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Montana farmers plan to plant fewer acres of wheat, lentils, chickpeas

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Truck driver Seth Meyer from Neufeld Harvesting

In this file photo, truck driver Seth Meyer from Neufeld Harvesting guides the grain cart filling the last truckload of winter wheat near Hardin. Montana farmers plan to plant 310,000 fewer acres in wheat this year.

American farmers are poised to plant fewer wheat acres than they have in a century. Even in Montana, acres are down.

Farmers tell the United States Department of Agriculture they’ll plant 2 million fewer wheat acres nationally. A strong U.S. dollar and the lower global market prices are making challenging conditions for U.S. wheat. Intentions were announced in the U.S. prospective plantings report at the end of March.

Montana is the nation’s third largest wheat producer, with more than 5 million acres planted. Wheat is the backbone of the state agriculture economy. That said, farmers intend to plant 310,000 fewer acres this year.

“Farmers have to look at it every year, look at what the price is and look at where the market is going, especially in the Midwest, where they have so many other options,” said Lola Raska, of the Montana Grain Growers Association.

There had been some thought that with challenging soybean exports, some the farmers would turn to wheat, but the USDA reports that increasing corn acres mirror soybean declines.

Within the churn, the number of winter wheat acres planted last fall were up 250,000 to 1.9 million acres.

Northeastern Montana will likely see the biggest cutbacks in grain acres. Roughly 260,000 of the reduced acres are coming from durum, a hard wheat used for pasta. Once a price leader, durum has seen values erode as Canadian durum heads south as a result of a trade dispute with European pasta makers.

Canadian durum usually sells well into Europe, but is being turned away over residual levels of glyphosate. Consequently, that durum is headed to the United States, flooding the market.

Gordon Stoner, who farms durum and pulse crops near Outlook, said the durum prices will discourage farmers from planting until Canada and the European Union work out their differences. There’s always some Canadian durum in the United States, but not this much.

“Typically, Canadian durum, we’ll see about 30 million bushels come down, but we’ll export 30 million, it’s a wash,” Stoner said. “Barilla, the largest pasta company in the world, is cutting back Canadian purchases.”

Chickpea acres are also down. That’s probably because 2018 was a good year for chickpeas, which will lose 155,000 acres if farmers stay true to their intentions.

Lentils are down 200,000 acres, as well. Price is a big factor, Stoner said. Lentils are selling for about 12 cents a pound currently, down from 32 cents last year. There will be about 300,000 acres planted if everything goes as planned.

Dry pea acres were up to 445,000 acres, an increase of 110,000. 

Montana is the nation’s largest producer of pulse crops.


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