Colorado Wheat Profile

“Prairie Gold” is a term frequently given to the state’s only major food grain crop. Wheat is produced in all regions of the state and is grown in more than 40 of the 64 counties. Prior to the impact of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) implemented in 1986, the Colorado all-wheat crop was valued at more than $380 million and was the largest valued crop commodity in the state. With CRP removing approximately one million acres of wheat base from production and increased usage of crop rotations with the “Freedom to Farm” Act implemented in 1996, corn and hay crops have outranked wheat in terms of value of production in some years.

Nevertheless, Colorado is a major wheat producing state, ranking fifth in the U.S. in 2010, seventh in 2011, sixth in 2012, and only fourteenth in 2013, due to a severe drought.  The 2012 all-wheat crop was valued at approximately $580,072,000, based upon 2,182,000 acres being harvested, with an average yield of 34.3 bushels per acre, resulting in total production of 74,848,000 bushels.

Colorado is a major winter wheat producing state, ranking fifth in the U.S. in 2010, sixth in 2011, tenth in 2012, and only fourteenth in 2013 due to a severe drought. Hard winter wheat (red and white) is the dominant class of wheat produced in the state, accounting for more than 95 percent of the total. The 2012 hard winter wheat crop was valued at approximately $571,795,000, based upon 2,170,000 acres being harvested with an average yield of 34 bushels per acre, resulting in total production of 73,780,000 bushels. Hard winter wheat is used for yeast breads and hard rolls since it is high in protein and strong in gluten.

Colorado is also a minor spring wheat producing state, ranking eighth in the U.S. in 2009-2013. Hard red spring wheat and white wheat are the major classes of wheat produced in the San Luis Valley. The 2012 hard red spring and white wheat crop was valued at approximately $8,976,000, based upon 44,000 acres being harvested with an average yield of 87 bushels per acre, resulting in total production of 1,068,000 bushels. Hard red spring wheat is also used for yeast breads and hard rolls since it is high in protein. White wheat is used for cookies and crackers.

When records began in 1869, Colorado wheat producers harvested just 11,000 acres of all-wheat and produced only 275,000 bushels of grain. By 1890, the acreage had grown to over 300,000 acres and more than 5.5 million bushels of production. More than one million acres were harvested each year from 1918 through 1931, but the acreage was sharply reduced during the “Dust Bowl” years from 1932 through 1936.
Total production of 139,302,000 bushels in 1985 was the largest all-wheat crop ever produced in the state, based upon 3,522,000 acres being harvested with a then record average yield of 39.6 bushels per acre.

Since implementation of the CRP in 1986, all-wheat acreage planted has averaged 2,650,667 acres, all-wheat acreage harvested has averaged 2,334,222 acres, yield per harvested acre has averaged 33.7 bushels, total all-wheat production has averaged 79,488,926 bushels, price per bushel for all-wheat has averaged $3.92, and the total value of all-wheat production has averaged $306,646,222.

More than 80 percent of Colorado’s wheat production is typically exported and is generally one of Colorado’s top ranked exports by dollar volume. During the 2012-13 marketing year, an estimated 59,878,400 bushels of wheat valued at approximately $464,057,600 were exported to 60 different countries. During the past decade, Colorado wheat production has created approximately 15,666 jobs annually. Approximately 7,485 (48%) of these jobs can be directly attributed to wheat exports.

There are three significant organizations representing Colorado wheat producers: the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers (CAWG); the Colorado Wheat Administrative Committee (CWAC); and the Colorado Wheat Research Foundation (CWRF).