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Hail damage claims for Montana crops are nearly double what they’ve been in recent years, according to the Montana Hail Program.

Farmers have submitted 200 claims through June, said Walt Anseth of the state Department of Agriculture. Claims through early July usually number 100.

“We’ve got over 200 claims so far. Those are early storms,” Anseth said. “Those storms at the beginning of June got a lot of guys, too.”

So far this year, Montana has had 266 reports of hail at least three-quarters of an inch in size, according the weather spotter reports to the National Weather Service. For perspective, the 20-year average for hail that size is 263 reports a year.

Hail season typically lasts through August.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Chuck Lee, Fallon County disaster and emergency services director. “Sunday, at 2:50 in the afternoon, we sounded the tornado siren. There was a report of a tornado and of course everyone is still antsy,” from the tornado that hit Baker in June.

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Sunday the tornado never materialized, but Lee said probably 90 percent of the homes in Baker suffered weather damage nonetheless.

Anseth said the Department of Agriculture’s hail program has the money to cover the claims.

For years farmers received refunds from the self-supporting program because claims were minimal relative to the amount of coverage farmers purchased. That trend stopped in 2013 when a late summer storm in central Montana and the Hi-Line drove up claims.

It likely will take years to rebuild the hail program back up to the point that refunds return.

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Agriculture and Politics Reporter

Politics and agriculture reporter for The Billings Gazette.