Monday, Mar. 12th, 2018

Montana Mint Announces 2018 Montana Brewery Championship Bracket

Today, the Montana Mint announced the 2018 Montana Brewery Championship Bracket.

The Bracket features 60 breweries from 44 Montana cities and towns (and unincorporated areas!).  The bracket also features a write-in spot for the first round of voting. The brewery with the most write-in votes will secure a spot in the Sweet 16. 

The first round of voting will take place March 12-18.  Voting for the the Sweet 16 round will take place March 19-25.  And the voting for the Final Four will take place March 26-April 1.  We will crown Montana’s favorite brewery on Monday, April 2.

As in year’s past, there will be three ways for Montanans to vote: (1) via; (2) via twitter poll; and (3) and on the Montana Mint’s Facebook Page. That means you can vote THREE times for your favorite spot.  Voting ends at 8pm Sunday.

“We all agree that Montana brewers make great beer.  But which brewery makes the greatest beer and provides the best atmosphere?  That’s what we are trying to determine. Success in this tournament will require a loyal fan base and some darn good beer” said Bear Tycoon, the editor of the Montana Mint.

The Montana Mint hosted brackets in 2015 and 2016 to name the best pizza place in the state.  After tens of thousands of votes were cast, Eugene’s Pizza in Glasgow won both competitions

The full list of breweries in the bracket can be found below.

2 Basset Brewery- White Sulphur Springs

406 Brewing- Bozeman

Backslope Brewing- Columbia Falls

Bandit Brewing Co- Darby

Bayern Brewing, Inc.- Missoula

Beaver Creek Brewery- Wibaux

Beaverhead Brewing Co.- Dillon

Big Sky Brewing- Missoula

Bitter Root Brewing- Hamilton

Black Eagle Brewery- Black Eagle

Blackfoot River Brewing Co.- Helena

Blacksmith Brewing- Stevensville

Bozeman Brewing Co.- Bozeman

Bridger Brewing- Bozeman

Busted Knuckle Brewery- Glasgow

Cabinet Mountain Brewing- Libby

Canyon Creek Brewery- Billings

Cross Country Brewing- Glendive

Cut Bank Creek Brewery- Cut Bank

Draught Works - Missoula

Dunluce Brewing- Superior

Elk Ridge Brewing Co.- Deer Lodge

Flathead Lake Brewing- Big Fork

Gally's Brewing- Harlowton

Glacier Brewing Company- Polson

Great Burn- Missoula

Great Northern Brewing- Whitefish

H.A. Brewing Co.- Eureka

Harvest Moon Brewing Co.- Belt

High Plains Brewing- Laurel

Imagine Nation- Missoula

Jeremiah Johnson Brewing (formerly The Front Brewing Co.)- Great Falls

Kalispell Brewing- Kalispell

Katabatic Brewing Co.- Livingston

KettleHouse Brewing Co.- Missoula

Lewis and Clark Brewing Co.- Helena

Limberlost Brewing Company- Thompson Falls

Lolo Peak Brewing- Lolo

Lone Peak Brewery- Big Sky

Madison River Brewing Co.- Belgrade

Map Brewing Company- Bozeman

Meadowlark Brewing Co.- Sidney

Might Mo Brewing Co.- Great Falls

Missoula Brewing Co.- Missoula

Missouri Breaks Brewing- Wolf Point

Montana Brewing Company- Billings

Muddy Creek Brewing- Butte

Neptune's Brewery- Livingston

Old Skool Brewery- Baker

Philipsburg Brewing- Philipsburg

Red Lodge Ales- Red Lodge

Ruby Valley Brew- Sheridan

Smelter City Brewing- Anaconda

Tamarack Brewing- Lakeside

Ten Mile Creek Brewery- Helena

TiltWurks- Miles City

Triple Dog Brewing - Havre

Uberbrew- Billings

White City Brewing- Lavina

Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co.- Billings


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Bozeman nonprofit offering free swim lessons for adults in April

In conjunction with Adult Learn-to-Swim Month, the Bozeman Masters Swim Club will be offering free swim lessons for adults in April.

