Wet weather complicates fall harvest for local farmers | MyWindsorNow.com

Wet weather complicates fall harvest for local farmers

Trevor Reid
treid@greeleytribune.com

Normally at this time of the year, Dave Petrocco has all of his onions harvested. This year, he's less than a third of the way there.

"It's just too wet," Petrocco said.

The owner of Petrocco Farms isn't alone. Weld County farmers have a few crops that need drier conditions for harvesting, particularly onions, beans, sugar beets and corn silage. The reasons vary from crop-to-crop, but farmers agree:

"We like dry weather in the fall," said Ed Croissant of Raven Farms.

For onions, there are a couple complications, Petrocco explained. The heavy crop is harvested with a machine that pulls onions up from the soil with a chain that digs about three inches into the soil. When the soil's wet, it builds up on the chains, which can quickly render the harvester inoperable.

The onions themselves must dry out to have tops that meet U.S. Department of Agriculture standards. The chain of the harvester leads up to a sickle. There, a blower uses air pressure to make the onions stand up, where the sickle then cuts the tops. But when those tops are wet, they become too heavy for the blower to work.

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Onions make up about 550 out of 3,000 acres of vegetables Petrocco grows in Weld and Adams counties. His other vegetables, including cabbage, lettuce, peppers, spinach, squash, greens and beets are harvested by hand, so the wet soil isn't as much of a problem. Unfortunately, it does make the harvest more costly because of the added difficulty getting crops out of the wet fields.

Petrocco said it's a race against time to get the onions out of the ground before a frost destroys the crops. And if that doesn't kill it, continued moisture inside the onion bulbs will lead to decay if the crops aren't harvested soon.

Croissant's Raven Farms is located in the Lucerne area, north of Greeley. He's finding similar problems from the past two weeks of cool cloudiness. On a normal year, just as Petrocco would have finished his onions, Croissant would have finished harvesting beans. The cold, wet spell in late August can be blamed for the late maturation of the crops, he said.

He's about halfway through his bean harvest, but the wet conditions have delayed further progress. If the beans don't dry out soon, they could begin to re-sprout.

"You'd have to probably discard everything," he said.

With all the expenses that go into raising crop — including seeds, labor, weeding, pest control, cultivation, irrigation, fertilizing and even the cost of the land itself — that's no easy hit to take. Croissant said that could translate to a loss of about $1,000 an acre for his bean crops.

"When Mother Nature takes it from you, it's a complete loss," Petrocco said.

Dave Eckhardt isn't as worried about his shell corn; it's a hardier crop that's fine as long as it's still standing, he said. He farms with his father and brother south of LaSalle, around Peckham.

The corn kernels need a low moisture content to meet certain feedlot standards, and wet ears of corn can plug up the combine used to harvest the crops. Each storm sets the harvest back by a few days. This year, the harvest seems to be behind by about seven to 10 days, Eckhardt said. Having harvested as late as the new year, Eckhardt said he's not too concerned.

"There's a lot of nice looking corn around the county. I'd assume it would be as good as last year," he said.

The wet soil conditions in Weld could spell trouble for the sugar beet harvest, which is supposed to start Monday, Croissant said. A serious frost could destroy farmers' sugar beets if they can't harvest the crops in time.

Petrocco said farmers need sunshine and a breeze to help dry out the soil. But according to the National Weather Service, Weld is due for some rain or snow come Monday.

"It's looking really, really bad," Petrocco said looking over fields of onions yet to be harvested.

Celebrate fall harvest

Northern Colorado’s agricultural industry offers plenty of ways to celebrate the fall harvest:

The Greeley Farmers’ Market is open from 9 a.m. to noon every Saturday in October at Zoe’s Café, 715 10th St. For more information, call (970) 451-1711.

The Fritzler Corn Maze is open 6-9 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays beginning Oct. 12, 5-10 p.m. Fridays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays at 20861 Weld County Road 33 in LaSalle. For more information, call (970) 737-2129.

Miller Farms celebrates the harvest with a festival 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day through mid-November at 13912 Weld road 19 in Platteville. For more information, call (970) 785-6133.

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