Mother Nature hails down on fall harvest
Fall harvest progress
Crop 2016 2015 5-year average
Alfalfa (fourth cutting) 86% 73% 81%
Corn 53% 29% 45%
Dry beans 94% 89% 90%
Onions 93% 99% 95%
Sorghum 62% 44% 27%
Sugar beets 27% 51% 59%
Sunflowers 38% 58% 44%
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service
In June, when Larry Lande talked to pinto bean producers, he was greeted with happy, optimistic thoughts and chats. By late summer, though, his farmers’ brows were furrowed with worry.
“The harvest itself was not one of our more pleasant harvests. The yields overall were probably less than expected, largely due to Mother Nature,” he said.
Lande is the manager at Northern Feed and Bean in Lucerne, Colo., which specializes in processing and selling dry beans.
Good, timely moisture after spring planting gave crops the water needed to grow, and a hot summer allowed them to mature in the field, which in turn gave producers a false sense of hope that this year might be better than the past few.
But Weld was struck late in the season by damaging wind and hailstorms, creating losses across the county.
“The big hailstorm came in and was pretty widespread. It started out in Wellington and ended at Kersey,” Lande said. “Some of the fields, they wouldn’t even harvest because the fields were so bad.”
He estimated 3,000 acres of beans were affected by hail in Weld.
The saving grace though, is that a hundredweight of pinto beans is selling for $30 this fall — about $10 higher than the same time last year. That will make up for some of the losses.
But not all of the crops hit by bad weather have that saving grace of a high market price. In fact, pinto beans are one of the only commodities enjoying a higher-than-usual payout.
LaSalle, Colo., farmer Dave Eckhardt is worried. His corn and beans were hit by hail in early August, affecting about 600 acres and destroying about 200. He will harvest much of the corn that was hit in the next week, and he expects low yields and an average year at best.
That’s disappointing, considering how good his crops looked at the beginning of the year.
Corn, sugar beets and other Weld County staples are resting low on the sales market, and storms were the second punch in the Weld farmers’ stomach. The last of three hits is that the national yields for those crops are high, driving demand down and price along with it.
The higher market price made up for some of the losses for bean farmers, but after three years of low prices for traditional commodities, some farmers are considering their options.
Lande said he heard from some local producers who are looking at switching some of their acres from corn or wheat to pinto beans for a better return.
Mark Sponsler, CEO of Colorado Corn, said the corn crop has been good statewide and nationally.
According to a U.S. Department of Ag’s National Agricultural Statistics Service report from Oct. 23, the corn crop in Colorado is 14 percent in excellent condition, 62 percent is good, 20 percent is fair and less than 5 percent is in poor or very poor condition.
But even with a good or average crop, the low price at the market means it’s not a good harvest year.
“It’s one of those years that hopefully farmers have enough equity to see them through,” Sponsler said. “It takes a lot of money to keep an operation going.”
Even for the farmers who didn’t get hit with mid-season hail, the end of the season is proving just as tough.
This summer’s hail mostly skipped the farm of Joyce Kelly, who farms with her husband east of Greeley, Colo. Then, in mid-October, an extreme windstorm broke the Kellys’ harvest-ready cornstalks and knocked them to the ground.
Now, Kelly and Eckhardt are fighting a different weather phenomenon: unseasonably warm weather.
At this time last year, Eckhardt was close to finished with his sugar beet harvest. This year, he is only at the halfway point of harvesting his 450 acres. The warm weather has kept crews out of the fields many days, and the days they can harvest, the hours are limited. If they’re harvested when warm, beets will rot in the pile where they are stored at the processing factory.
Kelly said though the slow-going sugar beet harvest on her farm is about two-thirds done, beet conditions are largely poor because of hail.
The longer the beets are in the ground, the higher the risk of weather striking again with a hard freeze or snow.
The other major problem is transportation to get the beets from the fields to the factory in Fort Morgan. Eckhardt said truck drivers in the area often take 2-3 weeks of vacation from their regular jobs during sugar beet season to contract with farmers. But harvest this year has already taken that long, so many of the regular drivers have to go back to work.
After a season of hail, high winds and now, untimely heat, Eckhardt said he’s ready for this year to “hurry up and get over.” His father always told him there are only two good years in farming — 1939 and next year.
“We’ll hope for next year,” he said. ❖
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