With cover crop seeds on tap, Kate and Marcus Vogel were promising MATE show customers a strange brew, a little Nitro Kale Ale mix guaranteed to put grass on your pasture.
As the first few spectators at Montana’s largest three-day agriculture trade show flowed into MetraPark, the Vogels' booth was busy with farmers and ranchers looking for something different, maybe the right seed mixture to revive tired soil, or some high-protein forage for the cattle.
With wheat prices at their lowest point in a decade, people are coming to the Montana Agri-Trade Exposition show looking for something more profitable, Kate Vogel said. For some, that means growing cow salad instead of winter wheat and hoping their cattle will fatten up on the landscape and bring more money when sold in the fall.
“We have a lot of people who are looking for an advantage,” Vogel said. Better pasture leads to less money spent on hay, which might be the difference between selling a calf at a loss and making a buck.
Farmers are looking for something different this year, Marchwinski said. Vendors are responding with more information about pulse crops like lentils and peas, which have been paying better than wheat for a couple of years.
In 2016, Montana farmers planted a million acres of pulse crops, a 216,000-acre increase over 2015. The growth in pulse acres came as farmers cut the number of wheat acres planted. Wheat prices have fallen dramatically the past two years because of record global supply. Montana farmers planted 600,000 fewer wheat acres in 2016.
The first planting estimates for 2017 won’t be out until the end of March, but acres of winter wheat planted in the fall were down.
The shift to pulses in the Golden Triangle region is palpable, said Andy Franks of Tractor Equipment and Supply. Franks was working the floor at the Montana Agricultural and Industrial Exhibit last month.
People were talking about getting into peas. Franks had an AGCO weed sprayer with a 120-foot wing span that he said would be perfect for keeping the pulse crops disease free, ready to drive off the floor for less than $300,000.
“It has 1,200 gallon liquid spray capacity. It will spray wider, it will spray longer and get you out of the field,” Franks said.
The MATE show runs through Saturday. Admission is $7, but several Billings businesses offer free tickets to customers.