Spring wheat is planted in stripes on the semi-arid plains of Northern Montana. The area is too dry for an annual crop, so one stripe is left fallow every other year to save rain/snowfall for the subsequent crop. Between the rows are short trees that were planted perpendicular to the wind direction to prevent topsoil loss when the fields were tilled to keep down weeds. Most local farmers have now adopted a no-till “chem-fallow’ system, where they cut the wheat and then in the fallow year spray the wheat stubble with paraquat to kill the weeds. The wheat stubble prevents soil loss from wind erosion.
This area has undergone extreme depopulation over the past century as mechanization has allowed farming on larger plots with less labor. This area was first populated with farmers under the Homestead Act of 1909, which gave 320 acres for free if you farmed the land for five years. At that time there were 72 family homesteads per 36 sq mi, but now this same area has a population of just 8 people.
Seen here is Doug Hellinger, a third generation to farm his family land, using a boom sprayer to keep down weeds as he drives past his grandmother's abandoned barn.
- ©2021 George Steinmetz
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