This is the second year that the swim club is offering lessons that are specifically tailored for adults with little or no swimming skills. The goal is to save lives, by giving adults the skills they need to be safe and feel more comfortable around water, and make swimming for fitness a viable option for living a healthy lifestyle. The Bozeman lessons are part of the nationwide Adult Learn-to-Swim program, which is funded by the Swimming Saves Lives Foundation.

In its first year, the Bozeman club taught 40 adults how to swim. 35 of the 40 had classified themselves as beginners at the start of the program, including 16 who indicated that they were fearful of the water. By the end, participants were surprised and elated at what they accomplished during their lessons.

Said Sue Harkin, head of Bozeman’s Adult Learn-to-Swim program, “Emotions ran high throughout the lessons, but especially as the lessons ended. Some of our participants were so overcome with emotion that they cried and hugged their instructors. Many expressed what a relief it was to feel safer in and around the water.”

This year, the club is hoping to teach even more adults how to swim. A 3:1 student-to-instructor ratio is strictly enforced, but they have more instructors lined up and Harkin is hopeful that they won’t have to turn anyone away that wants to learn.

Three lesson sessions are being offered. The first session is on Mondays and Wednesdays from April 9 to April 25. The second session is on Tuesdays and Thursdays from April 10 to April 26. All weekday lessons will be held from 5:30 to 6:15 p.m. The third session will consist of an hour-long lesson on Sunday, April 14 and a second hour-long session on Sunday, April 21. Both Sunday lessons begins at 11 a.m. All lessons will be held at the Bozeman Swim Center, adjacent to Bozeman High School on Main Street.

The only eligibility requirement is that you must be at least 18 years old. Advance registration is requested so that we can allocate instructors accordingly. To reserve a spot or learn more about the program, email or call Sue Harkin at 406-600-9296.


About the Bozeman Masters Swim Club

The Bozeman Masters Swim Club has been an official U.S. Masters Swimming club since 2004. The volunteer-run, nonprofit program welcomes adult swimmers of all ages, abilities, and motivations. The

club’s head coach, Janelle Munson-McGee, is a Level 2 USMS-Certified Masters Coach who caters to the diverse needs of the membership, offering structured, full-body workouts to enhance fitness, core strength, aerobic conditioning, physical endurance, and stroke technique. For more information, visit

About the Swimming Saves Lives Foundation

The Swimming Saves Lives Foundation, the charitable arm of U.S. Masters Swimming, raises awareness about the problem of adult drowning, and is a resource for adult learn-to-swim lesson providers. The foundation solicits charitable contributions and provides grants to programs and instructors that teach adult swim lessons. For more information, go to

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Thursday, Mar. 8th, 2018

Montana 4-H seeks families to host Japanese youth and chaperones

Montana State University Extension is seeking host families for 25 Japanese youth and two adult chaperones from July 22 - Aug. 17. The youth and their chaperones are part of an international exchange program with the Labo Language and Cultural Institute and with LEX, or Language Experience, Experiment and Exchange.

Host families can be located anywhere in Montana and should have a child at home who is between the ages of 9 and 18. Families hosting chaperones do not need to have children in the home or may have children of any age.

The Japanese youth will know some English, but are not fluent. The purpose of the program is for both the family and their guest to enjoy cultural immersion while learning from one another, according to Stephanie Davison, citizenship, sustainable communities and international programs coordinator with MSU Extension and Montana 4-H.

“In general, the youth who come to Montana as part of this exchange are 12-16 years old, though they may be slightly younger or older,” Davison said. “Their families usually start saving for an exchange trip when the children are quite young. The students study English in school, but are not yet fluent. These parents want their children to have the opportunity to be immersed in American culture and language to help them learn.”

Davison said that the American host families also benefit from the program.

“When we have asked host families about the best part of their experience as hosts, most have a similar reaction,” Davison said. “They cite examples such as learning about another culture while having fun; bonding with someone from another country; experiencing our own culture from a different perspective; and simply seeing the guest student smiling and having fun.”

