Valley’s Crops Coming In Ahead of Schedule

Warm weather and precipitation bode a bumper crop for many of the Flathead's ag industries

By Molly Priddy
A wheat cutting near Ronan. Beacon File Photo

The Flathead Valley’s crops are big, healthy, and ahead of schedule so far this summer, a total reversal from last year’s drought-plagued fields.

“The crop out there is really a beautiful crop,” Mark Lalum, general manager at CHS in Kalispell, said. “It’s huge, it’s big, it’s looking real good, the weather’s great. It’s day and night from last year.”

So far, the wheat and canola crops are growing very well, Lalum said, with timely rains helping out. Some of that rain has been harassing the hay crop a bit, he said, but farmers and ranchers do not anticipate a hay shortage. Last year’s hay crop was so depleted, the usually bountiful crop had to be shipped into the valley to feed livestock.

Lalum said the valley’s crops are about a week ahead of schedule, and their size so far is looking larger than average. The 2015 crops were about 40 to 50 percent of the average, Lalum said.

The only downside of the season so far is that the commodity prices for these crops are low, Lalum said.

“They’ve got a big crop and that’s great, but they’re going to need it,” he said. “These low prices, it’s going to take every bit of this crop just to break even.”

Global and national wheat production is looking very strong, which doesn’t help the commodity prices, he said, and the dollar’s strength also weighs on exports.

“We’re probably down 30 to 40 percent on price,” Lalum said.

Bruce Johnson, president of the Flathead Lake Cherry Growers Cooperative, said the cherry crop is about 10 days ahead of schedule, with at least one of the orchards within the cooperative already being picked as of last week.

“A larger percentage of co-op members, if they have early cherries, will be picking on Tuesday, the 12th,” Johnson said.

The relatively cool weather so far this summer has provided a nice balance for the fruit, with heat in the day and cooler temperatures at night, Johnson said, and the precipitation has helped more than hurt.

Some orchards have hired helicopters to help blow the sitting rainwater off of the fruit – if water drips into the cup holding the cherry’s stem, it can absorb into the fruit and cause it to crack or burst.

Johnson said he expects this year to be a large crop, given what he’s seen in the orchards so far. Last year’s crop was hurt by not only the heat of the 2015 summer, but also the winter damage caused in the winter of 2014 to 2015. Neither seem to be factors this summer, Johnson said.

“I’ve seen cherry stands open and down the highway already,” he said. “People can get fruit right now if they want.”

An early crop doesn’t hurt the Flathead cherry market this year either, Johnson said. Typically, Flathead cherries are picked and sold later in the year than the huge crops in Washington state, but a late crop here can mess with that schedule. But the early season also affected fruit growers in Washington as well, Johnson said, so the Flathead’s market space is still intact.

“They still have some stuff, because they have tried over the years to plant on higher elevations and northern aspects, something to give them a little later of a crop over there,” Johnson said. “But still, they told me that pretty darn quick here we’re going to be the show in town.”

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