Colorado farmers in prime position as demand for millet multiplies |

Colorado farmers in prime position as demand for millet multiplies

Thinkstockphotos.comMillet is an increasingly popular crop in the U.S., and more than half of the nation's supply is grown in Colorado.

There’s already plenty of it planted in Colorado – about 200,000 acres or so, just to ballpark it.

However, the state’s millet farmers – who now provide more than 50 percent of the crop produced in the United States – see trends that show it wouldn’t hurt to maybe put down a few more acres.

Millet, a group of small-seeded species of cereal crops or grains, has traditionally been used in the U.S. mainly for bird seed and some baking and beer brewing, but globally, according to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, it sustains one-third of the world’s population – a population that is rapidly growing.

Compared to 2010, U.S. millet exports are already up 63 percent and Colorado exports alone have risen 87 percent, according to the Rocky Mountain Agribusiness Association.

And the crop is finding more uses domestically. Perhaps most promising for domestic markets is that millet is gluten free, with gluten-free products becoming a rising trend as some people eliminate wheat grains from their diets.

Well-known companies such as Betty Crocker and General Mills are using millet to offer products for those wanting to eliminate gluten from their diet or for people with celiac disease who otherwise can’t tolerate the proteins in wheat, rye or barley. The number of households with people who have celiac disease or limit the gluten they eat is three times the number that avoids nuts and about the same size as households that limit dairy, according to research done by General Mills.

Currently, new recipes involving millet – the most nutritious of all true grains, states the RMAA – are being developed by Colorado State University, and ongoing research is being conducted to further understand gluten-free processing regulations.

Also close to home, millet could see increased use in Colorado, which possesses one of the largest microbrewery economies in the country.

In a state where millet production dominates that of others in the U.S., the crop is currently being harvested. While it’s still early on in the process, Bruce Bosley – a crop systems specialist for Colorado State University’s Logan County office – said this year’s crop is looking strong all over Colorado northeastern plains – the region where the majority of the state’s millet is grown.

“We really didn’t have ideal conditions for millet the whole way through the summer, but the fact that we’re still looking at a good crop this year is a good example of how resilient the crop is,” Bosley said.

Bosley noted that millet is one of the most – if not the most – drought-resistant crops, and further explained millet is a great rotation crop for a lot of farmers, especially wheat farmers, because of its planting and harvesting schedules.

He also stated that yields in the northeastern corner of the state are traditionally between 25 to 50 bushels per acre, and this year’s yields should be in the upper range of that average.

With all the positives, even millet farmers who struggled this year are looking to keep the crop among their rotations in the future.

“There’s definitely a lot of potential for growth with millet,” said Curt Wirth, a farmer in the New Raymer area who noted that – due to various circumstances, including a hotter than average August – yields in some of his fields are looking to be below average.

“But it’s definitely something I’ll stick with,” added Wirth, who began planting millet in 1994. The crop now covers about one-third of his acres – a ratio he said he’ll stick with.

While farmers like Wirth plan to continue doing their part, agriculture officials are looking for more to climb on board. The Federal State Marketing Improvement Program awards grants to state agricultural departments to develop innovative approaches for marketing ag products, and Colorado has received $42,000 to date to expand millet production for domestic and international markets.

“This crop could bring millions of dollars into the state’s economy every year,” said Tony Leighty, RMAA president. “Plus, millet’s versatility and nutritional value makes its value impossible to ignore.”

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