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Farmers begin harvest of Oklahoma's smallest wheat crop in more than 50 years

posted on June 20, 2014

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In the wake of this week’s storms, flooding on the Big Sioux River prompted residents in three states to hurriedly prepare for rising water. 

The Big Sioux was expected to crest Friday more than a foot above the previous record level set in 1969, threatening homes and businesses in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota.

Further south in wheat country, the problem is too LITTLE moisture.  And in Oklahoma where the winds come sweeping down the plain, the gusts – unfortunately -- haven’t been accompanied by timely rain. 

The waving wheat is not as sweet this year in Oklahoma. Too little rain and late frigid temperatures stunted what the USDA says is likely the Sooner State’s smallest crop in more than 50 years.

Don Schieber, Ponca City, Oklahoma: “The drought and freezes that we had pretty much devastated everything. I don’t think I’ve had wheat this thin before. Pretty dismal situation.”

Don Schieber farms more than 900 acres near the north central Oklahoma town of Ponca City and chairs the Oklahoma Wheat Commission.

USDA’s latest series of crop reports indicate nearly half of the Oklahoma wheat crop is in the bin. But yields are way below normal and could result in smallest harvest since 1957. This year’s production of red winter wheat is likely going to be half the size of last year’s bounty of 115 million bushels

Don Schieber Ponca City, Oklahoma: “Everybody’s lost all their excitement about this year’s wheat crop, usually it gets pretty exciting around wheat harvest, but, we just want to get it over with and move on. Put this one in the record books way deep and forget it. And then I think most of us if we have to go the bank are going to have to buy knee pads when we go visit our banker. So it’s going to be a real interesting year.”

Much of Oklahoma has been locked in drought for months. Recent rains have eased the dry conditions, somewhat, but arrived too late to help the winter wheat.

Don Schieber Ponca City, Oklahoma: “All that’s doing is delaying the misery.”

While machines roll through Oklahoma, further north in the Wheat Belt, Kansas producers play the waiting game.

Ken Wood, Chapman, KS: “It’s getting close.”

The diagnosis for Kanas wheat is a little better. According to USDA, the nation’s biggest producer of wheat has 37 percent of its crop in fair to excellent condition compared to Oklahoma’s 24 percent.

Ken Wood, Chapman, Kansas: “It’s going to be a pretty short year wheat wise, in the state of Kansas. “We had some issues with winter kill, there’s a lot of fields with thin spots, lot of places still green, wheat tried to come up late, and it’s not going to be very good. We’re not to have a great harvest, but at least it looks like wheat now.” 

Central Kansas wheat producer Ken Wood now says recent rains have left a mark on local fields in the Sunflower State.

Ken Wood, Chapman, Kansas: “In the last two weeks we’ve had 8 inches here, which is ¼ of our annual rainfall, when you get it that fast, hate to complain about rain, but yet it’s not doing us much good, for the wheat especially, we need to have it dry out so we can get in and get some harvesting done.”

Wood, who serves on the board of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers, says the entire state will be off normal production marks, but in one particular corner, the situation is reminiscent of the 1930s.

Ken Wood, Chapman, Kansas: “Lot of those guys are looking at 4 or 5 years of drought, really probably as bad in some cases as what the Dust Bowl was, but farming practices are not the same as they were in the 30s. But strictly from a precipitation standpoint in Southwest Kansas at least as dry as they were in the 30s.”

For Market to Market, I’m Paul Yeager.

Tags: drought hard red wheat harvest Kansas Oklahoma production weather wheat


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