Colorado crop farmers gear up for spring planting
March 26, 2012
For crop farmers in Colorado, spring means planting time. Mild weather and longer days mean farmers are filling up their tractors and getting to work in the fields. In the next couple of weeks, farmers will be prepping and planting their fields, hoping to set themselves up for a successful year.
The three main crops that will be harvested this year are corn, wheat and potatoes. “Corn is the number one cash value crop in Colorado. We have sweet corn for food, and field corn for livestock, poultry, pork and ethanol. We also use it for biodegradable products other than a feed ingredient. We started exporting corn from Colorado into Mexico, and when we export livestock, such as pork, we export corn every time we sell livestock,” said Doug Melcher, President of the Colorado Corn Growers Association.
Farmers will start planting corn as soon as the ground is warm enough, and farmers feel they can avoid frost. This is usually around late April. However, farmers are already prepping fields for the planting.
To prep the fields, farmers will apply herbicides to keep weeds from growing, and fertilizer to help the soil have a higher nutrient value. “In our area, most of the land is strip tilled, and that is happening now. Some of it is already completed. Some farmers are doing conventional a till. A lot of them will be pre-water the ground to get some sub-moisture build up as well,” said Melcher.
The biggest challenges corn farmers will face this year is water and weather. The batter for water in Colorado has been ongoing, and drought can deprive crops of needed moisture later in the summer. “Water is the main challenge we always face because the cities always want to take more water. The only place they can get it from is ag, and that’s a constant battle. Hopefully we can get some rainfall. The long range forecast for the summer is we might have a milder summer than we had last year, so that is good,” Melcher said.
He continued, “We don’t want a repeat of 2011, at least for the southeastern part of the state.”
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The number of acres planted this year should remain close to what it was last year. “I think we are probably looking at less dryland acres, because of the northern part of the state has been drier this year. I would expect around 1 million aces of irrigated corn and 250,000 acres of dryland corn,” said Melcher.
The second biggest crop produced in Colorado is wheat, and that was planted last fall. With the warm weather, the crop has been thriving, and wheat farmers are top dressing their fields with fertilizer to help the wheat succeed.
“Most producers have all their drop dress done. There is beginning to be a little herbicide to go down for killing weeds as well. Wheat looks like it is a couple weeks ahead of schedule, because of the weather. However, if it gets into the jointing stage and if it freezes, it could damage it. We’ve had freeze damage before, and that was bad. You have some every year, but it’s usually not noticeable,” said Dan Anderson, Director for District 4 (Boulder, Larimer and Weld Counties) for the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers.
Wheat is a valuable crop to Colorado, and provides jobs all across the state.
“Last year the wheat fields provided an 80 million bushel crop. You are looking at around $500 million worth of value. Wheat creates a lot of jobs statewide. In addition, 80 percent of the crop is exported, and that brings in a lot of revenue. Wheat creates a large economic impact in Colorado,” said Anderson.
He believes the price of wheat should remain fairly decent this year, helped largely by the high price of corn. “The wheat price will really be dictated by what the corn price is going to do. There is an abundance of wheat worldwide, and in the U.S. we have large supplies. We have an 800 million bushels carryover from last year. Crop conditions are better than they were last year, so that carryover will not be cut down. Usually a large supply means the price of wheat could go down. However, if it gets too much lower, it will go into feed rations, and this keeps it higher,” Anderson said.
The two main challenges wheat farmers will face this year will be weather and the markets. “Every year is different in the challenges we face. It’s both fun and frustrating to play. Weather is always a challenge, as are markets. We play in a global environment when it comes to prices. The wheat crop in other places can have a drastic effect on what happens to wheat prices in this country,” he said.
The third largest crop in Colorado is potatoes. “Potatoes are the largest specialty crop grown in Colorado, both in acreage and farm gate value,” said James Ehrlich, Executive Director of the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee.
Potato growers, unlike corn farmers, have to be more careful in the number of acres that are planted. The demand is not as high, and if farmers create too large of a supply, all producers could be hit with lower prices.
“I think acreage planted will be down slightly in southern Colorado this year, because of irrigation water concerns. I think production in Northern Colorado may be up slightly. Growers are concerned with the potential of over planting, creating too much supply and the effect that has on price,” said Ehrlich.
Growers usually plant in mid-April and harvest in the fall. However, potatoes are not just sold at harvest. Ehrlich said, “Potato farmers market their crop year round to insure consumers have potatoes all the time, and to spread price risk in the market place.”
The challenges that growers will face differ from the other two crops. “Weather is a challenge, especially dry conditions without adequate irrigation supplies. There is a greater chance of insect pressure with dry conditions for aphids and psyllids, both of which vector diseases that affect potatoes. Potential over production leading to reduced prices is also a challenge.” Said Ehrlich.
All three crops will need to be managed by the farmers who grow them, and challenges will have to be dealt with. However, there is one thing that all Colorado crop farmers have in common, and that is to produce healthy, safe products. This process is just beginning, and farmers are looking forward to a successful year.