Sunflowers — a crop that covered about 300,000 acres in Colorado about 15 years ago — is expected to continue seeing its acreage decline in the state this year, according to a nationwide projected plantings report released this week.
Colorado farmers are expected to plant just 53,000 acres this spring, the report says, continuing a steady decline in Colorado that included sunflower acreages of 128,000 in 2011, then 86,000 in 2012, and 67,000 in 2013.
Last year — after a report showed Colorado’s total sunflower production in 2012 was down about 55 percent from the previous year — Colorado fell out of the top five in the U.S. for its sunflower production.
At the time, northeast Colorado farmers — who grow the bulk of Colorado’s supply — told The Tribune that the price of other commodities, like corn and wheat, led farmers to replace many of their sunflower acres with the more profitable crops during the past couple years.
In northeast Colorado, demand and prices for corn and other livestock feed sources are particularly strong. Some of the largest cattle and sheep feedlots in the nation operate in Weld County to support the likes of JBS USA in Greeley — one of the four major meat processors in the country. Additionally, the Greeley area’s rapid dairy growth — currently adding tens of thousands of cows to meet the increasing demands of an expanding Leprino Foods cheese-processing plant — has added to the livestock feed needs.
The 2012 drought took a toll on a number of crops’ production levels, but no other crop saw a production decrease like the state’s sunflowers, because of the other factors at play.
Other Spring Crops
» This spring, Colorado is expected to be one of only seven states to increase its corn acres, doing so by a slight 1 percent. Nationwide, corn acres are expected to drop by about 4 percent in 2014, from about 95.4 million acres last year to about 91.7 million acres this year.
» Percentage-wise, Colorado is expected to see its biggest jumps in its acres of oats (up 18 percent) and dry beans (up 15 percent), and its 6 percent increase in sugar beet acres was the biggest in the U.S. (a story on Colorado’s sugar beet acres appeared in Tuesday’s Tribune, and is online at www.greeleytribune.com). Colorado farmers are also expected to see a slight uptick in barley acres (up 2 percent).
» In addition to sunflowers (down 21 percent), Colorado is expected to see a big decrease in acres of sorghum (down 19 percent).
Also included in this week’s report were the estimated acres of winter wheat, planted back in the fall. Colorado, according to the report, saw a 24 percent jump in winter wheat from the previous year.
The much-improved planting conditions this past fall played a big part in more acres of winter wheat being planted in Colorado. In September, when the bulk of winter wheat is planted, some areas of Colorado received as much as five times, or more, of its normal rainfall.
In Weld County, the state’s largest ag-producing county, water issues have also played a part in the increase of wheat acres. Many Front Range cities cut back recently on how much water they lease to area farmers — particularly cutting back in 2013, because many cities’ reservoirs needed to be refilled after being depleted during the 2012 drought.
That being the case, many farmers about a year ago reported that acres they typically devoted to corn or other crops had been planted with winter wheat, since wheat is a less water-dependent crop.