Colorado crops begin fall harvest |

Colorado crops begin fall harvest

Story & Photos by Robyn Scherer, M.Agr. | Staff Reporter
Corn is just starting to be harvested around the state. Irrigated farmers still have a crop, but many dryland farmers have had to cut their crops for silage.

Fall is the time of the year when the leaves begin to change, the weather starts to get cooler and the crops are ripe and ready to harvest. Colorado produces a wide variety of crops, and these crops will be brought in over the course of the next few months.

There are several crops that have already begun harvest, and this includes potatoes.

Summer potatoes are in full harvest, with 85 percent of the harvest completed according to the Sept. 10 Colorado Crop Progress report, USDA NASS, Colorado Field Office. Summer potatoes are 51 percent ahead of the five-year average this year.

“We are just getting started with harvest down here in the San Luis Valley. I think we are going to have a good crop, with average to above average yields. We got moisture this week, which slowed down the progress, but we really need the moisture. It was so dry, and when they dig the potatoes they are in the soil,” said Jim Ehrlich, executive director for the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee. He is located in Monte Vista.

In the San Louis Valley, where the majority of the potatoes are harvested in Colorado, planted acreage was up from 55,000 to 55,100 acres this year. Fall potatoes were reported at 33 percent complete. The crop was rated in mostly good condition.

Nationally, fall production of potatoes is estimated to be eight percent larger in 2012 than in 2011, according to the North American Potato Market News. This has led to a decrease in price.

“Prices are not good. They are about half of what they were last year. Primarily, the prices are down because they planted too many acres, especially in the state of Idaho. There will likely be more potatoes than there is demand,” he said.

He continued, “This year will be a challenge. I have a hope that the potatoes are at the lowest point they will be. If they stabilize and go up a little, the growers will be able to make a little profit. If they sell right now, they would lose money.”

The drought this year did not have a large effect on the potato crop, due mostly to location. “We didn’t have the heat because we are at a higher elevation. It wasn’t extremely hot, but our nighttime temperatures were probably a little higher than normal. Potatoes like a big swing in temperature,” Ehrlich stated.

Growers determine when it is time to harvest the potatoes by checking the ones in their fields. “Growers want to check what the tubers look like. You don’t want to get them too big, because you can’t market them. You dig several places in the field, and decide when to harvest,” he said.

They look at the tubers, and when they are the right size, they kill the vines to stop the growth using choppers or a spray. “You have to kill the vines first, and then wait about three weeks to let the skin set on the potato so that you can dig them without damaging them,” said Ehrlich.

Harvest usually begins right after Labor Day, and continues through the middle of October. Growers want to get all of the potatoes out of the field before the first frost.

Dry bean progress was reported at 50 percent cut and 10 percent harvested. The crop was rated in fair to poor condition. Dry onion harvest was 50 percent complete with the crop rated in mostly good condition. Sunflower condition ranged from very poor to fair at the end of last week.

Corn is just beginning its harvest, with 2 percent of the crop harvested as of September 10. The corn was reported as 83 percent dented and 26 percent mature. Corn that is harvested for silage was reported at 50 percent complete.

The crop condition was reported at 38 percent very poor, 22 percent poor, 19 percent fair, 19 percent good and 2 percent excellent, compared to 58 percent good to excellent last year.

USDA has slightly lowered its forecast from 123 bushels per acre to 122.8 bushels for the national average for corn. The estimated yield for the season will be 10.7 billion bushels on the 96 million acres that were planted. This will be the lowest yield since 1995. This year, an estimated 1.4 million acres of corn was planted in Colorado.

“We have been hearing some stories that irrigated farmers are starting to harvest as well. The dryland corn by and large is pretty tough, and most of it is being harvested for silage. There were some areas that did get some rain, and they had some decent stuff. However, most of it went to silage. In some areas they didn’t get anything off the fields, especially in the South,” said Jared Fiel, Communications & Marketing Director for the Colorado Corn Board.

He continued, “For the irrigated farmers, for those who had water and had enough water, they are doing ok. However, some of the farmers who had the intense heat couldn’t even get enough water on the crop.”

In general, most of the farmers are already looking forward to next year. “Nobody is going to be good out of this. I think it’s that traditional farmer hope of hoping for next year now,” Fiel said.

Spring barley and spring wheat are also being harvested. Spring barley stood at 93 percent complete and spring wheat at 66 percent, according to the Sept. 10 Crop Progress Report.

Sorghum is just beginning its harvest as well. According to the Sept. 10 crop report, one percent of the crop is harvested, with 98 percent headed, 83 percent turning color and 12 percent mature. The crop was rated in as 53 percent very poor, 19 percent poor, 18 percent fair, 10 percent good and zero percent excellent, compared to 27 percent good to excellent last year.

Sugar beets are one Colorado crop that seems to be doing better this year, with harvest expected to be the higher this year than it has in several years past. Sugar beet harvest is expected to top more than 30 tons per acre this year, which would break the previous record of 29.5 tons per acre. The crop progress report rated sugar beets in mostly good to fair condition.

Alfalfa hay harvest was reported at 85 percent complete for the third cutting, and 21 percent complete for the fourth cutting. “The crop’s condition was rated evenly from very poor to good condition,” the report stated.

Pasture and range conditions were rated at 61 percent poor, 26 percent poor, 12 percent fair, 1 percent good and zero percent excellent. The five-year average rated pastureland at 43 percent good to excellent.

“The condition of livestock was rated fair to good at the end of last week. Death losses for cattle and sheep were average. Stored feed supplies have been reduced due to the drought and high demand, and were rated short for this time of year,” the report stated. ❖

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