Recent rains come ‘just in the nick of time’ for northeast Colorado’s wheat crop
Weld County wheat farmers were staring disaster in the face.
A lack of rain and snow in the fall and extending through the spring left agriculture producers sweating it out for the first seven months after they had planted their winter wheat. But because the rain eventually came in May, “just in the nick of time,” local farmers are now rejoicing over the average crop that’s expected to be harvested starting this week.
“Compared to what we were looking at, the crop we have now is really amazing,” Keith DeVoe, general manager at the Roggen Farmers Elevator, said. “It’s kind of a miracle.”
Heading into early May, Weld County wheat – or what was left of it – was on pace to produce only about five to 10 bushels per acre, noted DeVoe, a drastic drop for a crop that has averaged 30 to 35 in yields the past 10 years.
The fall off in yields could have amounted to about $20 million in losses for farmers across the county, said Bruce Bosley, a former director for the Morgan County Extension Office who now serves as a crop systems specialist in northeast Colorado.
“There’s not too many other years I can remember where the crops got off to such a slow start,” he said, while referring to the dry years of 2002 and 2006. “Things looked pretty bad there for a while.”
But then the rains came.
After dry weather in the fall created poor planting conditions for the wheat and then a lack of moisture left the crop “basically bare” into the spring, Weld County and the surrounding areas received about 5 inches of rain during a two-week period in the middle of May. That precipitation revived the crop.
“It came just in the nick of time,” Bosley said. “If it had come any later, I’m not sure it would have helped the wheat.”
Because of those rains and favorable conditions since, DeVoe and Bosley said they now expect this year’s wheat crop to bring yields in the typical 30 to 35 range when harvest begins this week and continues through the end of July.
“For a while, we were looking at not having much of a crop at all,” DeVoe said. “It’s a tribute to the crop itself, along with the innovation and advancements in farming.”
Farmers in the northeast corner of Weld County echoed DeVoe’s predictions and relief, as Chris Wirth noted that he, too, believes yields at his farm about 8 miles southwest of New Raymer will be in the 30- to 35-bushel range.
“We’re very fortunate for what we’re going to have,” he said.
But while yields are expected to match that of the last 10-year average, that won’t make up for the amount of wheat that was pulled out of the ground months back because certain areas were beyond resurrection.
Wirth estimated he tore out about 40 percent of his wheat crop. Vern Cooksey of Roggen said about 1,000 of his family’s 4,000 acres of wheat were torn out of the ground this year, a loss he estimates could be about $100,000.
“But what we destroyed, we replanted with dryland corn and sunflowers,” Cooksey said. “Hopefully those will be successful crops for us, but it’s too early to tell.”
Bosley said he has similar predictions for wheat in neighboring Morgan and Logan counties.
“After getting off to such a bad start, we had quite a recovery,” said Bosley, explaining that yields in 2006 were only around 20 bushels per acre after that wheat crop got off to its slow start.
“It certainly won’t be anything like last year, when yields were averaging in the mid- and late-40s … but I’d say it’s something to be happy about.”