Colorado’s wheat crop has dodged some bullets along the way, but it could be headed for bin-busting proportions as harvest draws near.

In southeastern Colorado, John Stulp reports that the wheat on his family’s farm was saved by critical April rains. In the east central part of the state, Travis Turecek notes that a timely fungicide application saved his family’s wheat from stripe rust, though the disease went on to consume fields nearby.

Colorado’s wheat crop has dodged some bullets along the way, but it could be headed for bin-busting proportions as harvest draws near.

“It’s going to be a very large crop,” said Randy Traxler, a farmer from Otis and the outgoing president of the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers. “We’re adequate on moisture and getting the heat units we need for the corn to grow and the wheat to fill to its potential. With the amount of grain stored on farms and in terminals, there is a distinct possibility we will see piles of grain on the ground this year.”

In fact, reports out of Oklahoma and Kansas indicate long wait lines at elevators and ground storage in many areas due to abundant yields, none of which is helping the price.

"When the elevators run out of space, then they’ve got to lower their basis because they're going to lose some wheat if they have to put it out in bunkers or on the ground," noted Kim Anderson, Oklahoma State University’s grain market economist.

Rick Novak, director of seed programs at Colorado State University, was part of a team of experts who participated in a series of Colorado variety tours that ended June 15 at Akron. (The Akron trial was hailed out two weeks prior to the tour, which was held in conjunction with the Central Great Plains Research Station field day.)

Wheat near Walsh, Cheyenne Wells and Burlington all looks very good, he said, while a strip running from Lamar to Eads shows more drought stress.

“There have been some concerns about problems with stripe rust, and a number of different viruses have been showing up,” he said.

A wet fall combined with a dry spring created a perfect environment for the viruses to vector, he added.

“The most important thing farmers can do to prevent that is to control their volunteer,” he said.

Fortunately, farmers were better prepared for this year’s rust invasion, which was a repeat of a similar outbreak last year, he added.

“Farmers are doing a better job of spraying and learning to manage that problem. It’s not perfect, but it’s improved a lot,” he said.

After his presentation in Akron, Novak was approached by one farmer who was considering growing organic wheat and other specialty grains and wanted to know how to prevent bunts and smuts.

Novak recommended using a diluted bleach solution to wash down wheat cleaners, augers and other equipment.

Ardent Mills has been hosting producer meetings along the Front Range to promote the opportunity to grow organic wheat and heritage grains for the company, Traxler confirmed.

With prices around $12 to $15 a bushel for specialty grains compared to $3.80 a bushel posted price for wheat at the local elevator, he said the idea was generating interest.

Farmers will have to weigh the potential for premiums against the risk of yield drag, disease susceptibility, head sprouting and other production challenges, he said.

“I think organic will probably work best on small acreages where you can till it as many times as you need to,” he said.

Figuring out how to gauge consumer interest in heritage grains might take a little time as well, he added. He noted that it took Ardent Mills several years to determine the right premium rate and supply level needed for its identity-preserved Snowmass white wheat program.

The Snowmass production contract currently tops the market by around $1 a bushel.

“I would advocate, if people are interested, don’t make a total change overnight,” Traxler said. “Leave some of your wheat in traditional production just to be safe.”

Some farmers in his area are looking at breaking out Conservation Reserve Program acreage for organic production, since it doesn’t require the same three-year transition period as conventionally farmed fields do, he added. As part of its program, Ardent Mills does provide some financial support to farmers who want to transition their land.