Early wheat harvest is on the way in Oklahoma
Oklahoma wheat producers are cautiously hopeful that this year's crop will be a winner.
CHATTANOOGA — David Gammill can cut the then-and-now down to one wheat field.
Standing in the doorway of his barn, 13 miles southwest of Chattanooga, the 58-year-old nods his head to a wheat plot.
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The waving golden wheat looks like an ocean of promise. We haven't got it made yet. What I want to see is the grain going into the bin. Then I'll take a deep breath.”
Last year, Gammill found the cracks in the Miller clay soil type were mid-forearm deep.
“You didn't dare drop your pliers,” he said, “they'd be gone.”
Now the lush wheat field is waist deep with a strong south wind pushing across it.
“The waving golden wheat looks like an ocean of promise,” said Gammill, who is the third of four generations of his family to farm in the area. “We haven't got it made yet. What I want to see is the grain going into the bin. Then I'll take a deep breath.”
On Friday night, a severe storm struck the area with golf-ball and up-to-softball-size hail and damaged numerous wheat crops, he said.
"Most of ours is still good," Gammill said Saturday. "But between Randlett and Grandfield, it devastated thousands of acres of wheat."
Grandfield, 11 miles from Gammill, is the closest community with an Oklahoma Mesonet weather network site.
Records for that location show the 2010-11 wheat crop had only about 2.96 inches of precipitation. Gary McManus, of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, said in comparison, this year's crop has had about 18 inches precipitation. It is important to point out that conditions vary. While Grandfield in southeastern Tillman County has had 8.4 inches of rain since Jan. 1, Tipton in western Tillman County has received only 4.8 inches.
For Gammill, it wasn't only precipitation that has blessed his crop. Since planting in late October, the average low temperature at Grandfield has been 41.7 degrees. More specifically, Grandfield only spent one hour below freezing in March and April this year. Their lowest temperature was 31 degrees.
While warmth may have helped in that regard last summer's heat was excruciating with 101 days of triple-digit temperatures.
“I've never seen it any harder,” Gammill said. “The ponds were low going into the summer and then in the heat of the summer everything dried out. The grass just absolutely never grew.”
Last year the wheat wasn't much higher than the tops of his Red Wing boots. Now the variety of wheat called Duster reaches the black belt looped through the Wranglers of the 5-foot-10 farmer.
Because of good growing conditions, wheat harvest is starting early in areas of the state.
Mike Cassidy, of Cassidy Grain in Frederick, said they received their first load of this year's wheat crop Friday. It was cut Thursday, a few miles west of Frederick.
Shaking off the dust
So much of the state is trying to shake off last year's dust.
“I just had a truck in here with some of last year's wheat and there was just so much dirt,” said Scott Lovett, manager of Co-op Services Chattanooga, while looking out the window at the grain elevator office. “They had to put the header on the ground to get what they got.
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