HEAT takes toll on some crops

Tuesday, August 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The hot, dry summer is withering some of Oklahoma's soybean and milo crops, dealing another blow to farmers who planted in wheat fields already hurt by bad weather.

Steve Fedderson, who farms near El Reno, has seen the heat stunt his soybeans to the size of BBs when they should be slightly bigger than black-eyed peas. His milo crop won't be harvested, either.

``We're just salvaging what we can,'' he said. ``With the milo and beans, you can salvage a little bit through grazing and hay. It's more efficient to graze and hay it than to haul it to the elevator.''

Not everyone is hurting as badly. Soybean production in the state is expected to increase 51 percent and milo could be up 29 percent from last year. Unlike Fedderson, farmers surveyed last month tended to say they expected higher yields per acre in milo and soybeans.

Meanwhile, wheat is expected to drop 12 percent below last year to 125.4 million bushels, according to figures recently released by the state Agriculture Department.

The higher estimates for the summer-growing crops generally reflect more planting of those crops as alternatives to wheat.

Like many Oklahoma farmers, Fedderson depends on wheat pasture for cattle to graze. But last year's weather doomed much of that wheat and the same could happen to next year's wheat unless Oklahoma gets adequate rain in the next few months.

``That determines whether we have a good year or not, whether we have a wheat pasture. We had zero,'' Fedderson said. ``That hurt, and combined with the low grain prices, it's pretty hard. Hopefully, the weather is turning so we'll get rain and get our wheat in this fall.''

The recent crop report shows hay, one of Oklahoma's biggest crops, will be the biggest loser this year. All hay is forecast at 3.61 million tons, a drop of 26 percent from last year. Alfalfa hay is forecast at 748,000 tons, down 31 percent, state statistician Barry Bloyd said.

``With ... 60,000 cattle producers in the state and a lot dependent on hay in the winter and pastures that will carry them a while into the fall and winter, it's really a very big concern now,'' he said.

Bloyd said that overall, farmers may have been somewhat optimistic when the Agriculture Department surveyed them at the end of July. Since then, farmers have felt the full effects of the lingering dry weather. As a result, the estimates may be optimistic.