The MSU exchange program is organized by Montana 4-H, the youth development program of MSU Extension, and has been active in Montana since 1972.

The application deadline for host families is May 15. To apply, go to or contact Stephanie Davison at 406-994-3502 or

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Wednesday, Mar. 7th, 2018

Jelt Announced Status as Certified B Corporation

The Montana social enterprise joins the ranks of highly vetted companies using the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.

Jelt, the social enterprise that makes retro-inspired, multi-functional belts, has just announced that it has become a Certified B Corporation. The company underwent a rigorous evaluation process issued by B Lab to receive the certification, which ensured it meets the highest standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability to function as a new kind of company-one that uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.
Jelt incorporates several programs beneficial to social and environmental issues into their business model, all of which contribute significantly to their B Corps status. The belts, which are elastic with a no-show plastic buckle, are made from 100% recycled water bottles, which lowers the footprint of their environmental impact. They are also manufactured in the United States via the Montana Correctional Enterprise Program. This voluntary and progressive program allows women incarcerated at the Montana Women's Prison to apply, interview, and be trained in manufacturing the belts. They receive legitimate wages that they can then save towards restitution, child support, or put into a savings account to save for their release. This program helps the women develop a strong work ethic, learn new job skills, and helps increase their confidence, making them more marketable employees upon their release.  It has also been proven to reduce recidivism. Finally, Jelt donates a portion of every sale to non-profit programs that support veterans, children, and the environment. Current partners include Warriors and Quiet Water Foundation, THRIVE, and 1% For the Planet.


"Jelt was created to give back to our communities in a multitude of ways and we've worked very hard to make sure that each part of our company is making a positive impact," says founder Jennifer Perry. "This certification validates that we're doing just that, and in a manner that's best for the world. We're incredibly honored to be a Certified B Corporation, and inspired to keep growing our impact."
Jelt joins over 800 Certified B Corporations from more than 60 industries in 28 countries that share a unifying goal: to redefine success in business. Performance standards of Certified B Corps are comprehensive and transparent and measure a company's impact on all of its stakeholders. They're legally required to consider the impact not only on their shareholders, but also their workers, suppliers, community, consumers, and the environment. Jelt celebrates this coveted status as it celebrates its fourth anniversary, amplifying each of these milestones for the company.
For more information on Jelt, visit Follow on Facebook @JeltBelt or on Instagram @JeltBelt.

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Tuesday, Mar. 6th, 2018

MSU Library project collects and shares oral histories of more than 150 anglers

A Montana State University librarian is collecting the stories of anglers from across the world and making those stories available for anyone, anywhere in the world to watch for free.

Special Collections Librarian James Thull said he was inspired to launch the MSU Angling Oral History Project after a “cool” story he heard from the legendary fly-fisherman Bud Lilly.

Lilly told Thull that one day when he was working as a guide, Lilly took an elderly man fishing. The man could no longer see well, but he could still fish.

Lilly directed him to where he could cast, and the man landed a nice brown trout. Then he started to put his rod away.

“The fish are still rising,” Lilly told him. “You can keep fishing.”

“No,” the man responded. “That’s the last fish I will ever catch.”

Thull was honored to hear Lilly recount the story, he said, and the exchange prompted Thull to launch, in 2014, a project dedicated to capturing the culture, history and significance of angling. The result is the MSU Angling Oral History Project, which collects, preserves and shares the histories, opinions and stories of politicians, artists, guides, authors and anglers from all walks of life and from all parts of the world. The video-recorded interviews are freely available and searchable to anyone online through the MSU-created database.

In each history that Thull collects, he asks the angler the same set of questions to collect baseline data. Then he asks questions aimed at the angler’s area of expertise. For example, he said, he asks artists what inspires them and their views of the relationship between art and fishing.

A common theme Thull explores with each person he interviews for the project is the person’s motivation for fishing.

