May 8, 2013

Grady wheat dodges foiling freeze, needs rain

The Express-Star

GRADY COUNTY — The majority of damage to Oklahoma’s wheat crop is concentrated along the Red River in the southwest corner of the state, but issues could reach Grady County if May is a dry month.

Unusual cold weather, including a particularly strong cold snap toward the end of March, has taken its toll on wheat crops in the state. The worst affected area is concentrated around Cotton County and areas west along the Red River, where a combination of dry and unusually cool weather have led to as much as 80 percent and 90 percent crop loss.

“That’s where the crops have been hammered,” Mark Gregory, an agronomist with the Oklahoma State University Agriculture Extension Office, said. “Part of the reason is they are drier. There’s been some rain here, they haven’t had as much.”

Gregory was speaking at a Wheat Field Day at Shawnee Feed in Minco Tuesday afternoon. There, wheat farmers gathered to observe the test plot set up by the OSU Extension Office to study how various strains of the crop are growing. They also learned more about what each type of wheat – such as Endurance, Ruby Lee, Garrison and Duster – is suitable for cattle grazing or grain harvesting.

While the late cold weather has not impacted the wheat crop in Grady County and surrounding areas as strongly as other parts of the state, Gregory said the bigger concern is with the amount of rain the area gets in May, which is supposed to be one of the wettest times of the year.

“There is a little freeze injury on there, but it’s only about five percent of the plot,” Gregory said. “I hope you all are in the same boat. At this time, the crop is in its most vulnerable state, because now it needs plenty of moisture in the soil. Now, it is continuing to stay dry.”

If the dry trend continues, Gregory warns the cost of crop loss could add up for area farmers.

“The later it gets, with the hotter months and hot winds blowing in, that could hurt the potential of crops up here,” he said.

After hearing from Gregory, the gathered wheat farmers went inside Shawnee Feed for a lunch courtesy of owner Bill Ford, whose family has run the business in Minco for decades. Ford said he and his employees remain optimistic that crop returns will once again produce plenty of Shawnee flour and mark a good year for farmers.

“With the quality and cool weather we’ve had recently, the grain heads should grow to a good size,” he said. “We’re not worried, and we’re very grateful for the work done by the OSU Extension Office. Their scientific information helps us all to be better stewards of the soil and select the varieties of wheat that we want.”