Farmers fall behind on planting |

Farmers fall behind on planting

Bill JacksonDave Eckhardt of Eckhardt Farms of La Salle, Colo., works a field south of La Salle recently getting it ready for transplant onions. This years Spring's planting operations have been delayed somewhat by cold soil temperatures and early Spring snow and rain storms.

Marc Arnusch, like all northern Colorado farmers, has been trying to get field work done this spring in between weather systems.

“We were fortunate and got a lot of field work done in late March, but it’s been a real challenge the past two or three weeks,” said Arnusch, who farms in southeast Weld County. That included another system that moved through the area in early April and left upwards of

2-inches or more of snow or a soft hail.

“We had 1 to 2 inches of hard hail about 8 in the morning one day (last) week. I guess the correct term is graupel, but it was strange,” Arnusch said of the tiny snow pellets. He said countywide, farmers are at least a week behind, adding there are a lot of corn stalks still standing in fields that haven’t been worked yet getting those fields ready for this year’s growing season.

The combination of cold temperatures over the winter months, which kept soil temperatures colder than usual, and spring weather systems have put farmers back a week to 10 days or more in getting this year’s crops planted. In the latest report from the Colorado office of the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, the planting of onions is 15 percent behind the five-year average, while sugar beets are lagging by almost 10 percent and barley is 8 percent behind the long-term average. The planting of other field crops usually starts in mid-April and continues into May.

“We finally got our seeded onions all in about two weeks ago and will get started on transplants (last) week. We’re behind on sugar beets, too, but hopefully we can get caught up pretty soon,” Arnusch said.

Bill Markham farms along the Weld-Larimer border near Berthoud, Colo., and said he got the last of his barley planted just prior to the latest storms to move through the area.

“We might have another little 10-acre patch where we might put in some more, but we got done the other night about 8,” Markham, who grows the crop for the Coors Brewing Company. In an average year, he said he likes to plant that crop in late February to early March.

“But you know, the best thing that could have happened was that snow and rain we got (last week),” he said.

Colorado farmers intend to increase corn acreage by 23 percent from 2009 to 1.35 million acres, according to the Colorado agricultural statistics office, but the planting of that crop won’t get started until later this month.

Winter wheat, planted last fall, covers 2.5 million acres, but that’s down 150,000 acres from 2009. Hay farmers are expected to harvest 1.63 million acres, up 30,000 acres from 2009. Those are the top three crops in the state in acreage.

Sugar beet acreage is expected to fall 5,300 acres from last year’s planting of about 30,000 acres due to a bumper crop last year, while dry bean acreage will go up 1,000 acres to 58,000 this year. Sunflowers are expected to increase by 54,000 acres to 145,000 acres, while barley acreage is expected to decrease 5,000 acres to 73,000 for 2010. Spring wheat will be up 5,000 acres to 35,000 while sorghum acres are forecast to be up by 20,000 to 200,000 acres, the service said.

Markham said he hasn’t planted any sugar beets this year, but given the high cost of seed and other inputs, he said he’d just as soon wait until he’s pretty sure he would lose any of that crop to weather.

“There’s some beets in the ground around, but not much,” he said.

Going into spring planting, the service said most growing areas have adequate soil moisture supplies, noting final acreages actually planted for several crops will be determined by irrigation water prospects at planting time and changes in economic conditions.

“Our soil moisture is just excellent and while I don’t have the exact figures, I would say our reservoirs down here are as full as they’ve been for a long time. The winter wheat is really good,” Arnusch said.

Nationally, when the report was released, the price of corn – and soybeans – dropped on the Chicago Board of Trade. But the prospective plantings report, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s quarterly grain stocks report, contain what Matt Hartwig, director of public affairs Renewable Fuels Association, called interesting information.

Nationally, the USDA forecasts 88.8 million acres of corn to be planted this spring, virtually unchanged from a year ago. And, at the same time, the USDA said current corn stocks are at 7.69 billion bushels, up 11 percent from a year ago.

So, Hartwig said in an e-mail, acreage for all major crops hasn’t increased – incremental needs for ethanol are being met through crop switching and not land use change.

Also, corn in storage is at its highest level since 1987, a year in which an all-time record surplus of corn was recorded, and the amount of corn currently stored on farms – some 4.6 billion bushels – is larger than the amount of corn expected to be processed into ethanol during the period 2009-2010, which Hartwig said is 4.2 billion bushels. In addition, at 7.7 billion bushels, the total amount of corn in storage is larger than the total amounts of corn harvest annually as recent as the 1990s.

“Obviously, this all demonstrates quite convincingly that corn supplies are more than ample and will easily satisfy all demands with corn to spare,” Hartwig said.

But right now Arnusch and other farmers are looking for a change in the weather.

“What we need right now is warmer weather and some heat units to get things going,” he said.


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