Sluggish start for Colorado winter wheat

Colorado’s winter wheat crop has had a slow start, according to the latest report from the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers.

An estimated 34 percent of the winter wheat crop was in poor and very poor condition last week, up from 25 percent in late October, Darrell Hanavan, executive director of the wheat growers association, said Tuesday.

An estimated 48 percent of the crop was in fair condition, 18 percent was in good condition and none was in excellent condition.

Winter wheat farmers typically plant the crop in September and October and harvest it the following July. The crop is not irrigated, instead relying on natural precipitation.

Farmers had little moisture when they planted winter wheat this fall.

“They prefer to plant it into moisture, but this year we didn’t have it,” Hanavan said.

Winter wheat conditions fared better on average nationwide, with 26 percent of the crop in poor to very poor condition, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report released this week.

Still, just 33 percent of the nationwide crop was rated good or excellent last week, marking the worst conditions since 1985, Bloomberg reported.

Hanavan held out hope for a good crop this year. There’s no direct correlation between early conditions and harvest, he said.

“It’s too early to tell,” he said. “Wheat is an amazing plant; this crop has the potential to recover.”

“We’re hoping that we have some winter moisture,” he added.

Farmers saw the earliest winter harvest of their 2011 crop on record in June. They lacked adequate moisture to finish growing the crop, whose average yield was 34 bushels per acre.

“We still had an above average crop, even though it suffered,” he said.

Colorado farmers planted 2,350,000 acres of winter wheat last year. Official acreage counts for this year won’t come in until January, but Hanavan believes winter wheat was planted on more acres.

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