Hands outstretched, Mark Hodges has walked through numerous wheat fields through the years, palms down, making contact with the “heads” of the plants.
Some years he's waded through thick fields of plants with heads full of grain. In others, he could see his boots among the wheat that did exist.
Mark Hodges is the executive director of Plains Grains Inc./Oklahoma Genetics Inc., focusing on the wheat industry.
He said last year certainly fell in the “other years” category.
As for this year's crop?
It has potential to be in the “some years.” But Hodges and other wheat industry experts have experienced way too many harvests to call this one early. Harvest has started in some areas, but not for most.
“While we would expect higher than average yields under these conditions,” Hodges said, “Jim Shroyer a Kansas State University agronomist, Eufaula native and Oklahoma State University graduate, has said throughout the years, ‘It's a long ways 'til harvest and a lot of things can happen, and none of them are good.'
“To say we have our fingers crossed would be an understatement.”
This year's crop has experienced a tale of two seasons, Hodges said. On the front end, In the fall the state was coming off a devastating drought with powder dry conditions in much of Oklahoma.
“So we planted most of this crop in the dust,” Hodges said.
“Then came one of the wettest late October/early Novembers I can remember for total rainfall and it all came perfectly slow. That was enough to not just germinate the crop. Then we had the La Nina-effect warm weather.
“It was not just warm days, the unusual part was warm nights. So the wheat plant just never shut down all winter, we were able to put down a good root system and put on lots of tillers.”
Timely rain and continued warm temps provided an outstanding environment for forage production and grazing for cattle, he said.
“We are expecting this crop to have very good kernel characteristics which usually means good flour yield for the miller,” Hodges said. “The unknown is the effect these unusual conditions will have on quality, protein, dough functionality and bake properties.”
Hodges, 58, said last year was the worst he's seen.
“The scary thing is how quickly it developed, just better be thankful we were shown mercy,” he said. “I can't imagine a multiyear drought like that one.”
Producers did not only have huge losses, but huge lost opportunities.
It was sad there were record prices and no way to take advantage of the opportunity.
“The livestock producers are the ones that really got hit hard ... if they ever do recover it will take years,” he said. “A lot of permanent pastures and native grass was severely hurt.
“Many spent their life building the herds they had, only to have to sell because of no forage.”
Effects on consumers
Hodges said when the whole ag sector takes the kind of financial hit they have it will be “trickle up economics”.
Agriculture is a $7 billion dollar plus industry and much of that money either was never generated or left the state last year.
“You cannot take that kind of money out of an economy the size of the state of Oklahoma and it not affect everyone,” he said. “It's the tax base. No income equals no taxes.
“The state as whole needs this crop.”