“What is it people love about fishing? Why do people do it? Why is it tied to human culture? This is the question of fishing for reasons beyond sustenance,” he said.

For many anglers he interviewed, Thull said, a theme in the answers to those questions include a desire to connect with nature, as well as an appreciation for the beauty of the places where trout and salmon live.

Thull said the project also explores a number of topics that are important to anglers, including climate change and stream access laws.  

To date, Thull has recorded more than 150 oral histories for the project. Those oral histories – which range in length from roughly 10 minutes to about two hours – come from men and women from approximately 40 countries, including Iceland, India, Japan, Nepal, Russia, the U.S. and South Africa. Thull said he often travels specifically to conduct interviews for the project, but if he is traveling for other reasons and has an opportunity for an interview, he will conduct it then, as well.

Notable individuals who have provided oral histories for the project include Lilly; the writer Thomas McGuane; author and publisher Nick Lyons; Leigh Perkins, president of Orvis; Nathaniel Reed, a former undersecretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior; Jeremy Wade, a writer and TV personality; and Dan Wenk, superintendent of Yellowstone National Park.

When the histories are given by people who speak another language, they are usually translated, Thull said. In the future, he would like to create transcripts of the interviews in both the native language in which the interviews were given and in English. Thull plans to continue collecting anglers’ oral histories for the foreseeable future.

The project has been supported by MSU and by a three-year, $90,000 grant from the Willow Springs Foundation, Thull said.
Paul Schullery, an author, co-author and editor of more than 30 books, including "American Fly Fishing: A History," said that Thull has taken the concept of meaningful oral history “to a level I’ve not encountered before, especially in a socially significant but specialized subject like angling.

“MSU’s Trout and Salmonid Collection has emerged as one of the premier such collections in the country in part because it is dynamic enough to recognize the value of new media beyond the traditional print literature,” Schullery said. “The MSU Angling Oral History Project adds just such a dimension to the collection, preserving and celebrating the individual voices of anglers, businesspeople, scientists, conservationists, landowners, resource managers and all the other folks who make up the rich character of this ancient sport that has now become such an important part of the culture of the American West.”

One particularly nice byproduct of the project is that a number of anglers who have provided oral histories for the project have also chosen to donate their papers to MSU’s Special Collections, according to Kenning Arlitsch, dean of the MSU Library.

The MSU Library’s Special Collections and Archives has more than 800 active collections, including its Trout and Salmonid Collection, which is one of the areas for which it is best known. Special Collections also specializes in collections related to Montana agriculture and ranching, Montana engineering and architecture, Montana history, MSU history, Native Americans in Montana, prominent Montanans such as Ivan Doig, U.S. Sen. Burton K. Wheeler, and Yellowstone National Park and the Yellowstone ecosystem.

Thull said it’s important to collect and preserve the oral histories.

“As humans, if we don’t actively collect, preserve and disseminate things they can be lost,” he said. “What was once common knowledge becomes lost if it’s not documented and preserved.”

To view oral histories that are part of the Angling Oral History Project, visit

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Monday, Mar. 5th, 2018

Livingston’s Tap into Montana Quickly Becoming One of Montana’s Premier Brew Fests

Tap into Montana craft beer week and brew fest is back and better than ever. Combining Montana craft beer with live music and local food, the community event continues to grow into its fourth year. “It’s a fun and really well put together event, “ said Jon Berens, owner of Neptune’s Brewery. “We are proud that it’s a hometown event for us. And the breweries love it because it is put together from the perspective of a brewer. It’s definitely one of the top brew fests that we attend.”

Tap into Montana was founded by LaNette Jones, co-owner of Katabatic Brewing Company and Rachel Anderson, owner of Markouture. “Our initial goal was to both celebrate Montana craft beer and to create a community-based event that brings people to Livingston during the shoulder season. It’s really taken off and become one of the staple annual events in Livingston and one of the premier brew fests in the state,“ said Anderson.


