Weather aids, dampens Wyo harvest
As fall harvest continues throughout Wyoming the speed and smoothness of its progress all depends upon which area is analyzed.
According to Wyoming Crop Improvement Association Director Mike Moore, in mid-October there were some fields in the Big Horn Basin where the snow was so deep the sugarbeets couldn’t even be seen. “Burlington and south to Thermopolis got quite a bit of snow – up to 20 inches in places,” he says, adding the Owl Creek drainage received the most. “The snowfall was localized and it all depends on if you were unlucky enough to be under it.”
Goshen County farmer Steve Feagler says his area didn’t get any snow from the storms, but they did catch a half-inch of rain. “The soil was so dry that nobody missed a beat here,” he says. A couple of freezing nights did temporarily halt harvest, but the factory was up and running as of Oct. 15.
“Wheatland had a slow start, but is going full-steam now,” says Feagler of the neighboring county. “Harvest is progressing smoothly. In Goshen County I estimate we’re 60 percent done, or better, while Wheatland is probably 20 percent complete.”
Feagler says the sugarbeet crop of southeastern Wyoming looks considerably above average. “We had a lot of replanting and many beets lost to the weather last spring, but the ones that survived with the Roundup Ready technology had a lot of yield potential. That’s made a huge difference.”
Moore says some producers in the Big Horn Basin still need to harvest alfalfa seed, and the concern is getting the fields dry enough to harvest. The moisture from the snow could also cause damage to beans. “If they’re commercial beans you don’t want them to get off color,” says Moore. “Cooks and canners don’t want odd-colored beans because it looks like they’re rotten.” He says seed beans can tolerate more moisture, but they, too, have a point at which they could spoil.
Of bean yields, he says what’s been coming in looks about average. “The negative news is this latest storm that has really given us fits. We’re hearing from the bean seed companies that 50 percent are harvested and the rest is sitting under snow.”
As of mid-October Powell was showing bare ground, but anything with a higher elevation still held quite a bit of snow.
Overall, Feagler says southeastern Wyoming has had a “great late fall” with frosts at the perfect time.
Moore says he thinks dry bean harvest may resume in full force by Oct. 20 if the weather holds. He estimates the sugarbeet harvest is almost halfway complete and was on schedule before the snow.
Alfalfa seed strong
Looking ahead to next spring, Moore says contract prices for alfalfa seed are higher than they’ve ever been. “Contractors have recognized that growers need more money, and they made that change toward the end of summer,” he says, adding that with inputs the net profit may not be any different than before. “Before, alfalfa seed contracts were not looking economical.”
“Contractors are really beating the bushes looking for alfalfa seed acres, so that tells me there’s strong market for seed production,” explains Moore. “It’s a pull-through market. If there’s a demand there will be contracts out, and if not the contracts are drawn back.”
Some indications are that international markets may be part of the cause for the excitement over contracts and companies looking for more production. “Most seed in Wyoming doesn’t stay here for local use,” says Moore. “A lot of alfalfa seed goes back to the Midwest and even farther to Argentina, Italy and the Southern Hemisphere.”
The USDA expects the Environmental Impact Statement for Roundup Ready alfalfa to be complete and ready for public comment in the next couple of months. Moore says they’re hoping to have the final ruling in time for spring planting, if it is allowed for commercial use.
Moore says he sees strength in the bean and bean seed market. “There’s a lot of competition for acres out there, and companies are willing to make some creative agreements with growers who are in special situations. It shows me that, for once, the grower might be in the stronger position when negotiating contracts.”
He says he’s also hearing positive comments about the pricing structure of malt barley. “Some folks have already signed contracts for next year, and that tells me that people see that they’ll get an economic return with which they’re comfortable.”
“Driving around our area of the state,” he says of the Powell area, “there was more corn this year, and more wheat than I’ve ever seen in the Big Horn Basin. Whether those markets will stay strong enough to consider corn again, I don’t know.”
Sugar could rise
“The Western Sugar people are telling us they’re seeing an increase in the price of sugar,” says Feagler. “There could possibly be a considerable jump in contract price. With the collapse of the corn and wheat markets I think growers will take a second look at sugarbeets, but it’s a long time until spring.”
He says the Roundup Ready technology, along with improved yields and higher prices may make sugarbeets viable next season.
Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.