Poor Wheat Crops Hurting Rural Oklahoma Communities

Saturday, July 14th 2007, 1:58 pm
By: News On 6

ENID, Okla. (AP) _ The executive director of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission says the second dismal wheat crop in as many years could cost the economies of rural Oklahoma communities up to $1 billion.

Wheat commission head Mark Hodges said this year's wheat harvest looks to be about only half of what was expected earlier this year. The latest figure by U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates the wheat crop will be 116.1 million bushels.

``The sad thing is its going to be lower than that,'' Hodges said. ``We've still got a lot of acres that haven't been harvested and won't be.''

In May, NASS forecasted a harvest of 161 million bushels. That number has dropped each time a new forecast has been issued, falling to 151 million bushels in early June, 141 million bushels in late-June and now the latest prediction.

Hodges believes the wheat crop will be more in the range of 90 million to 100 million bushels. At 90 million bushels, Hodges figures Oklahoma producers will lose close to $400 million this year.

Coupled with last year's drought-devastated crop of 81.6 million bushels, rural economies will lose close to $1 billion, he said.

``It's serious,'' Hodges said. He said grain elevators have not been able to make money because of the poor crops and the effects multiply from producers to other businesses throughout communities in wheat-growing areas.

``I really think there was 161 million bushel potential in April,'' he said. But a freeze on April 8, disease, army worms and rain the past couple of months changed the outlook.

``The rain was the last nail in the coffin,'' he said. As much as 30 percent of the wheat in northwest Oklahoma will not be harvested, and the outlook is worse in other areas of the state.

``North of Enid to Alva is a disaster,'' Hodges said. Producers had hoped for 25 to 30 bushels an acre, but their hopes were dashed, he said.

``There's a lot of zeros up there,'' he said. ``They didn't harvest a grain of wheat.''

In southwest Oklahoma, 15 to 20 percent of wheat acres have not been harvested, and probably will not be. For some, though, harvest was good. Extreme southwestern Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Panhandle saw the best wheat, Hodges said, in terms of yield and quality.

Roger Don Gribble, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service northwest area agronomist, agreed. Dryland wheat acres in the Panhandle, Gribble said, saw yields of more than 60 bushels an acre. Irrigated acres had yields of 100 bushels an acre.

Test plots near Goodwell went even higher, up to 130 bushels an acre, Gribble said.

``There was some excellent wheat harvested in Oklahoma,'' he said. ``When we have dryland yields around 60 bushels an acre, its good.''

The Panhandle, unlike other parts of the state, benefited from rain last summer and fall, he said, and did not get the heavy rain much of the rest of the state has been experiencing lately.