Touting a new location along the Yellowstone River at Miles Park, this year’s brew fest is sure to deliver a truly authentic Livingston experience. “We’ve had to move the event to a new location every year to accommodate our growth in both attendance and the number of breweries,” Anderson said. “The inaugural event took place at the Livingston Civic Center, year two at the Park County Fairgrounds and last year under a giant tent in the Livingston Depot parking lot. It was a tight fit! Attendance has nearly doubled every year and we’ve had to get creative with our venue selections. We are super excited to have the brew fest along the Yellowstone River and hope to make that our permanent home for the brew fest. It’s a cornerstone of this community and we want to show off our beautiful little mountain town and the river that plays such a predominant role in our community.”

The celebration kicks off with a week of craft beer related events throughout Livingston April 2-7th and culminates with the brew fest on April 7th from 2-7pm.
This year’s brewery line up includes 29 Montana breweries from all around the state. Big Sky Brewing Co (Missoula), Bitterroot Brewery (Hamilton), Black Eagle Brewery (Black Eagle), Blacksmith Brewing (Stevensville), Bozeman Brewing Co (Bozeman), Bridger Brewing (Bozeman), Butte Brewing Company (Butte), Cabinet Mountain Brewing Co (Libby), Canyon Creek Brewing (Billings), Dean’s Zesty Booch (Bozeman), Draught Works (Missoula), Flathead Lake Brewing (Big Fork), Gally’s Brewing (Harlowton), Jeremiah Johnson Brewing Co (Great Falls), Kalispell Brewing Co (Kalispell), Katabatic Brewing Co (Livingston), Lewis & Clark Brewing Co (Helena), Lone Peak Brewery (Big Sky), Madison River Brewing Company (Belgrade), MAP Brewing (Bozeman), Mighty Mo Brew Co (Great Falls), Mountains Walking Brewery (Bozeman), Muddy Creek Brewery (Butte), Neptune’s Brewery (Livingston), Outlaw Brewing (Bozeman), Philipsburg Brewing Co (Philipsburg), Ten Mile Creek Brewery (Helena), Triple Dog Brewing Co (Havre), and White Dog Brewing Co (Bozeman).

The music lineup at the bandshell includes Ouray, Colorado based husband and wife indie folk rock duo, You Knew Me When (2:30pm) and the recently reunited Bozeman favorite outlaw country band, The Dirty Shame (5pm). Local food from Farmgirl Pizzeria and Bakery and Rancho Picante Bison Hut will be available as well cocktails, wine and non-alcoholic drinks from The Office Lounge for those non-beer drinkers who want to come down and enjoy the music.

WindRider Shuttle will be providing a free shuttle service to the brew fest from several locations around town between 1:30 and 8pm. Stops at The Buckhorn, The Livingston Depot, Neptune’s Brewery, The Office Lounge will run on a loop all afternoon.
Craft Beer Week Events will be happening throughout Livingston and include beer and sushi pairings, beer trivia, a print making and beer class, the beer mile, and the 2nd Annual Creek to Peak Soap Box derby. A full list of events is available at           
 “It truly takes a village to put this event on and we’ve been fortunate to have the wide-spread support from the community on all levels: our planning committee members, our sponsors and partners, the businesses that host events during the week, the volunteers, and of course everyone that comes out to support the event. “ Anderson noted.

To purchase tickets or for more information, visit

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Tuesday, Feb. 27th, 2018

2017-2018 Employer of Choice Awards – Deadline to nominate your employer/business: March 9th, 2018

The Bozeman Job Service Employers’ Committee (JSEC)annually recognizes businesses that create great workplaces in our service area by presenting them with the Employer of Choice Award. 

All nominations for Employer of Choice are submitted to Montana State Employers’ Council, (MSEC), for consideration of the State of Montana designation for Employer of Choice. MSEC receives nominations from communities and Job Service Employer Committees across the state and selects one winner for each of three categories: Businesses with 0-25 employees, 26-50 employees, and over 50 employees.

