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Wheat harvest begins in Colorado

The combines have begun to roll through wheat fields in Colorado and thus far, it appears to be a story of two crops.

Madison Andersen, communications coordinator at Colorado Wheat, said the 10-stop wheat tour was an excellent opportunity — despite high temperatures — to meet new staff at Colorado State University. Dr. Robyn Roberty, CSU field crops pathologist; Dr. Punya Nachappa, assistant professor of entomology at CSU studying wheat stem sawfly; and Erika Peirce, CSU entymology Ph.D student studying sawfly, and Dr. Eston Mason, CSU wheat breeder, were all able to join the tour to speak about stripe rust and saw fly research.

Attendees tour the wheat variety plots at the 2019 High Plains Ag Lab June field day. Photo courtesy Nebraska Extension

Mason said wheat harvest has begun in southeastern Colorado and he has heard excitement about yield potential from growers who received fall moisture further north. The most recent round of high temperatures is likely to hurt the crop but the cooler temperatures that followed should bring some relief.



“All in all, I think it’s going to be a pretty good crop,” he said. “Where they did get a good stand, I think it’ll be a good crop.”

Andersen said harvest in southeastern Colorado has been stop and go with rain showers chasing crews out of fields. There is, she said, significant abandonment in that area. In Baca County, she said growers were estimating nearly 80% abandonment in April with about 50% in Prowers County.



“It was a rough winter,” she said. “They dusted it in and a lot of acres were sprayed out and destroyed but what wasn’t, I was pleasantly surprised. There was an average protein of 12.5%, which is pretty good, and I’ve even heard yields in the 40s.”

There is about a week and a half remaining in that area and areas around Lamar are likely to begin cutting at the end of the week prior to the holiday.

Test weights have ranged from 56 to 62 pounds with an average of about 59.

SAWFLY DAMAGE

Mason said he has seen numerous sawflies, but the damage won’t be seen until stems ripen and harvest approaches.

“The entymologist said that the flight this year was heavy, about what would be expected,” he said. “We’re going to see some damage but it’s a little early still.”

Development of semi solid stem varieties to resist sawfly damage is at the center of much of Mason’s breeding work. CSU has a nursery site in Akron and that is being utilized to breed those varieties and cooperators around the state grow the different varieties in trials. As harvest nears, much of Mason’s time has been spent preparing for harvest.

The Colorado Wheat Tour, he said, was an excellent opportunity to visit with the growers who he said are engaged and interested in the work being done at CSU. Prior to joining CSU last August, Mason was a soft wheat breeder for 10 years at the University of Arkansas.

Wheat stem sawfly, Andersen said, began in Morgan and Weld County and Interstate 70 seems to be the dividing line, with sawfly remaining to the north. She said the sawfly emergence was so heavy in some areas that growers reported the insects hitting windshields like rain.

Areas north of I-70 have seen, for the most part, more moisture and yield potential. She said there are dryland fields that have the potential to yield 80 to 90 bushels, and some that might only yield 20 bushels, and they might be located in close proximity to one another. Fields planted early received some September moisture, so despite differences across the state, she said they anticipate an average crop.

“I hate to say that because there’s still so much that can happen,” she said.

TOTAL BUSHELS

Last year, the state saw a near-record low of 45 million bushels harvested and this year the prediction is 65 million bushels. While it’s an increase, it’s still down from 2019’s record high 91 million bushels.

“It’s amazing in agriculture what can change in a year,” she said.

Colorado Wheat staff is currently attending the U.S. Wheat meetings and is in the midst of a Plains Gold variety marketing campaign, including a variety to combat sawfly. She said while it’s not the silver bullet, it could buy a little time for sawfly damaged wheat to remain standing to be harvested. The variety, Fortify SF, will be available to growers this fall and Andersen said they anticipate incredible demand.

At the U.S. Wheat meetings, there is much talk about Russia’s export tax, which is changed weekly. Russia has experienced dry weather as well. She said President Putin recalls bread shortages as a child and imposed the export tax to ensure the country would not again experience that situation. Additionally, the Pacific Northwest and North Dakota are both in the grips of serious drought, which will affect supply.


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