The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

January 19, 2013

Crops continue to struggle: Lack of moisture hurts wheat, canola

Kevin Hassler, Associate Editor
Enid News & Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Agriculture producers have struggled the past two years with the drought gripping northwest Oklahoma.

As we get farther into 2013, those same challenges face area farmers and ranchers.

Roger Don Gribble, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service northwest area agronomist, said the condition of the wheat crop — still the dominant crop in the area — is varied.

“There are some locations that have adequate stands that will have average yields,” Gribble said.

Those areas amount to about 15 percent of the wheat crop in northwest Oklahoma, he said. With another 65 percent of the crop, plants have two or three tillers and yields are predicted to be 50 to 75 percent of normal, he said. The other 20 percent of the crop could see yields less than half of normal, “and maybe deteriorating,” Gribble said.

The area north of Medford stretching toward Ponca City is one of the “dry holes” in northwest Oklahoma that really has suffered from a lack of rain, Gribble said. Another bad area is around and north of Perry, where he said rainfall is as much as 20 inches below normal.

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agri-cultural Statistics Service, Okla-homa’s 2012 winter wheat crop was 154.8 million bushels, with a yield of 36 bushels an acre. That compared to 70.4 million bushes in 2011, with a yield of 22 bushels an acre.

Timely rain in the winter and spring helped last year’s crop. So far this winter, the moisture area crops need has not arrived.

According to Oklahoma Climatological Survey, from Dec. 1, 2012, to Jan. 14 north central Oklahoma, which includes Garfield, Grant, Major and Alfalfa counties, received on average 54 percent of normal precipitation.

For the past 180 days, the numbers look more daunting. From July 19, 2012, to Jan. 14, north central Oklahoma has received 5.88 inches of rain, which is 42 percent of normal, making it the second driest period on record behind the 5.46 inches received during the same time frame in 1954-55.

The story for the area canola crop is much the same as the wheat crop, Gribble said.

Roughly 20 percent of the crop is “good stands,” he said, with 60 percent slightly lower and 20 percent that “really doesn’t look very good.”

Producers considering other crops, such as soybeans, corn and grain sorghum, are in a holding pattern until they see what will happen with the weather, Gribble said. Corn will be planted around March 15, he said, so producers will have to make a decision by then.

The story is much the same with respect to livestock, said Rick Nelson, OCES ag educator for Garfield County.

Stocker cattle numbers are substantially down, he said.

“When you look out across these wheat fields, you don’t see them there,” he said.

And, what cattle are there are having to have supplemental feed, Nelson said.

The lack of rain has led to a lack of forage and also has dried up may farm ponds. Without rain, come spring water may be in shorter supply than grass, Nelson said.

“Most area producers have done extensive culling of their cowherds because of the lack of forage,” he said.

What the future holds, depends on the weather.

“It’s all going to be tied to rainfall,” Nelson said.

Oklahoma absorbed more than $400 million in losses in 2012 due to the ongoing drought, according to estimates by researchers at Oklahoma State University.

The estimated $426,125,520 in losses include crops and livestock, as well as two new measures, wildfire property losses and municipal costs.

Combined with the $1.6 billion setback in 2011, the state has suffered more than $2 billion in drought-related agricultural losses.