Steamboat Springs The annual wheat harvest is getting under way in Northwest Colorado, which means combines and hauling equipment are being readied and the support crews are being organized in order to secure a successful harvest.
There are many different varieties of wheat grown throughout the world — soft, hard, white and red, just to name a few. But there are only two main classifications of wheat — winter and spring. Winter wheat is drilled in the fall, and spring wheat is planted in the spring. Each variety requires different conditions and growth days to achieve maturity. The first crop to be harvested is winter wheat.
Here in the Yampa Valley, hard red wheat is the most prevalent variety. It’s traded on the Kansas City Board of Trade with active liquid futures contracts. The primary use of hard red winter wheat flour is for bread making. Some local farmers also plant durum wheat, depending upon conditions, and in anticipation of premium pricing. Durum wheat primarily is used in the production of pastas, including spaghetti.
Between 28 and 30 bushels to the acre is the average yield for Routt County wheat farmers. The amount varies year to year because of variables such as temperature, moisture, infestation, condition and fertility of soils. The proper depth of drilling the seed into the soil at planting in anticipation of those variables is vital to sprouting a good crop.
Not all of the farm ground on a farm is planted every year. Usually, some farm ground is allowed to sit fallow for a season to be rested, reworked and prepared for planting the next year. Weeds are a tremendous cost to farmers and continuous attention to manage them is critical in maintaining the quality of the soils. Weeds deplete the soils of moisture and nutrients.
It is reported that the first dry land farming in the valley began around 1880, and the grain was hauled to Rawlins, Wyo., for shipment. In 1890, the Yampa Valley Milling and Elevator opened.
The farmers elevator opened in Steamboat in 1912, and the Hayden elevator opened in 1917. By 1922, Routt County led all other counties in the state in dryland yield production of wheat, barley and oats. By 1985, more than 85,000 acres were in small grain production. Today, there are no grain elevators open for delivery and processing of grains in Routt County, and there is only one in Moffat County.
Some reasons for grain farming’s demise are the establishment of government programs to take farm ground out of production to protect the soils from erosion. Other factors include the age of farmers, high land values in a resort area and high production costs versus the prices received for crops.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported in 2008 that the farmer’s share of a 1 pound loaf of bread that sells for $2.99 at market is 12 cents. Wheat prices today nearly are the same as they were in the 1930s. Coupled with higher fuel costs, transportation and delivery costs out of the valley, the profit margins become questionable.
Vonnie Frentress helps run her family’s wheat, hay and cow-calf ranch west of Hayden. The family was recognized with a Heritage Family Award in 2006 for its innovative farming and ranching practices. Frentress also is a Realtor for Colorado Group Realty in Hayden.