Plentiful soil moisture helps boost crop yields

Colorado winter wheat is back in business for 2014, though the harvest in northeastern Colorado was slowed by abnormally wet and cool weather in early July.

As of July 22, the statewide crop was expected to almost double last year’s harvest, with a total of 86.4 million bushels, which is also well above the 10-year average of 68.2 million bushels. Likely, the harvest in northeastern Colorado is going to be even more bountiful, as southern sections of the state are still affected by drought.

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CSU Assistant Professor Jerry Johnson said the plentiful soil moisture – while not much fun last September — helped prompt almost-record planting. However, the results from his northeastern Colorado test plots, along with much of the state’s harvest, have seen a weather delay.

“We’ve harvested everything in the northeast, but we’re just in the process of processing that data,” Johnson said. But, “it’s higher than we expected for sure.”

Corn production in northeastern Colorado is too early to call, but the availability of irrigation water has also been assisted by some fairly regular summer rains. In some cases, the weather has been too cool and too rainy, Johnson said.

“All of the overcast weather slowed us down a little for corn,” said the crop and hybrid specialist. “Now that there’s some hot weather here it will catch up and get back to normal.”

Close to home, farmers with Northern Poudre Irrigation Company have also seen some good news on the irrigation front. While there was concern that Fort Collins would not be able to lease much C-BT water to ditch members that has not turned out to be the case.

“This has been more in line with a normal year,” said Donnie Dustin, the water resources manager for Fort Collins Utilities. The city has leased $248,692 worth of seasonal agricultural water, at $35 an acre foot, with an additional $80,587 worth of C-BT water going for municipal use. The city actually could not lease all of its early year water, at $15 per acre foot, but still brought in an additional $42,195.

The total of $371,475 compares favorably with the last year, in which drought and the inability to use as much Poudre River water, heavy with sediment from the High Park Fire, severely limited the ability of the city to lease water to farmers. In 2013, the city only leased $72,600 worth of C-BT to Northern Poudre ditch members, while in a drought prone 2012 it leased $299,118, and in the record-runoff 2011, $323,577.

While Fort Collins still has to be careful to use C-BT water when sediment is high on the Poudre, Dustin said there has not been any exchange of water rights to elevate the amount of water available to farmers on the North Poudre ditch.

“Last year was the only time we’ve ever done that,” he said. “The (C-BT) quota was low, and we didn’t have a good feel for how much (river water) our treatment plants could handle.

“Right now, our treatment plant is taking a good chunk (of the city’s water) off the river,” Dustin said. “I think we’re going to end up taking about 65 to 70 percent of what we normally take off the river.”