Wheat farmers are preparing for a dismal wheat crop this year, with much of the state's wheat damaged by late spring freezes coupled with hail.
Oklahoma producers are expected to harvest 85.5 million bushels of wheat this year, a 45 percent drop from last year's 154.8 million bushels, the Oklahoma Grain and Feed Association announced at its annual meeting this week.
And the prediction was made before Thursday night, when temperatures again dipped below freezing in many areas of the state, said Mike Schulte, executive director of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission. He believes the association's prediction is optimistic.
Six freezes since March 20, on top of a yearslong drought, has left wheat crops extremely stressed and without a well-developed root system, he said. The damage is worst in southwest Oklahoma, near Chatanooga, Altus and Frederick, in central parts of the state and the Panhandle. In north central and northwest Oklahoma, the crop looks average, he said.
“I don't think anything prepares them for this,” Schulte said of the state's wheat farmers. “We might see one or two late freezes but nothing like this.”
The harvest is expected to start much later this year. Wheat farmers aren't expected to begin cutting wheat until the second week of June; last year, some began in early May. And that year was a bumper crop, well above the state's average.
Chuck Tolle, a wheat farmer in Deer Creek, said he's looking at beginning to harvest his 2,500 acres in north central Oklahoma June 20 — 10 days behind average and a month later than last year. His area dodged Thursday's night's freeze and the crop isn't showing any obvious freeze damage.
Oklahoma wheat harvest estimates (in bushels)
• South central and southwest: 11.4 million
• Far southwest: 5.5 million
• Southeast: 490,000
• Northeast: 3 million
• Panhandle (including Harper County): 2 million
• West central: 11.3 million
• Central: 15.1 million
• Northwest and west: 15.1 million
• Northwest and north central: 21.6 million
• Total: 85.5 million