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Spring fieldwork delayed by cold, moisture

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

    As of April 1, Wyoming farmers planted or intended to plant 404,000 acres of small grains and row crops last fall and this spring, down five percent from last year, according to Kim Faircloth with the Wyoming Field Office of USDA NASS.
    NASS says winter wheat plantings were up from last year and intentions for oats and dry beans were also higher. Planting intentions for corn and barley were down from the actual 2008 plantings. Sugarbeet intentions remained virtually unchanged from last year’s crop.
    Powell seed producer Fred Hopkin says he doesn’t see a lot of change in cropping patterns in the northern Big Horn Basin, although there are slight shifts in several crops. He expects strong dry bean prices to increase their acreage somewhat and he’s seen increased demand for oat seed.
    “There are very few oats in this area, but I have had several calls inquiring about oat seed,” says Hopkin. He speculates the increased demand for oats may be the result of decreased barley acreage. “More than 90 percent of the small grains produced here are malt barley under contract with Anheuser Busch or Coors. With the lower prices and the companies reducing their contracting, oats are the next logical small grain crop to grow on that land.”
    According to NASS, oats in Wyoming are estimated to increase to 133 percent of 2008’s crop, moving from 30,000 acres to 40,000 acres in 2009.
    He says part of the cause for reduced barley contracts is the companies are keeping smaller inventories plus last year’s bumper crop. “Small grains work well in certain rotations, and if you don’t plant barley, oats fill in well,” he says.
    In Wyoming producers reported to NASS that barley production will decline to 72 percent of last year’s plantings from 90,000 acres in 2008 to 65,000 acres in 2009.
    “Barley production is definitely down,” says Powell sugarbeet and barley producer Regan Smith. “Budweiser’s cut people off after they combined with the European company, which said they needed to cut inventory.”
    Dennis Baker, who farms near Chugwater, says this year he’ll plant a quarter of his oat acreage to spring wheat and some of his neighbors will do the same. “The value of spring wheat is better than oats right now,” he says, noting that some area growers are trying other crops like millet.
    Regarding dry beans, Hopkin says their price is down 10 percent from a year ago, but they’re still at a good price. “There’s a good demand for dry beans and dry bean seed, and I think there will probably be quite a few acres of dry beans going in.” NASS reports dry bean production is up eight percent from 2008 in Wyoming.
    “The price of corn is down substantially from where it was this time last year, I’m reducing my acreage and I would expect there are others who are reducing acreage as well,” says Hopkin of Wyoming’s part in this year’s national decline in corn acreage. Corn acreage in Wyoming is estimated at 80,000 acres in 2009, 84 percent of last year’s 95,000 acres.
    Hopkin says sugarbeets remain a stable commodity, especially in the northern Big Horn Basin where acreage is tied to ownership in the Western Sugar Cooperative. He expects nearly 100 percent of the beets in his area to be Roundup Ready varieties this year. “It’s something that worked so well last year that I don’t think anyone will go back to the conventional varieties,” he says.
    Smith says sugarbeets in the Lovell district of Western Sugar are at factory capacity. “Roundup Ready sure made sugarbeets a better experience,” he says, adding the only conventional beets he’ll put in the ground this spring are left over.
    Hopkin, who has produced alfalfa seed for 25 years, says he expects that crop to be up a little bit this year.
    Baker, who’s experimented with camelina in the past, says he won’t plant any this year. “I’m going to wait until someone else figures it out,” he says of challenges he faced with planting depth and uniform emergence. “The yield would have been good, but for me to make it work I’d need different equipment, and I’m not able to spend that money on an experiment.”
    He says if camelina becomes a viable crop he’ll look into it again.
    Keith Kennedy of the Wyoming Wheat Marketing Commission says some farmers had begun fieldwork in southeast Wyoming before the recent winter storms hit. “We always hate to complain about moisture, and I think there’s still plenty of time to get spring work done regardless of what crop’s going in,” he says. “I think it’s starting to get a little tight on sugarbeets, but I think a lot of those guys already had their fieldwork done.”
    Baker says the last storm in the Chugwater area left two feet of snow.    
    Moisture in the Cody/Powell area is reported as good. “Here in the valley things are dry, but our snowpack is good, and it looks like we’ll have plenty of water for irrigation throughout the Big Horn Basin,” says Hopkin.
    “We’ve been very fortunate through all the drought compared to the rest of the state,” says Smith.
    The Basin has begun spring fieldwork and planting, with delays due to cold weather rather than moisture. Smith says he’s done afternoon fieldwork and some producers have started planting beets.
    “Most barley and alfalfa is planted and we just started on beets yesterday. Field work is in full swing and we’ll probably start irrigating next week,” says Hopkin.
    Smith also mentions hay supplies are tight in his area because of the cold weather. “We didn’t have a winter like North Dakota, but we had our share of cold, and a cold spring. People would usually be turning out on creek bottoms by now, but nothing’s growing yet and there’s still ice in the canals.”
    Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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