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Montana’s Topsoil Is Second Driest In Nation, Drought Could Impact Crop Yields

Wheat and barley fields south of Manhattan, Montana, April 27, 2019.
Rachel Cramer
Yellowstone Public Radio

Experts say low precipitation and hot temperatures have resulted in exceptionally dry soil conditions, a drought indicator that could impact crop yields.

Arin Peters, a Hydrologist with the National Weather Service’s Office in Great Falls, told the Governor’s Drought and Water Advisory Committee on Wednesday that Montana now has the second driest top soil moisture in the nation behind Washington state.

“Basically what that means is that the first six inches of soil is considered very short to short moisture wise, so that germination can’t happen. Of course germination isn’t really happening this time of year, but crop failure that kind of thing,” Peters says.

Peters says that the USDA has been collecting topsoil moisture data for 20 years, and this is the earliest in the year that Montana soil has ever been this dry. Looking ahead, August is one of the driest months of the year; but he says, looking at the next 6-10 days there is a 40% chance statewide of above normal precipitation.

“I don’t think it’s going to help a lot for a lot of the impacts we’re seeing especially in the agriculture sector, but it will certainly alleviate possibly some of the fires and some of the long term impacts,” Peters says.

Olivia Weitz covers Bozeman and surrounding communities in Southwest Montana for Yellowstone Public Radio. She has reported for Northwest News Network and Boise State Public Radio and previously worked at a daily print newspaper. She is a graduate of the University of Puget Sound and the Transom Story Workshop.