Employers and businesses are recognized according to the following criteria:Employer Benefits and Initiatives, Leadership and Workplace Culture, Employee Training and Development, Community Orientation 

To nominate an employer:Nomination Form Attached, or, Contact Susan by e-mail or telephone if you have any questions.Susan Hankenshanken@mt.gov406.582.9223
E-mail completed nomination form to Susan: shanken@mt.govNominations are due March 9th, 2018

Bozeman JSEC Officers: President: Sheila Swanson; Ressler MotorsVice-President: Jayson Fetterman; First StudentTreasurer: Jody Cramer; Big Sky StaffingSecretary: Nancy Axtell; Job Service

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Friday, Feb. 23rd, 2018

NASA official tells MSU students: The future of sending humans to Mars is you

On Thursday a senior NASA official told a packed Procrastinator Theater at Montana State University that the space agency is well on its way to sending humans to Mars.
“I think 2035 is reasonable,” said Paul McConnaughey, an associate director at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, about when people might first touch down on the red planet.
In an hour-long presentation to MSU students, faculty and members of the public, McConnaughey outlined the progress NASA is making on a new generation of spacecraft designed to reach the moon, Mars and beyond.
“We’re actually to the point where we have the technology and the capability to put a system together for a human mission to Mars,” McConnaughey said.
McConnaughey’s team at Marshall Space Flight Center has played a key role in developing what NASA calls its new Space Launch System, which includes rockets significantly more powerful than those used for NASA’s space shuttles and for the much-celebrated launch earlier this year of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy.

The powerful rockets are now being integrated with a system of habitation pods and other units adapted from previous NASA missions with the new purpose of long-duration human space travel, McConnaughey said.
“We’re very close to the final assembly for this system,” he said.
Because so much infrastructure is required to support human life on the red planet, multiple units launched separately from Earth will be assembled in orbit around the moon before proceeding to Mars, McConnaughey explained.
Unmanned missions to Mars, including a 2020 launch of a rover similar to NASA’s legendary robot named Curiosity, will pave the way for the human missions. The Mars 2020 rover, for instance, will test ways of producing the oxygen that Mars-going astronauts will need.
Although Curiosity and other rovers have produced a wealth of knowledge about Mars, sending humans is the logical next step in expanding humanity’s scientific understanding of the planet, according to McConnaughey.
“Humans always find things that robots don’t,” he said. “When humans explore … we find out what we don’t know.”
McConnaughey, who earned his master's degree and doctorate from Cornell University and has worked at Marshall Space Flight Center since 1986, said that working with NASA’s talented workforce, which includes many MSU graduates, has been very rewarding.
At the event, which was hosted by MSU’s Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering as part of the university’s 125th anniversary celebration in 2018, McConnaughey encouraged MSU students to apply for NASA internships and to pursue careers with the space agency.
Planning and carrying out ambitious space exploration projects like sending humans to Mars is a decades-long process, he said. And because the next generation of Mars missions is now ramping up, it will today’s young people who see it through to completion.
“The future of getting to Mars isn’t me,” McConnaughey told the mostly student audience. “It’s you.”

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Tuesday, Feb. 20th, 2018

MSU spring wheat breeding program responds to a warmer Montana

Montana State University’s spring wheat breeding program is working to meet a warmer future.

Luther Talbert, spring wheat breeder in MSU’s Department of Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology in the College of Agriculture, shared research highlights at a January lecture about Montana’s cornerstone cereal crop faring in a variable and warming climate.

The lecture, hosted by the Montana Institute on Ecosystems, a statewide institute on ecosystem sciences housed at MSU, focused on traditional wheat breeding techniques that can help Montana grain growers remain profitable despite increasing temperatures and the challenges that come with a longer growing season.

“The goal of the spring wheat breeding program is try to be steps ahead of what’s next,” Talbert said. “There are always pests and diseases, but climate and temperature changes are variable and hard to forecast. What we know for sure is that we need to breed for climate variability tolerance.”

In 2009, Talbert and Susan Lanning, former MSU research associate, analyzed weather data from seven  agricultural research centers in distinct locations across Montana. The research centers are part of the Montana Agricultural Experiment Station and are located strategically across Montana’s diverse climatological and agricultural environments.


