Colorado Farm Show post-mortem: Northeast Colorado farmers optimistic about 2011 |

Colorado Farm Show post-mortem: Northeast Colorado farmers optimistic about 2011

JOSHUA POLSON/gtphoto@greeleytribune.comLarry Hepp checks the engine of one of the many display tractors at the Colorado Farm Show last Thursday afternoon in Greeley. This year's farm show was Hepp's first.

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The outlook for Colorado agriculture in 2011 might be the best in history.

Farmers and ranchers, according to several speakers at last week’s Colorado Farm Show, said farmers can expect strong prices for corn, wheat, hay and other crops. For ranchers, prices keep climbing for calves bound to feedlots as worldwide demand for beef continues to climb and the cattle herd in the United States remains stagnant at best. So that means feeding cattle will remain a challenge trying to make a profit with high input costs for feedstuffs.

Meanwhile, northern Colorado sugar beet growers are looking at what may turn out to be the best crop ever grown in the area. During the final day of the farm show, beet growers received word of the potential of the Western Sugar Cooperative price for last year’s crop could approach $77 per ton, based on better than 18 percent sugar content. That’s a combination of sugar beet payments for the 2010 crop, of which the last does not come until September, along with patronage and other payments. The average yield was projected at about 30 tons to the acre, five or six tons higher than what can typically be expected.

Traditionally, sugar content grown throughout the cooperative’s four-state region – Colorado, western Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana – is in the 15 percent range, and the price will approach $30 a ton on occasion in the northern Colorado region.

Kent Wimmer, spokesman for the cooperative in Denver, admitted “the price of sugar is very good,” but said the 2010 crop is not yet completely processed and none of it has been sold.

“Projections for 2010 are good, but they are just projections,” Wimmer said. The cooperative’s processing plants should finish the crop this week in Montana, next week in Nebraska and Wyoming, and by Feb. 17 in Fort Morgan.

Sugar beet growers and processors throughout the country are still waiting on a decision by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service on whether Roundup Ready sugar beet seed will be allowed for the 2011 crop. Much of the volume and quality of last year’s crop has been attributed to that seed, which eliminates inputs and produces higher weed control.

USDA’s APHIS is looking at three options regarding the use of the seed this year: not allowing it to be planted, allowing use of the seed under a permit system – which Western has applied for – or partially deregulating the seed. The fact that the agency deregulated Roundup Ready alfalfa seed last week was seen as good news for sugar beet growers.

Meanwhile, projections of strong economic returns for farmers and ranchers may have been reflected at this year’s farm show.

Buddy Truesdell, owner of B&G Equipment of Greeley, said this year’s farm show was unusual because he sold three tractors during the three-day run of the show. Normally, while the farm implement dealership – Case IH, New Holland and Great Plains equipment – makes a lot of contacts during the show, actually selling equipment is rare.

And Artie Geisick, this year’s general chairman, said pickups provided by the Weld County Garage to farm show volunteers were also sold out from under them.

“We had to get the keys so they could get them to the buyers,” Geisick said.

Truesdell said the 2011 show “was the best we’ve ever had,” and good prices for commodities in 2010 combined with projections for 2011 and beyond probably had a lot to do with that.

A new twin-row planting system from Great Plains drew a lot of attention from farmers, Truesdell said, noting the new technology vastly improves the amount of ground farmers can use to grow a crop.

Across the Events Center, Roy Weyerman, regional sales manager with Wagner Equipment of Windsor – which sells Caterpillar and Challenger farm implements – was also pleased with this year’s show.

“It looks like it’s a great time to be involved in agriculture. There’s a lot of optimism out there and while we don’t sell a lot, we’ve sure made a lot of good contacts,” Weyerman said. Adding to that optimism, he said, is that there is a good supply of equipment coming from manufacturers.

The one black cloud hanging over prospects for the coming growing season is the weather. There are indications that drought conditions may return to the wheat- and corn-growing areas of the country, including eastern Colorado, but as Mark Sponsler, executive director of Colorado Corn of Greeley, said, “There’s a lot more optimism than pessimism out there.”

But Charles Tucker, who farms and milks about 350 cows east of Pierce, isn’t all sure everything is rosy.

In addition to weather concerns, he said he’s worried there’s too much government regulation in agriculture with the possibility of more coming, the United States is depending too much on world trade, the production of ethanol is affecting corn prices, and about where the water and feedstuffs are going to come from to provide additional cows to meet the demands of the new Leprino Foods cheese plant under construction in Greeley.

“A lot of these things can change next year or next week,” Tucker said. “There’s just too much uncertainty out there. What happens if Leprino doesn’t get the milk it needs?” Tucker added he’s afraid the plant may have an adverse effect on the price of milk. That would be more bad news for the one segment of agriculture that continues to try to rebound from the recession of the past couple of years.

“We’re just surviving. It’s about survival for us,” Tucker said.

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