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More dirt than crop is showing in some Oklahoma wheat fields

38.86 percent of Oklahoma is experiencing exceptional drought, the worst of the U.S. Drought Monitor categories
by Bryan Painter Published: January 17, 2013

There is more than just a little irony in the name of the gravel Kay County road bordering the south side of Harold Wooderson's farmhouse and the 264-acre alleged wheat field to the west of it.

The east-west stretch is named Dry Road.

There have been years Norman's Flood Street would have been appropriate around Wooderson's area.

But certainly not now.

Wooderson, 72, said that, although his family has not always owned this field, he's lived next to it throughout his life. The field has often been planted to wheat and Wooderson has never seen it look so pitiful because of drought.

In a good year, the new wheat would be about boot top high in November when the Woodersons put cattle on it to graze through the winter.

By now, after a few months of grazing, it would be down to about 3 to 4 inches tall but still look like a nice green blanket of wheat.

However, instead of covering the field, there are 2-inch tall tufts of wheat spread out like islands along the planted rows. The sandy loam soil, which in places bears hoof prints from the cattle, is much more visible than the intended crop.

Past and future

The Wooderson family farm operation is one of history and future. Five generations deep, three of those are currently active in the farming and ranching of this land in north-central Oklahoma. That land is among the 38.86 percent of Oklahoma suffering exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday. Exceptional is the worst of the drought categories.

That's not exactly news to Harold and wife Mary Ellen's sons Max, 52, and Bruce, 49.

Harold Wooderson knows the average annual rainfall in that area is supposed to be about 36 inches. That would be a lot more than some portions of Oklahoma receive and yet not as much as others. But it's the average for his area, he said. His standard grin fades when he notes that in 2010 they received 23 inches of rainfall, followed by 28 inches in 2011 and 23.6 inches this past year. And by the way, of that 2012 total, 8½ inches came in a three-day span in late April, he said.

Bruce Wooderson said that at that point, the ponds were full and it looked like the drought had been turned to mud. Not so.

By summer's end, most of those ponds were dry.

Because of the drought, they have cattle on a tenth of the properties they would normally graze them on in the winter. That is partially because of a lack of water and partially because of little wheat pasture. So, about 15 percent of their cattle is on their wheat pastures this winter. The remainder of their herd is in other people's feedlots or on other people's wheat, where the situation is better.

Max Wooderson asked his father about the field along Dry Road, “Has it ever on Jan. 15, looked like it does now?”

“No,” Harold Wooderson replied. “I don't think I've ever even seen a year that you could see dirt out there the 15th of January. It's always covered with wheat. Now you have to look dang hard to see any wheat.”

This family usually starts planting wheat about Sept. 6. It was real dry at that time this past year, but then they received about an inch of rain. So the Woodersons started planting Sept. 17. The moisture was sufficient enough for about 80 percent of the crop to come up, then after an additional three-tenths of an inch rain the rest came up.

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by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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