As the state’s largest wheat crop in 16 years begins to come out of its winter dormancy, experts and farmers say it’s difficult to tell how good the crop will be, but the particularly cold winter and recent high winds may have taken some toll, especially for those growers in southeast Colorado, who have seen little moisture.
Darrell Hanavan, executive director of the Colorado Wheat Growers Association, said for growers south of Interstate 70, lack of moisture combined with windy conditions may mean some blow out — the result of winds ripping through dry soil and damaging the dormant plants. Hanavan said while northeastern Colorado has had an above-average winter in terms of moisture, drought woes are continuing down south.
“We’ve had one really measurable snow south of I-70, and we have a lot of planted acres there,” Hanavan said.
Southeast Colorado farmers, more than others, are in need of a rebound year in 2014.
Due to poor planting conditions in the fall of 2012 and poor weather throughout much of 2013 (particularly in southeast Colorado), about 660,000 acres — nearly 30 percent of Colorado’s winter wheat acres planted — were abandoned and not harvested.
Kiowa County farmer Burl Scherler, who lost nearly all of last year’s crop to a late freeze, said he’s predicting to find more winter kill this year as his crop breaks out this spring.
“We’ll know more in two weeks,” Scherler said.
Hanavan said the bitter cold also has growers worried, as cold with no snow cover can kill dormant wheat, but those concerns are centered more so in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
“I don’t think we’re gonna have significant freeze damage,” he said.
In other areas of Colorado, growers are seeing more promising signs as the plants turn from brown to green. Farther south in Baca County, grower Brian Brooks said his crop is looking good so far, a “night-and-day difference” over last year’s crop, which succumbed to the mid-April freeze. He said among those in his area, wind is still a concern, with gusts having reached 60 miles-per-hour this week.
“We’re doing a lot better,” he said. “We just pray for rain and no wind.”
In counties that saw a great deal of moisture last fall, Bruce Bosley, a crop specialist at Colorado State University, said another concern for farmers has been the fact that fall rains pushed off planting, for some people to as late as November.
“The fall growth really determines some of the yield potential, and if you don’t have a lot of growth in the fall, you want to plant at a higher rate,” Bosley said.
Northeast Colorado growers say the crop is showing good progress coming out of dormancy.
Curt Wirth, who farms in the New Raymer area, said his wheat has seen a good amount of moisture, and he’s optimistic so far.
“At the risk of jinxing myself, the wheat is coming out of dormancy really nice,” he said. “It’s greening up really nice.”
As for the extreme cold, Wirth said he hasn’t seen signs of winter kill yet.
“All the cold weather seemed to come right when we were covered up with snow,” he said.
Vern Cooksey, who farms in southern Weld County and in Adams County, said his crop was able to get a pretty good start in the fall, and he’s hoping for moisture this spring to help the crop along.
“It’s a long ways from being harvestable yet, but it’s looking pretty good,” Cooksey said.
Bosley said even through a rough season, winter wheat is a resilient crop, often described as a cat with nine lives. Still, he said optimism among growers is guarded, since the elements are still in control.
“We’ve still got a lot time to see how this crop does,” Bosley said. ❖