Thunderstorm in New Raymer, Colo., damages wheat crop
July 25, 2016
The wheat harvest in the New Raymer area was going well. A massive thunderstorm July 17 changed that.
"It was pretty devastating," New Raymer wheat farmer Jim Mertens said of the storm. "It's definitely going to affect the harvest because there's only half as much wheat out there now."
Mertens grows wheat, corn and millet. Both the wheat and the corn were damaged by the storm, according to Mertens' son Cole, who also farms on the family's land, although there was no harm done to the millet.
Summer storms have the potential to wipe out a wheat crop, and Sunday's storm was especially bad because of hail. Hail is especially damaging because it can break the wheat, meaning its stalks are cut, making it useless for harvest.
Such storms, while crushing, are an accepted reality in the farming industry.
"Hail is the big one," said Scott Haley, a wheat breeder at Colorado State University. "If the storm doesn't come with hail or it doesn't last long, it will cause less damage, but there's really not much a farmer can do about it."
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Haley said weather is only half the problem, though. Wheat, especially in the New Raymer area, can also fall victim to the wheat stem sawfly, an insect which cuts the stems of the crop and leaves it vulnerable to high winds.
Farmers can take precautions against the worst of these risks, but there is no guarantee.
"Timely harvest is really the thing that comes to mind," Haley said. "And farmers can diversify too. If farmers have, say, both corn and wheat, the damage to one crop might not be as bad to one as it is to the other."
For farmers like Cole and Jim Mertens, there's little to be done after a storm like this. Cole said crop insurance will help them get some returns on the wheat, but not as much as the crop itself would have brought in.
"The wheat that was out there was way better than anything the insurance would get us, so it would've been a lot more money," Cole said.
Sometimes, the harvest is still out of farmers' hands.
"There's nothing you can do about the weather," Haley said. ❖