Increase projected in this year's wheat harvest

Sunday, May 25th 2003, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ This year's wheat harvest is will likely exceed last year's by more than 60 percent, Oklahoma wheat producers say.

Harvest began last weekend in the state's southwest corner but is still about two weeks away in northern counties, where yields look especially promising.

According to the Oklahoma Agricultural Statistics Service, farmers are expected to harvest 159.8 million bushels this year, an increase of 63 percent from last year.

In addition, the number of acres harvested for grain is projected to increase to 4.7 million, a jump of 34 percent. Yield is forecast at 34 bushels per acre, up 6 bushels per acre.

The highest amounts and highest quality of grain will probably come from Garfield, Grant and Kay counties, said Roger Gribble, northwest area agronomist for the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service.

At the early stages of cutting in southern counties, yields are below average but better than expected by producers who received little rain this spring, said Mark Hodges, executive director of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission.

Mike Cassidy of Cassidy Grain in Frederick said drought stress and freeze damage probably will mean lower-than-average yields. However, the quality of wheat coming in so far is good, he said.

Recent rains have slowed harvest in some areas while halting it in others, but farmers expect cutting to pick up soon.

Heavy rains have bent over some wheat in north central Oklahoma, said Barry Bloyd, state statistician for the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.

Gribble said hail hurt fields across the state with very few counties avoiding damage.

Still, Gribble said he expects the abandonment levels for northwest Oklahoma to be lower than normal.

In the past, northwest Oklahoma farmers have abandoned 25 percent to 30 percent of their crops, but he expects that number to be closer to 10 percent this year.

The picture is worse for farmers in the Panhandle. Already, they have abandoned an estimated 25 percent of dry-land wheat acres planted, said Rick Kochenower, research specialist for the Oklahoma Panhandle Research and Extension Center.

Abandonment probably will increase in two to three weeks as harvest begins, he said.

``We had an excellent fall and didn't have any rain this spring,'' Kochenower said.

Farmers haven't harvested a decent crop for at least three years, he said.

But because of the good fall, farmers were able to graze cattle on the wheat, thus recouping some of their losses, he said.


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