision,” Angel said. “I think the top priority is to give our ranchers and ag producers the support that they need to get through the drought, to be more resilient as we move forward. The big goal and the mission of the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance is to be a support system.”
Angel and her husband Aaron have been in Malta their whole lives. They said they’ve had to de-stock their own herd due to the drought. So far, Malta’s rainfall has increased each month this year, and last week’s moisture has them hopeful that more rain is on the way.
“Seeing that rain made me feel hopeful. It was such a blessing for us,” Aaron said. “My grandfather Rodney used to talk about one spring where nothing greened up. It seems like we’re close to that now. There are some areas that just aren’t greening. With the continued drought, we’re looking at having to de stock and just not being able to rely on the rains we’ve normally used because it isn’t recovering.”
For the DeVries and many other locals, hope is on the horizon. They’ve seen good rain this month. All they’re asking for is for the rain to keep on coming down.