June 2023

What to Consider When Dryland Wheat Fails

June 2nd, 2023

Michaela Mattes, Southeast Area Agronomist

During the last few years, the High Plains in Colorado and Kansas experienced severe (D2) to exceptional (D4) drought conditions at different times of the year. The category of exceptional drought (D4) is the most extreme drought category on the US drought monitor website (https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/CurrentMap.aspx). What category an area falls into changes weekly depending on the amount of precipitation during the previous week or the lack thereof. However, the High Plains have experienced less than average precipitation per year during the last few years compared to a couple decades ago. The map mentioned earlier also shows that the drought has short- and long-term impact on agriculture, grassland, hydrology, and the ecology of the area. Producers are very aware that drought has caused a lot of difficulties growing crops for profit. Because of the continued drought conditions in Colorado, and other states, it makes sense to consider what to do with dryland wheat fields that very likely will not produce a profit.

Let’s consider the following scenario: The producer inspects his or her wheat field and decides that the stand is poor. He or she will ask themselves: Should I plow it under, plant something else, leave it fallow, wait and see, or abandon the field? Do I file a claim against the crop insurance? Should I plant another crop as ground cover or cash crop? How will the insurance claim and replanting the field impact future claims?

Crop insurance is a complicated topic. The basic facts are that a producer can claim crop insurance early if the wheat is destroyed before June 1st. Producers should talk to their local adjuster about steps on filing their claim. Destroying the wheat early enough can give the producer time to plant a spring crop. The spring crop would be considered a cover crop by the insurance company. The producer could plant milo, barley, oats, or corn as a spring or cover crop. Though, when deciding to plant a cover crop, the producer will change the rotation, if he or she has a wheat/fallow rotation. A cover crop may or may not be insurable, depending on the producer’s specific details. As stated earlier, crop insurance is a complex subject matter. There are a lot of details that can change the insurability of the spring or cover crop. Also, planting a spring or cover crop can change how much the producer might be paid for his or her failed wheat crop. Details are important! The best advice I can give to any producer is to talk to his or her local crop insurance person about their specific case. The producer can also explore disaster program payments. Again, just like in the case of insurance claims, details matter.

The second thing to consider after the producer decides that his or her wheat crop has failed is to keep the soil in your field from blowing away. A good reason to keep soil from blowing away is that it takes several hundred years to create one inch of soil. Soil is carried away during strong winds unless it is held in place either by plants, crop residue, or a windbreak. This last winter and early spring I have noticed more wind than is usual for this area. Dry soil can travel hundreds of miles when carried by the wind. One noteworthy experience I lived through, was finding sand from the Saharan Desert which travelled north across the Mediterranean Ocean all the way to Vienna, Austria. A poor stand of wheat means very few or no crop residue to break the wind. What one sees is a lot of bare ground. Therefore, growing a cash or cover crop will keep the soil in place during blowing wind.

Regional Updates

June 2nd, 2023

Emily Lockard, Montezuma County Director 

Southwestern Colorado had some moisture in the past two weeks and cooler temperatures that have slowed snow melt in higher elevations. Temperatures have started warming up but more thunderstorms are in the forecast. Rivers have peaked so flooding concerns are decreasing.
Irrigators are now getting more serious about turning on water as temperatures warm and plant water needs begin to increase.
In rangelands we’re seeing a diversity of plants that have responded to the winter moisture. Globemallow is experiencing a great year! There is also good grass growth, while slightly delayed, this summer should have good forage production for livestock this summer.


Kat Caswell, Weld and Washington Counties Agronomist

Periodic rainfall continues on the Front Range and in isolated patches eastward. Wheat disease and fungal pressure is being observed above I-70, refer to the Wheat Disease Newsletter for more information.
Some areas of Weld County have taken the first cutting of alfalfa. Corn emergence is beginning in areas of earlier planting.
Cheatgrass and mustard species have quickly emerged and are rapidly moving towards maturity. If pre-emergent herbicides were not applied in crop fields, but sure to begin scouting now to ensure a timely post-emergence application in high value crop fields.
With the excessive rainfall, consider performing in-season N soil testing to ensure adequate N.

Keep the Water Conservation Efforts Going

June 30th, 2023

Todd Ballard, Tri-River Area Agronomist

Many of us spent this winter attending water conservation meetings. The story is well known. The western slope was in a long-term drought. Eastern Plains agriculture continues to be dependent on a dwindling Ogallala aquifer. Much of the Eastern Plains wheat crop was lost to a severe drought. The electrical grid receives 3.3 gigawatts from the Glen Canyon Dam and Hoover Dam. If Colorado River flows are inadequate to keep Lake Mead and Lake Powell above the dead zone, that portion of the electricity supply is lost…

There is some good news. Colorado’s 2022-23 snowpack was above average for much of the state: BSnow_4_2023.pdf (usda.gov). El Niño has an early start. Unseasonably heavy precipitation fell over part of the western slope last week. This means if you are trying to establish a perennial pasture, now is the time. Water allocations in stream fed ditches will be higher this year than they have been for several years. It does not mean to back off water conservation planning. The temporary reprieve from water shortages is not a sign of things to come.

