More than 700,000 acres of wheat expected to be abandoned in SE Colo. |

More than 700,000 acres of wheat expected to be abandoned in SE Colo.

The northern Front Range and northeast Colorado have received some relief in recent weeks, but that's not been the case for southeast Colorado, which remains in a historic drought, and where it's anticipated that about 700,000 acres of wheat will be abandoned.
Rainer Kuehnl |

Colorado’s overall winter wheat production is expected to be dragged down significantly this year by an anticipated abandonment of about 700,000 acres in the southeast part of the state.

Those 700,000 acres account for more than 30 percent of the state’s total winter wheat acres.

“In its most recent report, the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) was predicting Colorado’s winter wheat abandonment rate to be about 20 percent,” said Darrell Hanavan, executive director for the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers. “I have no doubts that we’re going to exceed 30 percent by the time all is said and done.

“There’s just been no moisture in southeast Colorado, a couple bad freezes, and now there’s just nothing growing there.”

During Colorado’s historic drought year of 2002 — a 300-year drought, by some estimations — the state’s abandonment rate of winter wheat acres was 29.8 percent, Hanavan said.

Those with an even closer view of the problem agree with Hanavan’s bleak assessment.

“We’ve seen some dry years, but we’ve never seen anything like this,” said Burl Scherler, a wheat grower from Sheridan Lake, Colo.

An abundance of moisture along the northern Front Range and timely rains along the plains of northeast Colorado have helped crops in that area, and Hanavan said those areas are expected to produce average or even above average crops.

But the drought to the south is dragging down numbers for entire state.

According to a comprehensive wheat outlook released earlier in the month, the Colorado Agricultural Statistics Service is forecasting a winter wheat harvest of nearly 62 million bushels in Colorado this year.

That’s 16 percent below last year’s production of almost 73.8 million bushels.

How the final crop turns out will depend on moisture and temperatures in June — at least for some.

“The crop down here is just gone,” Scherler said of wheat in southeast Colorado. “No matter how much rain we get from here on out, it’s not coming back.”

Altogether, more than 50 percent of the state’s winter wheat — expected to be harvested next month and into July, if at all — was listed in “poor” or “very poor” condition, according to a USDA report released Thursday.

That same report showed that only 15 percent of the state’s wheat crop was in “good” condition, with an additional one percent in “excellent” condition.

The remainder — 32 percent — was listed as “fair.”

At the same time a year ago, only 13 percent was listed as “poor” or “very poor,” with 43 percent of the state’s crop in “good” condition and five percent in “excellent” shape.

An abundance of moisture during April helped the northern Front Range recover, and now, that’s the only part of the state not enduring some degree of drought, according to the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor, released Thursday.

However, the counties in that region make up little of the state’s winter wheat production.

Weld, Larimer and Boulder counties, for example, account for less than 10 percent of the state’s winter wheat acres.

The northeastern plains of Colorado — where more of the state’s wheat is grown — remains in “severe” drought, but has received timely rains recently — enough to revive a drought-tolerant wheat crop, Hanavan said.

Wheat growers in the southeast section of the state remain in worst shape — dealing with “extreme” or “exceptional” drought, according to U.S. Drought Monitor.

“Not only is losing the crop this year a major issues, with nothing growing now, we don’t know how we’re going to produce the seed we need for next year,” Scherler said. “We’ve never had these issues.” ❖


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