As extreme drought conditions continue to worsen across the state of Montana, hay prices and fire danger continue to increase. “It’s not good,” says sixth generation rancher Josh Reynolds of Ekalaka, Montana. “Lots of guys are selling their cattle, and the ranch we usually buy hay from isn’t selling any outside hay this year,” says Reynolds.

Many Montana ranchers are still searching for hay and seeing prices creep up to over $200 per ton. For some ranchers Alfalfa round bales delivered may cost up to $310 per ton. With continued high temperatures and lack of moisture, some have turned to resources such as Montana Stockgrowers or the USDA for guidance and support.

According to Tri-State Livestock News: “A representative for the USDA Farm Service Agency said some of their producers have signed up for the Livestock Forage Disaster Program, which is only available to producers in a qualifying drought area. The program is intended to provide assistance to producers whose grass or other forage is significantly reduced due to drought. The payment depends upon the severity and length of the drought as reported by USDA.”

“There’s not much to do especially when days are warming up to over 100 degrees,” continues Reynolds. “It’s too hot to ride, the hoppers [grasshoppers] are terrible, it’s smoky, and we have to stay home to fight fires.” Many ranch owners and employees, like those in Eastern Montana, are sticking around because of the heat and increased fire danger.

On July 1st, 2021, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte declared a statewide drought emergency. “Every region of the state faces severe to extreme drought conditions, and the situation is getting worse. These alarming drought conditions are devastating our ag producers, challenging our tourism industry, and could bring a severe wildfire season,” Gov. Gianforte said. This emergency order makes available all necessary state government resources to mitigate the impacts of this drought and protect Montanans.”-Credit: Montana Stockgrowers

There is no perfect solution, but some ranchers have turned to working with other neighboring producers to keep their ranches in business this year. For example, Reynolds will be shipping cattle to Nebraska this fall with five others. These cattle ranchers will drive east together to see what the crop looks like and to form a game plan. Later this fall they will come together, gather, sort, and ship cattle from all six ranches to Nebraska.

On the other hand many producers have found positives through these tough times. Butch Reynolds, Josh Reynolds father, says he’s had less time in the tractor this year, but more time to spend with family and attending rodeos. In fact, many rodeos across the west have seen record crowds, and even sold out performances such as Cheyenne Frontier Days. Despite the challenges many are facing across the state, families, ranchers, neighbors and individuals continue to band together to enjoy each other’s company and the way of life. Hard times may fall on many this year, but the Montana rancher is built for times like these.

To learn more about drought resources in Montana, visit https://mtbeef.org/advocacy/drought-hub/

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