Data points from the centers reached back to 1950, providing 58 consecutive years of detailed, monthly weather data across Montana. The centers each serve as authorized weather stations for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and some have archived climate data that date back to the late 1800s.

According to Talbert, the collated data from the research centers showed that March temperatures in Montana have increased 7-degrees Fahrenheit since 1950.

“It’s was pretty remarkable to see that because we weren’t expecting that much of a change over the years,” Talbert said. “Most farmers know, at least informally, seasonal temperatures have changed over time, but here we had this verified climate data set for Montana and it was showing a consistent uptick in March temperatures each year.”

Warmer March temperatures, according to Talbert, mean an earlier planting season for spring wheat farmers because the ground thaws earlier. The earlier the planting season, the longer the growing season. However, Talbert and Lanning also found that July temperatures were increasing over the years, though not as significantly as March temperatures, based on the weather station data

 Talbert and Lanning tracked the yield of a spring wheat variety called Thatcher, which the research centers have been growing since the 1950s.

“The value of Thatcher is that we had a common factor, so we could look at the impact on weather variation on a specific variety over the years,” he said.

By tracking the success and yield of Thatcher alongside climate data, Talbert and Lanning found that a warmer March was a positive element, while a hotter July was not.

“A longer growing season is good news for farmers, but it gets risky when the temperatures also get hotter in July,” Talbert said. “So, on one hand, farmers can get their spring wheat seed in the ground earlier, but on the later end of the growing season, the plant becomes stressed if gets too hot.”

During July and early August, a spring wheat plant is undergoing grain fill, about a four-week process when the wheat kernel increases in size and matures enough for adequate baking and milling. If the temperatures are too hot during this process, the plant can become too stressed to adequately complete its full potential in the growth cycle.

“Basically, if it gets too hot, the plant’s leaves turn brown, photosynthesis stops, the wheat kernel stops growing and you’re not going to have as big of a yield,” Talbert said.  “Unfortunately, hotter temperatures during grain fill often go hand-in-hand with drought conditions.”

Last summer, Montana farmers saw one of the worst droughts in recent history, resulting in an estimated reduction in grain yield by about 40 percent, according to the USDA. Wheat yields count for a lot, given that Montana is the nation’s second-highest producer of spring wheat, exporting 75 percent of its wheat to Asian markets, according to the USDA.

“Montana’s calling card in many ways is hard wheat with high protein and strong baking and milling qualities, which global markets want,” Talbert said. “So, essentially, warmer temperatures have the ability to cause an economic impact that will be felt at the farm level first.”

Talbert has worked in MAES and MSU’s College of Agriculture for 30 years. Thanks to funding originating from farmer check-off contributions to the Montana Wheat and Barley Committee, Talbert and his spring wheat breeding program have developed some of Montana’s top-planted wheat varieties, bred specifically for high yield in dry conditions.

One important genetic advancement has been the incorporation of genes that help the wheat plant stay-green longer during the grain fill process. These “stay-green” traits help the wheat plant fight back against July heat by continuing to fill seeds in hot conditions and result in high yields, according to Talbert.

One popular variety with the stay-green trait is named Vida. Vida also has genes that cause a semi-solid stem, incorporated from an earlier variety named Scholar. The semi-solid stem gives the plant some resistance to the Wheat Stem Sawfly, one of the most costly agricultural pests in Montana.

Montana producers planted 2.3 million acres of spring wheat for harvest in 2016, of which 18.8 percent was Vida. It was the sixth year in a row that Vida has been the state’s leading spring wheat variety planted, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. Planted acreage data was not available for the 2017 year.

Talbert says breeding for drought tolerance and hotter temperatures will continue to be a priority, as the program strives to insure continued profitability of spring wheat production in Montana.

“Spring wheat just doesn’t do well in hot climates,” he said. “We certainly can’t predict what the future holds for Montana, but we can be sure that we need to keep improving our varieties to remain sustainable in a warmer environment.” 

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