Fall crops look excellent across much of eastern Colorado this year, even if prices remain discouragingly low.

Fall crops look excellent across much of eastern Colorado this year, even if prices remain discouragingly low.

In the last couple of years, finding crops that will pencil out a profit has been difficult, but growing conditions have been near ideal.

Unusual precipitation levels saved last summer’s wheat crop and gave the corn, milo and sunflowers a good start too.

“I planted corn this year, and it looks really good,” said Larry Smith, who farms near Cheyenne Wells. “It will make something, at least I think it will anyway.”

Chris Rendell, of Lamar, farms the common three-way rotation of wheat-milo-fallow. He estimated his area received around 7 inches of rain over the summer compared to the usual 1 ½ to 2. “It really helped to push along our milo crop,” he noted.

Weather generally is the most important factor farmers look at when deciding what to plant.

“Usually prices don’t make as much difference as the weather does,” he said. “The moisture dictates it.”

The favorable conditions could change by next year. Several recent reports, including an analysis by the CME Group, indicate a La Nina weather pattern might be redeveloping in the Pacific. The oceanic pattern is associated with cooler, wetter conditions along the U.S.-Canadian border and warmer, drier weather across southern Colorado and the Southern Plains.

At least for now, though, southeastern Colorado’s farmers are benefiting from ample moisture.

Colorado State University extension agronomist Jerry Johnson, who hosted several sorghum field days in recent weeks, called the state’s sorghum crop “terrific.”

“It has never looked so good, and that’s the case everywhere across the state,” he said.

While he and assistant agronomist Sallie Jones have been giving farmers guidance on which varieties are resistant to the sugarcane aphid, the entire Central Plains region saw less pressure from the pest this time around than in previous years. That is likely due at least in part to better awareness, scouting and management, they said.

“At the field day in Walsh earlier this fall, we saw one spot in one field, but that was the only one,” Jones said.

Burl Scherler, who hosted a sorghum field day at his test plot north of Brandon, Colorado, said his wheat came up spotty due to a late summer dry patch but noted that soil moisture remains plentiful lower in the soil profile. Sunflowers, with their deep roots, can reach that moisture and also command better prices than wheat, he said.

Scherler grows certified seed wheat and also sells sunflower and milo seed, the main options for farmers in the area.

Sunflowers, however, tend to deplete the soil of water and nutrients. While wheat prices remain low, the crop will always be a mainstay in dryland rotations, Scherler said, because the wheat straw left after harvest is one of the best ways to put residue back on the land.

In addition, CSU’s success at developing high performing varieties, including several in the pipeline with herbicide tolerance, is giving farmers lots of new options, he said.

“These are really good tools that are getting interest worldwide, and the money from that comes back to wheat producers in Colorado,” Scherler said.

Trade numbers this year have been another positive story that is bolstering feelings of optimism, he added.

World demand for both corn and sorghum has been strong.

“Brazil is now importing ethanol from the U.S., because we’ve ramped production up enough that we are keeping our costs down,” Scherler said.

Jordan Shearer, the executive director of the Colorado Grain Sorghum Producers, who operates his own farm in Northwest Oklahoma, said the export picture is helping the markets and should continue to improve heading into next year.

“We’re ahead of where we were a year ago on export placements, with most of that going to China,” he said. “Margins are slim, but the basis is improving. So we’re seeing some positive movement there.”

Export demand usually firms up prices, but the translation has been slow to get through the system because of the backlog of grain still piled at local elevators, he said.

“We’ve had a positive basis at the ports since March, but we just haven’t seen that reflected in the countryside,” he said.

One wildcard looming over the current outlook is future trade and farm policy. President Trump’s administration is in the process of renegotiating several large trade agreements, and drafting of a new Farm Bill is scheduled to begin in earnest next year. Given the current political climate, it’s hard to predict how those efforts will play out.

“It’s a big unknown with this new administration,” Scherler said.