The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 6, 2013

Hope sprouts eternal

Area ag experts hoping recent precipitation will be enough to salvage this year’s crops

By James Neal, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Recent rain and snowfalls have improved the drought conditions in north central Oklahoma, but local agriculture producers still are left hoping at best for an average harvest this spring.

“Wheat, right now, is sitting at an average crop,” said Rick Nelson, agriculture educator with Garfield County Oklahoma State University Extension Office. “At best, we’re hoping for an average crop.”

Nelson said moisture received in February and March has helped, but dry conditions when seeds were planted in the fall and continued dry conditions through the majority of winter have stunted the growth of area wheat stands.

“The terribly dry conditions in the fall led to some poor growing conditions,” Nelson said. “The plants didn’t set as many tillers as possible, but recent moisture has given us some hope those plants will go ahead and produce.”

Nelson said there is a wide disparity in local wheat stands, with some showing good growth and projected to offer average yields, while other stands are far behind schedule and projected to not be harvested.

“There are some fields that appear at this time, they’ll make that 30 bushels per acre — they’re probably going to go ahead and fill out and produce an average crop,” Nelson said. “Those that are late and thin, chances are slim they’ll produce a viable crop.”

Some fields laid dormant, Nelson said, until recently.

“There are some fields that did not germinate until the last snow,” Nelson said. “The wheat laid there in the ground and did not germinate (or sprout) until March.”

Nelson said those fields likely will produce 10 percent of average or less, if they produce at all.

“If it’s just germinated in the last month, it’s probably going to be adjusted for crop insurance and rotated out to another crop because the yield won’t be enough for harvesting,” Nelson said.

He said the fields are divided largely between no-till and conventional tilling practices. He said the no-till fields are faring better because no-till farming leaves more moisture in the ground.

“Having more moisture in the no-till fields led to better emergence,” Nelson said.

He said the conventional till fields “were a little drier, and never received any moisture until this spring.”

Danny Hole, executive director for the Garfield County Farm Service Agency office, said the no-till fields retained just enough moisture to pull them through until this spring’s rain and snow.

“No-till just leaves you a better moisture profile, because you’re not opening up the soil with a conventional till,” Hole said. “Every time you open up that soil you lose moisture, and with no-till the only time you open it up is when you plant the seed.”

Hole said crop adjusters already are out looking at fields that likely will not be harvested due to low yield, “but it’s still too early to tell.”

He said area wheat stands range from two to three weeks behind schedule to other stands that are much farther behind schedule, and likely not viable.

“You’re looking at fields that, just due to drought, are two to three weeks behind what they should be this time of year,” Hole said, “and then there are some that are way behind because they’re just coming up.”

More producers have shifted to no-till farming because of the ongoing drought, and even more may shift after this year’s harvest, or lack of harvest.

Michael Sheik, district conservationist for Garfield County office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said no-till farming has expanded significantly in the last several years.

“People were noticing the guys who got into no-till farming five or six years back, and were kind of teetering on it anyway, and then the drought came along and they realized the only moisture they were going to get was in that surface moisture,” Sheik said.

He said both conventional and no-till fields still stand a good chance at an average harvest, if we receive enough rain between now and harvest.

“If our days start getting warmer and our nights start staying on the warmer side, this wheat is going to take off like a rocket,” Sheik said.

He said the region needs “two more good rains” before harvest.

“You need one when the head is in the boot, just before it emerges, and you need one for it to fill out at maturity, so you get those good plump grains of wheat,” Sheik said.

Whether wheat was planted no-till or conventional till, its success from here all depends on the rain, Sheik said.

“Everything really looks good right now because of the snow moisture we’ve had,” Sheik said. “But, if it doesn’t rain any more, the no-till fields will do a little better, but nothing is going to do great.”

Long-term forecasts do little to narrow the range of possibilities — the area will either receive rain or not.

Ryan Barns, a meteorologist for National Weather Service in Norman, said climate prediction forecasts call for equal chances of above average or below average precipitation.

Still, that’s an improvement from long-term forecasts that called solely for below-average rainfalls.

North central Oklahoma remains in extreme drought condition — the second-highest drought level behind exceptional drought, which is where the region sat all winter.

The majority of the state remains in the range of severe to exceptional drought.

Barns said the northern part of the state likely will see some improvement in the drought due to normal spring rains.

“There’s going to be some improvement because you’re going to see a wetter time of year with better rain chances,” Barns said. “The farther south you get, the drought might persist or worsen depending on where the moisture and the storms go.”

Barns said Garfield County likely will see “some improvement, at least through the June timeframe.”