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Colorado Wheat Harvest Disappoints Farmers
Colorado farmers' early hopes for a strong wheat crop this year are giving way to disappointment as the harvest comes in.

"It's been less than stellar," Baca County wheat grower Terry Swanson said. "We wouldn't be so disappointed if our expectations hadn't been so high." Hopes were soaring last fall when, after five years of drought-diminished production, ample moisture got the winter wheat crop off to a good start.

Winter wheat is planted and germinated in the fall, lies dormant over the winter, then grows through the spring and early summer until the July harvest.

But unseasonably hot weather in May dried the crop out at a sensitive point in its development. The result was yields far lower than expected.

In normal weather years, Colorado is one of the nation's top winter wheat producers. The state ranked as high as fourth in the country after a bumper crop of 103 million bushels in 1999.

But years of drought have decimated Colorado production. The 2004 harvest of 46 million bushels -- one of the worst in history -- dropped Colorado's ranking to 13th.

"It's disappointing," said Darrell Hanavan, executive director of the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers. "Essentially the crop ran out of moisture at a critical time, and it suffered some severe damage." Colorado growers have been hit by the additional burden of low crop prices. This year's estimated price of $3.04 a bushel is the lowest in five years.

Low crop yields often help push commodity prices up. But good wheat crops in the Midwest are keeping prices down, even for embattled Colorado growers.

"It's been rough, particularly with the prices we're getting," said Cleon Wilson, a winter wheat farmer near Berthoud. "With fuel and insurance costs going up, it's really hard to make any money." The surprising shortfall in this year's crop is reflected in monthly estimates reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Before the May heat wave, the USDA predicted a strong Colorado crop of 86 million bushels. The June estimate dropped to 78 million bushels, followed by a July projection of 65 million.

With almost all the crop now harvested, Hanavan is predicting a final tally of 61 million bushels -- well under the past decade's average of 76 million bushels.

"It's not a failure by any means," Swanson said, "but it's just not what we expected."
MGR Archive 31.7.2005
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