Though summer temperatures have been slow in coming to Montezuma County and the snow has stubbornly clung to the peaks of the La Plata Mountains, the forecast for the 2011 agriculture season is strong.
Late spring storms have provided much of the water that was lacking earlier in the season and have contributed to a full water profile for area farmers. As of Thursday, McPhee Reservoir, which provides most of the irrigation water for area crops, stood at nearly 6,921 feet, just three feet short of full.
(The) soil profile is good, said Paul White, executive director of the U.S. Department of Agricultures Farm Service Center in Montezuma County, referring to moisture content.
Most fall crops are in the ground in the county, with farmers working overtime the past few weeks to cover their seeds with precious Southwest Colorado soil.
In Montezuma County, fall crops include corn, beans, sunflowers, safflowers and hay. The county is becoming increasingly diverse in agricultural offerings, and other area crops include grapes, fruit tree crops, flowers and a variety of small-market produce such as vegetables.
At this point, the fall planted crops are doing quite well, White said. The potential outlook is above average harvest at this time.
While the anticipated harvest is average, farmers in the area may see an above average year in terms of profit. Crop prices have continued to climb through the winter and due to early contracts, prices seem to be holding, White said.
It is still early, and generally there is a dip in prices (as) the onset of harvest occurs, White said. If that (dip) doesnt happen, the market may move on up.
One crop that is performing exceptionally well as a commodity across the state is winter wheat. Winter wheat is planted in September and October. The wheat germinates in the fall, goes dormant in the winter and is typically harvested in July. Winter wheat is Colorados largest crop and, along with pinto beans, is a mainstay of Dolores and Montezuma counties economies.
In early May, low moisture levels across the state prompted the Colorado Agricultural Statistics Service to forecast a winter wheat harvest nearly 40 percent below last years harvest. Increased precipitation late in the month prompted a reversal of the forecast.
Though the states crop is not expected to be much better than average, 64.5 million bushels, high prices are providing a boon to farmers. The prices are a result of a significantly poor crop nationwide, according to the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers. Droughts in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas have limited the crops in those states. Production is also poor in Europe, which places more demand on U.S. wheat growers and pushes prices up.
The projected price per bushel for wheat is $7.50, according to the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers. The record price would yield a harvest worth $483.8 million statewide, a 48 percent increase over the average value of a crop.
White said winter wheat producers in Montezuma and Dolores counties face the same optimistic outlook as growers on Colorados Front Range.
Though prices continue to climb and every farmer is an optimist in early June, White cautions that unforeseen circumstances could hamper ag production in the area. Along with insect concerns and the possibility of a late freeze, the ever-present wind is one such factor.
The dry wind is a detriment, White said. Many factors could change (the outlook). The wind could reduce yield if it doesnt subside and if the onset of monsoon season is early it could damage the hay by lowering the quality, but (the monsoon season) could help or enhance yield and quality for beans and sunflowers. It is still very early.
Reach Kimberly Benedict at firstname.lastname@example.org.