Harvested wheat acres could be 91-year low amid hot and dry conditions in Colorado
The 2020 Colorado State University Extension Wheat Field Days went virtual, Colorado State University wheat breeder Scott Haley announced his upcoming retirement, and growers begin cutting what could be a historically low acre count.
Brad Erker, executive director of Colorado Wheat, said last year’s 98 million bushel crop is less likely this year due to hot, dry and windy conditions. Last year’s emergence conditions were variable across the state, 77 percent of which he said is experiencing drought conditions. In mid-March, 46 percent of the crop was in good to excellent condition but that number has since decreased. Erker said in some counties, primarily in southeast Colorado, up to 90 percent of the wheat has been abandoned and what remains is likely to be low yielding. Moving north, he said the crop improves but the dryland wheat across the state is suffering.
According to the June 30 National Agricultural Statistics Service Colorado Crop Progress Report, the state is 15 percent harvested, ahead of the five-year average of 5 percent. Overall crop condition is rated 30 percent good to excellent, 31 percent fair, and 39 percent poor to very poor. Colorado’s expected acreage to be harvested for grain is down 450,000 acres from last year to 1.55 million. If this harvest is realized, it will be a 91-year low for harvested acres.
In Baca County, harvest is 95 percent complete with an average of 57 pounds per bushel and yields between five and 18 bushels per acre. The area is experiencing a D3 drought and has a significant number of abandoned acres. Elevators in the area report 20 percent of volume taken in with harvest nearly complete.
In Prowers County, harvest picked up on June 29 with test weights ranging from 56 to 62 pounds per bushel with an average of 59 pounds per bushel. Kiowa County yields range between eight and 35 bushels per acre with test weights between 51 and 60 pounds per bushel. Cheyenne County reported test weights ranging from 48 to 61 pounds per bushel, with harvest picking up on June 29. In Kit Carson County, elevators began seeing trucks on June 29 with reported test weights between 54 and 61 pounds per bushel.
In Yuma County, activity picked up on June 29 and yields are ranging between 25 to 35 bushels per acre. In Phillips County, harvest began picking up a day earlier with test weights ranging between 55 and 56 pounds per bushel. Activity in Weld County is expected to pick up next week.
Across the state, wheat stem sawfly continues to be a problem and is increasing. Preliminary data from CSU’s entomology team showed larger populations and more data will be available after the sawfly survey is completed at the end of the summer.
“We know that insect is affecting how much wheat some farmers are willing to plant,” he said. “Fortunately we do have a few tools starting to come into play, especially in the near term with the release of a new variety last year called Fortify SF, which is a semi solid wheat variety that has more pith in the stem that will hopefully stand better under saw fly pressure.”
Erker said there are registered seed fields of Fortify SF, some of which are in areas with significant sawfly pressure and he said he anticipates more seed will be available next year.
Stripe rust was found in the state this spring but Erker said weather conditions were not conducive to the spread of the disease. CSU continues to test new varieties for strip rust resistance.
Erker said about 6 percent of wheat acres in Colorado are planted to coaxium wheat, accounting for about 115,000 acres, and 300,000 acres nationally. Coaxium wheat allows for the control of winter grassy weeds like downy brome grass, feral rye and jointed goat grass. Coaxium is owned by Colorado Wheat Research Foundation and by the wheat growers in the state.
Additionally, a partnership between Colorado Wheat and Ardent Mills and the Ultra Grain Program formed to bring hard white winter wheat forward. Premiums are available for delivery to certain elevators with a 10 cent base premium and a 30 cent premium paid at 11 percent protein, 40 cents at 12 percent protein, and 50 cents at 13 percent protein or higher.
Haley, the longtime CSU wheat breeder will be retiring at the end of 2020 after 22 years.
“It’s been a lot of fun to be the CSU wheat breeder over this time period,” Haley said. “We’ve done a lot of great things, there’s a lot of new challenges. I want to thank the Colorado wheat producer and of course I want to thank CSU. CSU continues to support our program and Colorado wheat producers really stepped up a number of years ago with increased support for the program with the increased assessment back in 2007.”
Haley said he’s leaving the program to his successor in good shape and that is a testament to the good people and good support from growers in Colorado.
Esten Mason will fill the role this fall. Mason is from the University of Arkansas and has been a soft red wheat breeder in Arkansas for the past 10 years. ❖
— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at email@example.com or (970) 768-0024.
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