Colorado wheat crop looks solid in many areas despite severe weather |

Colorado wheat crop looks solid in many areas despite severe weather

Story and photos by Robyn Scherer | Kiowa, Colo.
Winter wheat is growing quickly in this field near Denver International Airport.

Each spring, mother nature brings severe weather than can really help, or really hinder, a crop. Intense rain and hail are typical in Colorado, and this year’s storms have been no different.

However, a long spring and early moisture has helped the wheat crop.

The May 27 Crop Progress Report from USDA NASS-Colorado office reported 24 percent of Colorado winter wheat was in very poor condition, 16 percent was poor, 31 percent was in fair condition, 26 percent was good, and three percent was in excellent condition.

“Mostly, farmers have been happy to get the rain. We haven’t heard of too much freeze damage, only spotty areas. The extra moisture this year has definitely helped wheat’s progress,” said Glenda Mostek, Communications and Marketing Director, Colorado Association of Wheat Growers.

She continued, “More areas of the state have received sufficient rainfall, although the southeast part of the state is still in extreme drought. Areas north of I-70 have had more moisture than last year.”

Spring wheat seeding was virtually completed as of last week, with 72 percent having emerged, compared with 75 percent last year and 81 percent on average. Up from 70 percent last week, 91 percent of the spring barley crop had emerged. Eighty-seven percent of the winter wheat crop was jointed, up 19 percentage points from the previous week. Thirty-eight percent was headed, compared with 9 percent last year and 45 percent on average.

Colorado topsoil moisture for May 27 was reported at 15 percent very short, 35 percent short, 48 percent adequate, and two percent surplus. Subsoil moisture was rated 26 percent very short, 29 percent short, 44 percent adequate, and one percent surplus.

Severe weather did have an impact on some areas.

“We had about 8,000 now we are down to 6,000. We lost 2,000 to hail. Otherwise, it looks really good. We are on the verge of having an extremely good crop. It came through the winter really well, and we didn’t see any huge events other than the hail a week ago. Most of it is doing very well,” said Mark Linnebur, a wheat farmer near Byers, Colo.

Even with the lost acreage, Linnebur is still optimistic.

“It’s been a very good year for us. We had a freeze on Mother’s day, and that was a little bit of a scare. I think the crop was young enough that it didn’t hurt it too much. It was just heading out, so I’m not too worried about the freeze at this point,” he said.

He continued, “We have had a very nice, cool spring. I like this. People will complain about the hail and we did take a good hit, however, I’d much rather have that situation than if it were dry and dirt blowing and 95 degrees.”

He’s expecting yields in the high 40s to low 50s in bushels per acre.

“As far as marketing, we expect hail every year. If you don’t, you shouldn’t be farming in Colorado. We normally expect up to 10 percent. Rarely do we see 25 percent. We only marketed as much as we thought we should, and until it’s in the bin, you never know. We have planned pretty well,” he stated.

The amount of wheat produced this year is expected to surpass last year by almost double.

“USDA is predicting we will have a much larger crop, partially because more acres are planted to wheat than last year,” said Mostek.

The forecast for winter wheat production in Colorado came out on May 9, and based on conditions as of May 1, is forecast at 84.15 million bushels. This forecast is 90 percent above last year’s drought reduced production of 44.28 million bushels and 14 percent above the 73.78 million bushel crop produced two years ago.

Acreage for harvest, estimated at 2.55 million acres, is 910,000 acres more than a year ago. Average yield is forecast at 33.0 bushels per acre, up 6.0 bushels per acre from last year’s yield, but 12.0 bushels per acre below the record high yield of 45.0 set in 2010.

This year’s crop was planted under mostly favorable conditions last fall resulting in good, but variable stands going into winter dormancy.

Following a relatively mild winter, cool temperatures experienced in March and April have delayed crop development to about one to two weeks behind normal, statewide. Damaging wind has produced dust storms and blow-out in the southeastern growing areas. Variable soil moisture supplies ranging from mostly short in the southern areas to adequate in the northern areas currently exist. Final yield will largely be determined by the combination of moisture and temperature conditions during May and June.

U.S. winter wheat production is forecast at 1.4 billion bushels, down 9 percent from 2013. As of May 1, the United States yield is forecast at 43.1 bushels per acre, down 4.3 bushels from last year. Hard Red Winter production, at 746 million bushels, is up slightly from a year ago.

Soft Red Winter, at 447 million bushels, is down 21 percent from 2013. White Winter, at 209 million bushels, is down 7 percent from a year ago. Of the White Winter production, 10.9 million bushels are Hard White and 198 million bushels are Soft White.

Wheat is an important crop in Colorado.

“It is important because it contributes a good deal to our economy. The 2012 hard winter wheat crop was valued at approximately $571,795,000. (Final numbers are not yet in for 2013). During the 2012-13 marketing year, an estimated 59,878,400 bushels of wheat valued at approximately $464,057,600 were exported to 60 different countries. During the past decade, Colorado wheat production has created approximately 15,666 jobs annually. Approximately 7,485 (48 percent) of these jobs can be directly attributed to wheat exports,” stated Mostek.

She continued, “Wheat is also an important rotational crop. In Colorado’s dry climate, farmers can’t grow one crop year after year in the same field. They alternate between wheat and other crops as a way of maintaining soil health and moisture.”

Linnebur is one of the farmers who uses wheat in a rotation.

“We rotate dryland wheat, dryland corn and sometimes grow a little millet or sunflowers. It’s a pretty good rotation that’s been working for us,” he said

Linnebur has been farming with his family nearly all his life, and has a partnership with his five brothers on their farm, and his family has farmed since the 1930s.

“I decided it’s the way of life I wanted and moved back to the farm after college,” he explained.

He is just now getting his corn in the ground, and has high hopes for that crop as well.

“We had a hard rain that crusted the soil an inch deep, so we had to replant those areas. There is a good moisture profile in the soil, and I hope it continues to do well. It’s been a better year this year than the last few years,” he said.

He continued, “It’s been dry since 2002, but it makes us better farmers and even through dry years our averages have gone up. No-till has really helped. We are trying some new stuff and that has really helped.”

The drought monitor, as of May 29, shows Colorado with 45 percent of the state with no drought conditions, roughly 25 percent is abnormally dry, 11 percent is in a moderate drought, a little over four percent is in a severe drought, 10.5 percent of the state is in an extreme drought, and roughly two percent of the state, all in the southeast corner, is in a exceptional drought.

“Continuing drought in the southeast is the biggest challenge so far,” stated Mostek. ❖