The largest event for water conservation I attended this winter was hosted by the Mesa Conservation District (MCD). MCD was chosen by Arizona State University’s Babbitt for Land and Water Policy to pilot their Water Scenario Planning. Community members from county government, academia, conservation groups, and local agricultural producers came together to answer questions about how to respond to changes in water supply and demand, how to communicate those plans to elected officials, and what are the consequences of each plan.

Another large-scale project has been offered by the Delta Conservation District (DCD). A USDA-NRCS PL-566 request for applications was sent out to entities in a watershed near Paonia. This program budgets up to $25 million for improvements in the efficiency of water delivery through ditches. Several applications were received and the DCD are reviewing the applications to refer their choices to NRCS.

CSU has multiple projects as well. A few projects that I am associated with are testing water use efficient crops, artificial intelligence in irrigation systems, and agrivoltaics. Water use efficient crops that can be adapted to Colorado’s climate include forage sorghum, cowpea, and sesame. The artificial intelligence irrigation project is multi-state project including Kansas State University, University of California, and CSU. Agrivoltaics can take on the form of vegetable production in the field, rooftop vegetable production, grazing sheep, and grain production all in the shadows of a solar farm. The shade decreases evapotranspiration rates.

Wheat Pre-harvest Weed Management

June 30th, 2023

Ron Myer, Golden Plains Agronomist 

Recent rains have encouraged broadleaf weed growth in growing wheat fields.  Kochia, for the most part, is the weed in question although other weeds may also be a factor interfering with this year’s harvest activities.  Keep in mind that there are only a small number of pre-harvest aids for controlling weeds in wheat prior to harvest.  Also, be aware of pre-harvest intervals before harvesting and feed and grazing intervals following wheat harvest.  Pre-harvest interval is the time after a herbicide application is applied before wheat harvest can legally begin.  Always follow pesticide label rules as the “label is the law”.  In addition, be sure wheat is at least in the hard dough stage before controlling weeds.  Hard dough stage occurs when wheat kernels are formed, soft, but not juicy.  Physiologic maturity occurs when wheat is approximately 30% moisture whereas wheat in hard dough stage will be higher than 30% moisture.

Following are herbicides labeled for weed applications prior to wheat harvest:

2,4-D: wheat must be in hard dough stage, pre-harvest interval is 14 days after application.  Weak on kochia.

Aim EC or Longbow EC: wheat in hard dough, pre-harvest interval is 3 days. Use COC 1% v/v.

Ally or Metsulfuron:  wheat in hard dough, pre-harvest interval is 10 days.  Use NIS 0.25% v/v.

Dicamba: wheat in hard dough stage, pre-harvest interval is 7 days. Will volatilize when air temps are above 85 F. Do not graze or harvest crop residue for feed.

Glyphosate: wheat is physiologically mature (30% moisture or less), pre-harvest interval 7 days.  Do not feed or graze crop residue for feed until 2 weeks after application.  Will control both grasses and broadleaves.  Kochia may be glyphosate resistant.

Sharpen: wheat in hard dough stage, pre-harvest interval is 3 days. No grazing or feeding restrictions.

Valor: wheat in hard dough stage, pre-harvest interval is 10 days. MSO and AMS recommended.

Regional Updates

June 30th, 2023

Western Region

Todd Ballard, Tri-River Area Agronomist

The threat of flooding has subsided on the Gunnison, Uncompahgre, and Colorado Rivers. The availability of irrigation water from ditches will be better than last year. Unseasonably cool.

Retta Bruegger, Western Regional Specialist, Rangeland Management

Rangelands on the western slope have benefitted from a wet May and early June, in addition to a strong snowpack. Some higher elevation sites are delayed due to the cool conditions, and persistent snow cover. Despite that, conditions are set up well for good rangeland production.

Emily Lockard, Montezuma County Director 

Cool weather with occasional moisture have continued to keep growing conditions ideal for crops and rangelands. Lower elevation drylands are beginning to dry out as spring winds have increased. Unfortunately, a few scattered thunderstorms have brought unseasonably early hail but it was isolated and not uniform in the county. Reports of delayed maturity in a variety of crops (including orchards) have been reported. Now is the time to keep an eye out for alfalfa weevil but we haven’t heard reports of damage yet.

Eastern Region

Ron Meyer, Golden Plains Area Agronomist

Adequate soil moisture at all locations.  The wheat crop north of I-70 will be above average this year after a struggling start.  Some fields will yield 80 bushels per acre.  Our long term average is approximately 40.  Leaf rust, tan spot, and stripe rust have been problematic in some fields, especially in wheat varieties that don’t carry tolerance to fungal infections.  Some wheat fields have been treated with fungicides to control these diseases.  There have been areas that received 7 inches of rainfall during the month of May (Idalia area).

Micheala Mattes, Southeast Area Agronomist 

Several fields in Kiowa County are infested with aphids and either Barley Yellow Dwarf virus or tan spot on the same fields. Samples have been submitted to the plant lab at SPUR for analysis. One field in Kiowa County has stripe rust. Some of the wheat has white kernels. And it is wet here. We’re getting rain every few days here.

Kristi Bartolo, Pueblo County Agronomist

First cutting of hay was delayed due to rain, then when hay was cut it got dumped on in a big rainstorm. Things are finally starting to warm up and dry out. Picture is pre-first cutting (June 19, Avondale).