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Published August 13, 2010, 10:49 AM

Colorado wheat farmers could have $562M harvest

DENVER — Colorado has another above-average winter wheat harvest this year, with what’s projected to be a record-setting average yield, according to a forecast Thursday from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

By: Catherine Tsai, Associated Press

DENVER — Colorado has another above-average winter wheat harvest this year, with what’s projected to be a record-setting average yield, according to a forecast Thursday from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

That’s not the only good news for farmers. Thanks to prices boosted by a drought that is limiting Russian wheat exports, the Colorado crop could be worth up to $562 million, which would set another record based on dollar values alone, unadjusted for inflation, said Darrell Hanavan of the Colorado Wheat Administrative Committee.

“It feels like Christmas in August,” Hanavan said.

The USDA projected a Colorado winter wheat harvest this year of 103.5 million bushels, up from the 98 million bushels harvested last year. It would be Colorado’s largest harvest since 1985, before farmers started entering a federal program encouraging them to take some land out of production, Hanavan said.

The estimated yield of about 45 bushels per acre would top the previous record of 43 bushels per acre set in 1999.

The 10-year average for Colorado winter wheat production is 63.3 million bushels, or 30 bushels per acre.

The estimated $562 million value of Colorado’s crop is based on USDA projections of an average price as high as $5.43 a bushel. Winter wheat fetched an average $6.47 per bushel in 2008, which was a record, but Colorado’s crop was just 57 million bushels that year.

Hanavan credited the strong harvest this year to good weather, better farming practices and improved wheat varieties. Though some fields were hurt by hail, overall damage did not appear to be more than any other year, Hanavan said.

Many farmers grow varieties that Colorado State University has bred to better tolerate Colorado weather.

Among other Colorado crops, the USDA forecast corn production of 169.4 million barrels, up 12 percent from last year.

It forecast sugar beet production of 778,000 tons, down 19 percent from last year, but with average yield of 28 tons per acre. If it holds, the yield would set a record.

Apple production was expected to hold steady at around 16 million pounds in part due to late frosts and hail storms.

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