ENID — For the better part of a century Oklahoma agriculture almost could be summed up in one word: wheat. Of course, Oklahoma farmers have been producing other crops since the first ground was broken, but crop diversification and the shift away from mono-culture wheat farming have accelerated in recent years as more growers have pursued opportunities to capitalize on management options and attractive market prices.
Down on the farm
Recent studies of the state’s wheat yields reflect the shift away from exclusively farming the familiar grain.
The 2011 U.S. Department of Agriculture Annual Wheat Review shows Oklahoma at a 30-year low for wheat production, both in acres planted and bushels harvested.
Oklahoma wheat farmers planted more than 7.5 million acres of wheat in 1980, with 6.5 million acres harvested for grain, yielding 195 million bushels of wheat.
Those figures have declined steadily throughout the ensuing 30 years. In the 2010-11 growing season, the state had 5.1 million acres planted in wheat, with 3.2 million acres harvested for a yield of 70.4 million bushels.
That represents a 32 percent reduction in acres planted in wheat and a 64 percent reduction in bushel yield from 1980 to 2011.
Higher prices and an easing drought boosted wheat planting for the current season.
National Agricultural Statistics Service reported in January planted acres in Oklahoma were up 8 percent to 5.5 million acres.
However, in north central Oklahoma, planted acres were down to 1.34 million acres, compared to 1.45 million acres last year.
Area is able to diversify
Jeff Bedwell, Garfield County Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Center ag educator, said the decline in wheat production doesn’t represent a decline in agriculture planting but rather an increase in crop diversification.
Bedwell said producers increasingly are turning to crop rotation because of three factors: the need to rotate crops to control unwanted grasses in wheat fields; increased profit margins through rotation, based on market prices; and minimize risk based on current crop insurance products.
“Our ag producers have some flexibility in being able to make decisions based on the market, based on their need for diversification for weed control, and based on which crops will provide the best profitability,” Bedwell said.
He said many producers continue the practice of “double-cropping” winter wheat with summer crops like corn, soybeans, sesame, sunflowers and grain sorghum.
“We usually have adequate moisture to get a summer crop started in this region of Oklahoma, and that gives producers some flexibility in whether or not they double-crop behind wheat,” Bedwell said.
Last summer’s extreme heat and drought conditions weren’t conducive to agriculture of any sort, but the ensuing hay shortage may make alfalfa an attractive crop this fall.
“Alfalfa has become very popular as of late because of the high value of forage crops,” he said.
Bedwell said alfalfa also has gained popularity as a rotation crop because it helps replenish nitrogen in the soil.