GREAT FALLS - 2022 was quite a year for producers in Montana.
They faced problems with an ongoing drought, high inflation, prices and grasshoppers. And those problems don't just go away with the flip of a calendar. But despite the past, producers are optimistic about 2023.
“Well, the situation for 2023 is much better than it was in 2022. And there's I think there's reason to be hopeful,” said Montana Grain Growers Association Secretary Steve Sheffels.
One crop causing producers to hold their breath is winter wheat. Across the country, the recent cold spell worries growers about the condition of the crop. But Montana Wheat and Barley Committee member and producer Mike O’Hara says the snow might be the saving grace in protection and moisture.
“December was cold. Hadn't seen a cold spell like that. I hate to date myself, but the last time that was the case was 1978. Everything was good. We had a good crop that next year. I think we're going to have an average to above-average crop next year. On the winter wheat side.”
One optimistic point of view for 2023 is the soil moisture. When growing wheat, there are two important layers in the soil. Topsoil is the first 2”-to-8” of soil that’s rich in nutrients and moisture while subsoil is rich in minerals.
According to the Crop Progress and Condition Report by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, in December 2022, 53% reported an average amount of topsoil moisture while 40% reported short subsoil moisture. In December 2021, those numbers were significantly lower with 44% reporting very short topsoil moisture and 47% reporting very short subsoil moisture.
“That moisture builds up in the soil and gives us kind of a chance to make it through the summer if it turns dry. So, it's really important to have that,” Sheffels explained. “Another major reason that 2023 might be better is fertilizer prices are down significantly from where they were last year. Lower inflation is always better."
Optimism seems to be higher for winter wheat in 2023.
“We've been through some really the last couple of years have been really rough. Well, we have a good we have a nice standard winter wheat right now and there's healthy winter wheat,” O’Hara said.”
“There's a reason we grow it here. And that's because it's very hardy. And it normally makes it through. So, I’m not concerned yet,” Sheffels concluded.