No one was expecting 2012 to be a banner year for Weld County farmers, and, as harvest rolls around for many crops, no producer is claiming it will be.
But despite the challenges — such as the Greeley area experiencing its driest and hottest year on record and snowpack in the mountains amounting to only a fraction of historic average — there’s still green growing in rural Weld County, plenty of it in certain areas.
While each farmers’ situation is different — depending on their water rights, limitations on pumping groundwater and other factors — many local farmers say now things aren’t as bad now as they’d predicted they would be.
After receiving a couple timely rains in July and putting in extra man hours to stretch limited irrigation supplies as far as they could go, farmers believe yields for some crops in certain fields could be about average.
“It’s certainly not a great year .... but considering what we were looking at, and considering how things look now, we feel pretty fortunate,” said Lynn Fagerberg, an Eaton-area producer of onions, corn and beans. “We now have enough irrigation water to make it until the first of September. A couple months ago, I wouldn’t have at all guessed we’d make it through August.”
Harvest for some crops — particularly onions — is already under way, and for others — corn, pinto beans and sugar beets — it will be ramping up during the next few weeks.
Back during the planting season in the spring, many farmers left some acres bare because of expected water shortages, and then the heat and lack of moisture this summer took its toll on some crops that were planted.
Fagerberg said he left about 10 percent of his acres fallow, and the hot and dry conditions “certainly affected” some of his crops’ growth. He said he’s about four weeks into his onion harvest — nearly two weeks ahead of schedule — and yields overall look to be a bit below average.
He said he also expects the same for his corn and beans, once they’re harvested in the next few weeks.
“But we really can’t complain,” he added, also explaining the heat is actually helping farmers in some ways — forcing crops to mature early and, as a result, allowing farmers to harvest their crops ahead of schedule at a time they’re running out of water.
Tougher Times to the South
However, in certain parts of the county, specifically in the LaSalle/Gilcrest area, where many farmers are restricted in their ability to pump groundwater, and also farm in sandier soil that doesn’t hold moisture as well, it has been more difficult.
Dave Eckhardt — a LaSalle-area grower of sugar beets, onions, corn and dry beans — said his family had to leave about 500 acres bare to begin with this year and let another 400 acres go as they diverted water from those crops to save others.
Onion harvest recently wrapped up at the Eckhardt farm, and, what the family was able to grow, produced about average yields, or a little lower.
Eckhardt said right now he predicts corn silage yields on the farm will be about 24 tons per acre — down from an average of about 32 tons per acre. Pinto beans, too, he said, are likely to produce below-average yields, while it’s too early to tell how grain corn is coming along.
“It’s just not been a good year,” he said.
Local farmers who have crops to harvest this year are at least looking to get good prices for their goods.
Because drought either has or is expected to take a toll on crops throughout the country, production nationwide is expected to be down — the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for example, has twice slashed its forecast for this year’s corn output because of the punishing drought in the Midwest.
Crop prices have been climbing as a result.
In the spring, when farmers were planting, corn prices were less than $5 a bushel.
Now, they’re more than $8.
“In general, we have a lot to be thankful for,” Fagerberg said.
What other Weld County farmers are saying about this year’s crops:
» Mike Hungenberg (Eaton/Ault area producer of carrots, cabbage, corn and dry beans) said his operation is about six weeks into harvesting its carrots and cabbage, and the crops’ yields are looking about average so far, maybe a little below. He added he believes his pinto beans have been affected by the heat, as have his onions — the latter of which he’s harvesting right now. He expects yields to be down a bit for those crops. He further noted it’s too early to tell what effects the weather has had on his corn.
» Harry Strohauer (LaSalle-area producer of potatoes, corn and onions, among other crops) said his potatoes are looking decent, but only because his farm pulled water away from other crops. As far as his corn goes, he said, yields will likely range all across the board — some acres, depending on water availability, look good for now, others might produce half-of-average yields, at best, while other acres were severely damaged.
» Bob Sakata (Brighton-based producer of onions, corn, sweet corn, dry beans and cabbage, having operations that stretch throughout Weld County): “It was a very challenging year, but we’re looking at normal harvests in most cases.”
» Dave Petrocco (Brighton-based grower of onions, lettuce, peppers and other vegetables, with operations that stretch throughout Weld County) said he left about 10 percent of his acres fallow due to expected water shortages, and said yields for his harvested onions, lettuce and peppers have been below average — about 20 percent below average in some cases.
» Marc Arnusch (Keenesberg-area farmer, who grows corn and sugar beets, among other crops): “It certainly won’t be a top-end year for yields,” he said, explaining his corn and sugar beets are looking about average heading into harvest. “But things turned out better than expected, for the most part it seems.”
It certainly won’t be a top-end year for yields. But things turned out better than expected, for the most part it seems.
— Marc Arnusch, Keenesburg-area farmer