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This lentil crop is flowering at KJK Farms in Chester, Mont. (Lance Lindbloom/Special to Agweek)

The agronomy workload for July crops in Montana

Greetings from north central Montana!  It seems like all of my columns begin with weather — like I have only weather on the brain — but in agriculture, Mother Nature has a peculiar way of dictating our conversations and stress factors.

2017 will go down as one of the hottest and driest years on record for many places across Montana. Mother Nature went off the deep end late December and something froze over. Havre, Mont., (my current location) topped the Weather Channel's list for the "Worst Winter" based on temperature and snowfall. It wasn't the bragging rights we were looking for, and I am 100 percent sure other locations in Montana and throughout the country could have been trophy winners as well. East Glacier and Browning were buried (I mean like house-deep snow) for most of the winter and our neighbors to the east in Whitewater supplied endless photos and videos of snow-blown roads and impassable trails.

The extreme winter weather that occurred in the majority of Montana extended well into our spring season. Typical planting that would take place in a normal year (mid to late April) was pushed into late April to mid/late June. For many locations across Montana, June was a favorable month — cooler than normal temps and a little H20 to keep things growing. Unfortunately, areas to the east have now for two years in a row missed this much needed, in season growing agua.

With small grains still remaining at prices that aren't overly profitable, producers in the Big Sky have adapted and we are seeing more and more acres converted from grass crops to legumes. Lately, tariffs from India have also made ROIs tougher to achieve and a much sharper pencil is needed on pulse crops.

It is mid-July. Where are we now in the agronomy workload in relation to our crops? We are wrapping up tissue testing for the season. To help achieve a flowing snapshot of the plants "blood work" throughout the season, we deploy three sets of tissue tests at key stages of growth.

The first test is at the beginning, when the plant emerges and begins its journey. This is key on telling us how our seeding nutrient application is or isn't being received by the young plant. Remember that the seed has 100 percent genetic potential before it goes into the ground — after that it is how we treat it and what Mother Nature provides that determines our yield.

The second tissue test is completed around the first joint or the beginning of the rapid growth stage. This is a little different in pulse crops as it would be in prebudding stage. This one is key in determining how the plant will handle an accelerated growth phase.

Our final tissue test takes place during the reproductive stage — how are the nutrient levels when we end?  All of our tissue tests, along with soil, resin, application records, previous crop yields, weather, etc., assist us with future strategic crop plans. You've got to measure and monitor if you ever plan on managing!

July hits us at about mid to late season in our scouting — our team in the Big Sky state has traveled many miles covering many different crops this season. The extra moisture that was a blessing in June also brought out the big threat to our chickpea crops in the state — ascochyta blight. When to spray, when not to and when to again — that's the $20+ per acre question we have been helping producers decide in the last month.

For yellow and green field peas — it's a beauty crop out there right now.  Cool June temperatures allowed for this heat-sensitive legume to complete flowering without excessive heat blasting. If we can keep away from that white combine of hail, there should be some nice peas harvested here in the next month.

Lentils are now flowering strongly across the Golden Triangle, the nickname of our north-central Montana region, with many starting to set seed. We haven't had issues with diseases in lentils this season, but aphids at flowering have been a constant concern — we are keeping our sweep nets busy in the last few weeks. Diamond back moths are again making their presence felt in our canola. An economic threshold can be quickly surpassed with this critter, and unpleasant as scouting canola can be, one must be out there monitoring!

"The best laid plans of mice and men" — in the next 60 days we shall see how those plans come to fruition.  Wishing a safe and good harvest to all this season.

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