Northern Colorado barley growers hope for dry weather to continue harvest
Wheat and barley farmers have a lot in common.
But above all else right now, both concur that the rain isn’t leaving the area fast enough.
Just as wheat harvest has gotten off to a slow start due to continued moisture, the same can be said for barley harvest, which was expected to kick off late last week.
“What we need now is hot, dry, breezy weather,” Bill Markham of M&M Farms near Berthoud said after test cutting in his fields last Thursday afternoon but stopping early due to the amount of moisture still on the crop. “The only way we’re going to make any progress is if we get the rain to stay out of here.”
Markham, whose family has produced barley for The Coors Brewing Company – now MillerCoors – the last 52 years, said the crop on his 350 acres is looking good right now.
But, as in wheat, problems could arise if the moisture sits on the crop too much longer.
“You can start to get a little discoloration in the crop,” said Markham, who noted he’s already seen signs of the barley being “water stained. That’s sometimes an indicator of mold.”
Markham further noted that some of the barley this year may have been affected already by the moisture, but he and other farmers won’t know until the crop returns from germination tests done by MillerCoors.
“We’ll just have to wait and see,” he said. “I’d like to say it’s going to be an average or above-average crop, but it’ll be a while before we know for sure.”
Tom Richardson, regional manager for MillerCoors’ Northern Colorado Region, echoed Markham’s comments.
“As of now, it’s looking to be a typical harvest,” said Richardson, who’s worked for Coors 12 years.
Richardson noted that M&M Farms is one of about 75 producers working along the Front Range region for Coors, covering about 10,000 acres, and that farm’s situation matches that of about every other in the area.
“Everyone is just hoping to see the weather dry up.”
Bob Hamblen, director of the Colorado State University Boulder County Extension Office, said yields for the crop have averaged between 85 bushels per acre to about 110.
“From what I’ve seen in the fields I’ve been to, you could probably look for yields to be in the lower part of that range,” he said. “If the moisture doesn’t cause too many issues.”
In addition to the concerns of discoloration and mold from too much moisture, Hamblen also said weed growth could become a problem, especially if the weeds peak higher than the barley heads. Swathing to rid the fields of weeds would prolong the harvest process even more so, leaving the barley at risk for further damage.
“The rain has certainly been good in some ways, but there’s no doubt there’s been enough at this point,” Hamblen said. “We certainly have potential for a decent crop, but we need quite a bit of cooperation from the weather.”
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