Colorado wheat farmers get some, but not enough fall moisture
Colorado farmers needed record-breaking yields to offset low market prices after this year’s winter wheat harvest.
Now, they need heavy snowfall for any chance of a decent yield. Some wheat farmers have seen moisture despite the unseasonably warm and dry fall. For others, the continued drought leaves them clinging for hope.
Dave Anderson farms in Haxtun, Colo., which is in Phillips County, in the northeast portion of the state. Anderson said his area has been fortunate, moisture-wise most of the season.
All of his wheat has emerged and has strong stems. Even though his crop looks well, so far, the drought conditions still haven’t missed him.
“We still need a good foot or so of snow,” said Anderson, who is also the former president of the Colorado Wheat Administrative Committee.
The smaller snowstorms have been good to keep his fields afloat — about as affective as rainfall. Any small amount of moisture help, but there hasn’t been any long-term relief.
“I think this crop is off to a really dry, but good start,” Anderson said. “At least around here.”
But Anderson is one of the fortunate ones in Colorado.
Brian Brooks, president of the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers, has yet to see any moisture this fall. Brooks said early August was the last time his fields saw rainfall. Brooks farms in Walsh, Colo., which is in the far southeast corner of the state.
Brooks said with a dry start to fall, he and other farmers waited to plant their crops until some moisture set in — problem is, it didn’t.
“These other people, they sat there, like myself included, we sat here and waited for the rains, and it just never did come, so we dusted it in, and we’re still dry,” Brooks said.
Last year, Colorado had its largest winter wheat crop in history, coming in at 48 bushels per acre. The high yields were bittersweet, though, as the low prices meant most farmers were set up to just break even — despite the high yields. Some growers, like Anderson and Brooks, stored some of that wheat, hoping prices will rise.
“I’m one of the optimists, but it usually doesn’t play very well with my marketing skills.”
Randy Traxler, who farms in Otis, Colo., also stored some as well, and said he generally looks at things optimistically. Traxler delayed planting, and only about 25 percent of his crop has emerged.
Traxler’s crops were hit with the snow that passed through Colorado Dec. 6 and 7, but it’s only a start compared to what is needed.
“It helps, but we’ve got a long way to go until harvest,” he said.
Atop the warm temperatures and dry fall, Australia farmers aren’t doing a lot to help ease some of the worry for Colorado farmers.
Like Colorado farmers saw with the 2016 harvest, Australian farmers are riding the wave of high yields. With the wheat market in Colorado highly dependent on international prices — the chance of a decent rebound doesn’t look great at the moment.
Unfortunately, for some farmers, the lack of moisture could carryover and beat up the summer harvest too.
“We’re in trouble out here. We need some moisture pretty soon.” ❖