Farmers wish the rain they prayed for would go away for a while

Friday, June 13th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma wheat farmers had been hoping for rain, but the persistent wet weather of late may do more harm than good.

The rain has caused wheat grains to shrink and has kept farmers from harvesting their crops.

This year's crop was expected to increase from 98 million bushels produced last year to about 169.2 million bushels, the U.S. Agriculture Department reported.

But the state has averaged 2.63 inches of precipitation through the first 12 days of June, said Mark Hodges, executive director of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission.

``It's (the wheat) not in the bin yet,'' he said.

A month into the harvest, only about 30 percent has been cut. With a large portion of southern Oklahoma receiving 4 to 5 inches of rain so far this month, many farmers have had to cut their wet crops during shortened work days or only a few days out of the week.

A couple of weeks of hot, dry weather would help, Hodges said. But the National Weather Service said much of the state has a chance of showers and thunderstorms through early next week.

At the Medford Co-op, the wheat is ready but the weather is preventing widespread cutting, Gary Schmitz said.

``We started cutting here three days ago, but we've only had a dribble,'' Schmitz said.

Wheat farmer Henry Jo Von Tungeln has cut about 100 acres since Monday, but 1,000 acres remain on his Calumet farm in Canadian County.

His harvest, which usually takes about 10 days, is at a standstill because of the rain.

``We're just checking over our machinery, working on combines ... and spending a little time praying for dry weather after we prayed for a year for rain,'' Von Tungeln said Thursday.

Farmer Paul Jackson said about two-thirds of his wheat has been harvested by contract cutters, who can finish in less than a week. The cutters have been at his Apache farm since the end of May and are ready to move on, he said.

Delayed harvests here could have a domino effect on harvests in other states, Jackson said.

``Whenever it clears up and the sun shines, (the wheat) will be ready from Wichita Falls (Texas) to Wichita, Kansas,'' he said.

Besides late harvesting, cutting wet wheat can be costly to farmers because it lowers the efficiency of the harvest, Hodges said. The combines' sickle blades can bend the wet straw instead of cutting it. Then, the thrasher can't remove all the wheat seed from the heads.

The result is a loss in production, he said.

Wheat farmers are paid by the weight of the bushels, which normally is about 60 pounds each. If the bushels don't weigh enough, the wheat is used for feed instead of flour and farmers are paid much less, Jackson said.

Jackson lost about 5 pounds per bushel because of the rain, he said.

Dale Owens of W.B. Johnston Grain Co. in the Enid area said a good harvest would do a lot to improve the economy of the area and of the state.

That kind of crop seems to be possible, he said.

``We always worry we will guess too high, but it has the potential, and we hope that will happen,'' Owens said.

``It will be good for the state of Oklahoma to have a good harvest. It will be happy times.''