More corn, wheat and sugar planned for Colorado this year |

More corn, wheat and sugar planned for Colorado this year

Dust rises in the air as a farmer plows the soil to prepare for this years planting season. The main crops grown in Weld County are corn, alfalfa, sugar beets, pinto beans and potatoes.
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Colorado farmers will plant more corn, wheat and sugar beets this year, but have drastically cut back on the acreage of dry beans, according to the Colorado office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Nationally, the acreage planned for corn, if realized, will be the second largest since 1944, the statistical service said in its annual prospective plantings survey.

Weld County is a leader in the production of corn, wheat and sugar beets, as well as other commodities as it remains the top agricultural county in Colorado, with an annual value of $1.54 billion in receipts for agricultural products, according to the most recent Census of Agriculture.

In Colorado, growers intend to plant 1.37 million acres of corn for all purposes, up 3 percent from last year.

Mark Sponsler is the CEO of Greeley-based Colorado Corn. He looks at the survey as good news, but said that while the price of corn may be driving the desire to plant more this year, corn farmers are also looking at higher input costs mainly due to the ever-increasing price of petroleum products.

“So there’s a whole lot more gamble out there, as well,” Sponsler said. “It would be nice to see strong commodity prices without increases in inputs.”

Corn, he added, is a versatile crop that is used in thousands of products, including ethanol, which helps ease the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. And, he added, all analysis done by various groups in the past couple of years has indicated that the use of corn to make ethanol is not the reason behind rising food costs.

“Even at $6 a bushel, corn is still a bargain,” Sponsler said, which is about two times higher than at the same time a year ago. And, he pointed out, a byproduct of ethanol is quality livestock feed, where most of the corn produced in the U.S. is utilized.

The biggest decline in state acreage in the coming year is dry beans, forecast to be down to 49,000 acres from 70,000 acres in 2010. Nationally, acreage is forecast to be down 32 percent to 1.3 million acres. Those decreases are attributed to intentions of competing crops, including corn and wheat. Acreage is down in 16 of the 18 growing states, the statistics service said. North Dakota, the largest producing state, will be down 350,000 acres.

Larry Lande with Northern Feed and Bean in Lucerne, Colo., is also an official with the Colorado Bean Growers. He said the drop in acreage is not a surprise.

“It’s all corn driven,” he said. Last year, he added, there was an increase of 25 percent in sales of bean seed, this year it’s gone the other way.

“But we’re hoping for good (bean) prices. We’ll just have to wait and see,” he said.

Winter wheat acres in Colorado, planted last fall, are up 50,000 acres, while sugar beet acreage is forecast to be up by 1,300 acres from the 30,200 acres planted a year ago. Spring wheat plantings are forecast at 40,000 acres, up 12,000 acres from last year. Those increases are also due to increased prices farmers realized in 2010.

The increase in sugar beet acreage, said Kent Wimmer, spokesman for the Western Sugar Cooperative in Denver, Colo., is mainly due to higher yields, and more sugar contributed to the use of Roundup Ready sugar beet seeds. As a result of those higher yields, Wimmer said the start of early harvest, this year on Sept. 10, is a week earlier than in the past. In addition, the cooperative’s factories will take a week longer to process beets, with that goal set at Feb. 10 of next year.

The company gave the go ahead to its growers to pick up seed for this year’s crop in late March.

“So they will be putting them in the ground in the next week or so, depending on weather,” he said. Western contracts beets in Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana, and markets the sugar from those beets nationwide through its GW label and several private brands.

Nationally, sugar beet acreage is forecast at a 1 percent increase to 1.19 million acres. The largest increase is in North Dakota, where growers intend to increase acreage by 10,000 to 227,000 acres.

Hay acreage is forecast to remain level at 1.6 million acres for Colorado. Nationally, the acreage is forecast to drop by 1 percent and, if realized, will be the fourth lowest on record.

The only other major decline in acreage for Colorado was for sunflowers, down 32,000 acres to 100,000, the survey indicated. That decrease can also be attributed to increases in corn and wheat.

Dry conditions are taking a toll on the state’s winter wheat crop, according to the latest Colorado Crop Progress report from the state office of U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The report lists 57 percent of the state’s winter wheat crop in very poor to poor condition, 31 percent in fair condition and the remaining in good to excellent.

In comparison, last year on the same date, 4 percent of the crop was in poor condition, 81 percent was rated fair to good and 15 percent was rated in excellent condition.

Meanwhile, sugar beet growers had 2 percent of this year’s crop planted as of the beginning of this week, compared to the five-year average of 14 percent and onion planting had increased to 45 percent, 4 percent better than the five-year average.

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