Elements batter Okla. winter wheat crop


Friday, July 10th 2009, 11:40 am
By: News 9


OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Battered by drought, a late freeze and flooding rain, Oklahoma's winter wheat harvest may produce only half of what was yielded last year, officials said.
   With about 98 percent harvested, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the yield will add up to around 73.5 million bushels, said Mike Schulte, executive director of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission. That would be well below 2008's bumper crop of 166.5 million bushels.
   "This happens to be a year that is going to be extremely difficult for producers in the state," Schulte said.
   The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry has estimated that about 3.5 million acres will be harvested, a decline of about 1 million acres, said agency spokesman Jack Carson.
   Drought that developed in parts of Oklahoma in 2008 was eased in the northwest part of the state by a snowstorm that brought up to 2 feet of snow in late March. In early April, a hard freeze damaged plants that had already begun maturing, particularly in southwestern Oklahoma, officials said. When heavy rains and floods came in May, growers had trouble getting into their fields.
   In southwest Oklahoma, the general yield has been eight to 15 bushels an acre, Schulte said. Yields in the central part of the state are in the 15- to 20-bushel per acre, while yields in some areas of northwest Oklahoma reached 60 to 86 bushels per acre, Schulte said.
   Jimmie Musick, of Musick Farms and Cattle Co. in Sentinel, said he's been farming for more than 40 years and has never had a crop as bad as this one.
   "We planted about 5,500 acres and have (harvested) about 1,100 acres, so about 20 percent," said Musick, whose operation covers 12,000 acres, including 6,500 acres of farmland, in two counties.
   Jeff Krehbiel, who produces wheat about 60 miles west of Oklahoma City in Caddo County, said his harvest was about half of what he normally sees.
   He said another factor was how much money he invested in planting. In September, the price of diesel was $3.50 to $4 a gallon.
   "We figured the break-even point was an average of 35 bushels and the price in the $7.50 to $8 range," said Krehbiel, 45. "We harvested about 25 bushels an acre and the price is $4.82 at the local elevator."
   Travis Neal, general manager of Bison Co-op Association, said the current price in Bison was $4.90 at the close of business Wednesday.
   "We probably took in half of what we did last year and that probably is about three-fourths of a normal crop for us," he said. "It wasn't as bad as we thought."
   Kim Anderson, a professor and extension economist at Oklahoma State University, said last year's harvest had a value of $1.08 billion, or $6.50 a bushel. Over five years, the average has been about 127.7 million bushels with a $611 million value, Anderson said.
   Krehbiel said crop insurance will help, but it's not a whole solution.
   "If your car is destroyed, you get a new car," he said. "Crop insurance is designed to give you a kind of slow death. "It's enough to make it one more year."