Rachel’s blog

Greetings from Big Sky Country! It’s very hot here, with temps yesterday at 89⁰F – everyone here thinks that’s a pleasant heat! Montana is very dry so the heat is more bearable than further south. I’m currently staying in Galata, Toole County, which is in north-west Montana, about 30 miles from the Canadian border.

Combine 1

Combining in Montana

Montana is big! It’s 4.8 times the size of Scotland, but with a fifth of our population, meaning there’s a lot of driving and farms are huge. Farms in Montana are the second biggest in the USA with an average farm being 2,255 acres – some are much more extensive. The state is the largest producer of lentils and fourth highest USA state for planted wheat acres in USA, with 203,070,000 acres grown. As I’ve said, it’s hot and dry in summer and snowy and cold in winter, with –15⁰F being typical. Cattle are outwintered so they have to be tough! Montana has 2,255,000 head of cattle, with red and black Aberdeen Angus the most popular, followed by Hereford, Simmental and Charolais.

Rachel Black Isle

Rachel cultivating

I have visited a variety of farms so far, with harvest creeping into action. The ground here is very rocky and dusty so it is not feasible to continuously crop; therefore the ground is left fallow for a year after cropping and is chisel ploughed or sprayed a few times to keep weeds under control. After this, it is drilled in autumn or spring.

Harvest is starting early this year due to drought, with Toole County only having had less than 5 inches of rain since January and that includes snowfall.

Due to the drought and the government crop reduction programme, large areas are being approved to hay, although all the hay is pretty much dead and burnt off, as June saw temperatures in excess of 140⁰F. All hay is cut with swathers then baled, usually round but some big and small square bales. Straw is usually chopped out the back of the combine, as there is no real requirement for bedding straw and some bale it for feeding.

Combine 2

Combine harvester

Farmers seem to use their own lorries for carting grain, and tractors are only used for tillage. Farmers and farm workers are not required to have an additional licence to drive a semi within 150 mile radius of the farm, which makes lorries an easy choice for carting in, especially as the ground is so dry.

I’m having a great time, the people are very welcoming. I’m off to shoot gophers (ground squirrels) with an old man called Miles and will be moving to the next host family in 10 days.




Black Isle growers Brian and Caroline Matheson from Ballicherry Farm in Balblair run a mixed enterprise of 332 hectares, consisting of 190 hectares of spring barley grown for certified seed and malting, 42 hectares of winter wheat grown for certified seed, 25 hectares of oilseed rape and 35 hectares of potato and carrot lets, together with 40 hectares of permanent grassland carrying 100 ewes, 100 over-wintered cattle and 25 suckler cows. The farm also carries out carrot growing and mobile grain dressing contracting operations. Caroline operates a Care Farming enterprise which runs alongside the commercial farming operation.