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Farmers brace for poor wheat crop

Updated:
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ One month before harvest time, Oklahoma wheat farmers say unusually dry weather stands to make this the worst crop in decades.

``A lot of our wheat fields around here are what we call 60-mile-an-hour fields,'' said Tim Zulkoski, manager of the Farmers Grain Co. in Renfrow. ``If you drive by a field going 60 miles an hour, it looks pretty good. Go 70, and it looks even better. But if you stop and get out in it, well, you'll find out just how thin it really is.

``Farmers say it won't even be worth putting a combine in a lot of fields.''

State Wheat Commission Executive Director Mark Hodges said drought conditions make the outlook for this harvest the worst he has seen in his 30-year agricultural career.

``It's pretty bleak as far as this year's crop goes, with little potential out there,'' Hodges said.

Kelly Horton, 50, a wheat farmer near Hollis in Harmon County, in far southwest Oklahoma, said his area has had virtually no rain since September.

``Old-timers say you have to go back to the 1950s to find a wheat crop this bad,'' Horton said. ``In Harmon County, wheat is pretty much nonexistent.''

Wheat failed to emerge on 2,000 of the 5,000 acres he planted.

Many farmers have declared for disaster aid.

Conditions are a little better in Kingfisher County in north-central Oklahoma.

``On the high end, we're guesstimating some fields will yield 24, 25 bushels (per acre),'' said Tom Glazier, a Wheat Commission board member who lives near Loyal. ``On the low end, we might see anything between 12 and 15 bushels. The last couple of years, we've been averaging between 45 and 50.

``But if we continue to get these 100-degree days, we'll see those projected numbers drop dramatically.''

Wheat prices are currently $4.35 a bushel. Last year, wheat sold for $3 a bushel.

``The prices are up because no one has wheat,'' said Jim Reese, state executive director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency in Stillwater.

Fertilizer costs have also increased.

``Four or five years ago, farmers paid $180 a ton. ... Now they are paying $425 a ton,'' Reese said.

Wheat farmers desperately need rain.

``Tests have shown that all the wheat has suffered from drought and heat stress,'' said Keith Boevers, an Oklahoma State University extension agent in Kingfisher. ``We still have time, but if it continues to stay hot and dry, what remains will just dry up on us.''
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