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The harvest season in Colorado comes to an end just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday = Colorado

Colorado’s 2022 harvest is ending just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday. Federal agricultural data shows that more than 90% of corn, sorghum and sunflowers — the very last crops to be brought from the fields — were at least 90% harvested last week.

That means it’s time for farmers to take stock.

Crop yields varied widely for growers of all crops across the state. During the growing season, all were affected by drought and heat.

A mixed bushel for corn farmers

Nicholas Colglazier, chief executive of Colorado Corn, said corn producers in the state have had very different experiences this growing season depending on their location and availability of irrigation. But generalizations cannot capture the full picture.

“They’ve had some decent yields in drylands,” Colglazier said, referring to non-irrigated fields. But on the flip side, Colglazier noted that even on irrigated land, “there were also producers who had water scarcity years when their wells either couldn’t keep up or they didn’t get as much water cuts as they needed. And I think there are those returns that have suffered.”

Ruben Richardson knows this story all too well. Richardson is a farmer in Yuma, Colorado, where he grows a mix of dryland and irrigated corn, among other crops. That year, its deep irrigation wells were not enough to protect it from the ravages of drought and heat.

Richardson said he used more water this year than in the past. “We’ll be checking our wells here over the next few days,” Richardson said, “and I’m really worried about what we’ve lost in the holes in terms of the amount of water we’ve pumped this year.”

He doesn’t have the numbers ready yet, but he estimates his yield of irrigated corn is down about 30 bushels per acre compared to last year, even with extra water.

But that’s still a world ahead of its dry corn fields. “On dry land, we ended up harvesting about 160 out of a thousand acres. The rest burned down,” he said.

A similar story for sorghum

Sorghum is a more versatile late-season crop. Burl Scherler, who grows dry grain sorghum and wheat in Sheridan Lake, Kiowa County, says it’s better equipped than corn to handle the vagaries of the weather.

“Sorghum is an aquatic plant,” Scherler explained. “You can have a dry spring, but it will rain in August and you will have a harvest.” Corn, on the other hand, “if you have some stress early on, it really hurts the yield, and it just never catches up to it.”

Even with a more forgiving crop, Scherler’s experience with this year’s sorghum crop was consistent with that of the corn growers.

“It’s been patchy this year, the rain has been,” Scherler said. “It’s across the board. We’ve had some that were really bad where it wasn’t raining,” he said. “But then there are small spots where it rained so well in August and brought crops. So it just depends on where you are. It’s really varied how the rain fell.”

Terry Swanson agreed. He has been growing sorghum in southeastern Baca County for 50 years. “Most of the time we’ve had an extreme dry spell here, which has been marginal at best,” Swanson said. But “in the northern part of the county they had some very bountiful crops where there was some rain.”

But Swanson also benefits from 50 years of sorghum cultivation experience. “We now have new technology,” he said, citing new herbicides, better seed genetics and the shift to no-till care farming.

“It’s just a completely different ball game. Well, I’d say you’ve probably had a 100 percent increase in yield over the last 25 years,” Swanson said. That means this year is hardly the worst harvest he’s seen in his 50 years. But he added: “All that stuff costs money. And so economically it is still terribly stressful.”

gratitude

The harvest can be mediocre – or worse. But for the most part, the harvest has come from the fields, and that means it’s time for growers to start thinking about the blessings of even a disappointing season.

One bad year isn’t enough to make Terry Swanson lose interest in life on the farm. “We were put on God’s earth to contribute. And we made it in farming. And so we’re grateful for the opportunity to do that,” he said.

Ruben Richardson says he feels “cautiously blessed” with his approach to groundwater irrigation.

“I’m really thankful for the haul I got. We all know what it would be like without irrigation. It would probably be a zero,” he said.

Richardson is looking forward to the holidays and some family time. But just a few weeks after completing this year’s harvest, his mental arithmetic has already moved on to the next.

“We have some problems that happened this year. And let’s hope it rains next year,” he said.

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