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Harvest aerial

A winter wheat crop is harvested south of Billings in this aerial view on Sunday, August 12, 2018.

Montana wheat farmers are on track to have one of their best harvests, one year after being burned by drought.

Farmers across the state are reporting high yields and good quality in what the U.S. Department of Agriculture has suggested could be a statewide average of 50 bushels per acre. If Montana wheat hits that mark, the 2018 yield would be a record.

Wheat is a $1 billion crop for Montana, where the grain is grown in all but a few counties.

The state’s winter wheat crop through last week was 67 percent harvested, according to the Monday progress report by the USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service. Spring wheat was 26 percent harvested.

“Quality-wise, in terms of winter wheat, it’s been good. It’s a big crop,” said Colin Watters, Montana Wheat and Barley Committee bureau chief. “With the planting being so low, I’m not sure exactly where we’ll end up in terms of production.”

The Wheat and Barley Committee is a key marketer of Montana grain. The committee is part of the Montana Department of Agriculture.

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Coming off of the worst drought in the nation last fall, Montana farmers planted 150,000 fewer acres of winter wheat than they did the season before. Winter wheat plantings have been following prices downward since 2014, when Montana planted 2.5 million acres.

Drought pushed planted acres lower still last fall. With soil so dry, there was doubt winter wheat would germinate. But then the snow started falling in December and much of Montana was blanketed by a few feet of snow without a break until April.

That snow moisture set up the winter wheat for a good run ahead of harvest, which began in July. Then wheat prices began to creep up in response to lower global supply. Prices are at a three-year high, crawling back from a 10-year low in 2017.

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Agriculture and Politics Reporter

Politics and agriculture reporter for The Billings Gazette.