By Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
The wheat industry is in for a tough harvest if predictions hold true.
Crop advisers reporting at a recent Oklahoma Grain and Feed Association meeting said the state may only produce 66.5 million bushels when harvest begins later this month. That prediction is based on their surveys of fields and the poor weather conditions faced this season.
“This is probably the worst crop statewide, border to border, that I can remember,” said association President Joe Hampton.
If the projections are accurate, that would mean wheat production is down nearly half of what it was just two years ago, when farmers harvested almost 155 million bushels, he said.
Although the report is troublesome, Hampton said most producers could receive help from federal crop insurance. The impact won’t only be felt on farmers.
“The elevator industry is going to have a rough year,” he said. “It’ll have a ripple effect on probably fertilizer sales, ag chemical sales, farm equipment dealers — all the way down through the agriculture community.”
According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, grain elevators across the state were charging up to 30 cents more Friday, up to $8.11 per bushel.
“But the problem with that is it doesn’t do you much good if you don’t have anything to sell,” Hampton said.
A month ago, the price was about a dollar cheaper.
In Kansas, the outlook is just as grim. Surveyors there estimated this year’s crop could be just 260 million bushels.
“If that number comes in at that, it’ll be the lowest production level for the state of Kansas since 1996,” said Oklahoma Wheat Commission Executive Director Mike Schulte. “The crop up there, too, is just not looking good at all.”
Drought, along with extreme late-season freezes have caused damage in southern and central Oklahoma. There could be crop failures near Burlington, he said, because of the drought. Schulte sees one bright spot, though, on farms south of Lawton.
“On the upland areas there was some decent-looking wheat that was probably going to make anywhere from 35 to 40 bushels per acre,” he said.
The harvest is on schedule, so far. But Schulte said if extended periods of dry, 90-degree heat return before Memorial Day, the crop will stress and ripen faster.
“The crop is already extremely drought-stricken. What is out there, if we do get the high winds and no moisture, and extreme heat, it really is going to have a detrimental impact to the crop,” he said.
If the wheat crop fails, some producers still have a chance to plant summer crops like grain sorghum and soybeans.
“But right now they’d just be planting them in the dust,” Hampton said.
From his perspective, there’s not much for farmers to do except hope to get by.
“That’s all I know to do. I hope that we get this drought broken,” he said.
The USDA released its five-year agriculture census Friday. Among the notable statistics, which are current through 2012, is the explosion of canola planting. In Garfield County alone, the number of canola farms increased ten-fold since 2007. In 2012, producers harvested more than 8 million pounds from 6,404 acres.
The trend is apparent statewide. There were only 37 farms producing canola in 2007.
Oklahoma Department of Agriculture commented on the census, which is a massive study looking at nearly every measurable aspect of farming and ranching across the nation.
The state’s takeaway lauded averaged demographics of the Oklahoma farmer, who isn’t aging as fast as other states.
According to the census, Oklahoma farmers’ average age is about 58 years old, the national average.
“However, the age of Oklahoma producers has slowed since 2007; perhaps indicating an increase in young producers returning to the farm,” the state report concludes.