KIOWA COUNTY — Staring out at one of his wheat fields with a view of the Wichita Mountains, there isn't much farmer Zac Harris can do but wait and see how his crop has fared after the latest freeze.
“It's a waiting game at this point,” said Harris, who expects an insurance adjuster to inspect his wheat to see how much a recent spate of late freezes has damaged his crops.
Temperatures dipped to 27 degrees for a few hours Thursday night at Harris' farm just south of Hobart. Harris started the year with what he thought would be a bumper wheat crop, but several late freezes could have damaged Harris' fields, and cold damp weather also has led to fungus taking hold on some of his wheat.
“Winter just won't let go,” Harris said.
A late freeze can put a chill on wheat farmers' profits, said Mike Schulte, executive director of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission. The Wheat Commission has determined that a freeze on March 26 severely damaged wheat in some parts of the state.
Farmers in south and southeastern Oklahoma have been especially hard hit by freezing overnight temperatures in March and earlier this month, he said.
“In northwest Oklahoma, the crop was not as far along as in some other places, so it will probably fare much better. However, they are still dealing with drought conditions in northwest Oklahoma as well,” Schulte said.
The wheat at Harris' farm is at a critical stage in its growth cycle, and freezing temperatures this late in the year can leave Harris with 6,200 acres of straw.
For Harris, partial damage to the crop is worse than a total loss, which provides more insurance money.
“I need to either have an average harvest and get a good price, or have a total loss to make the most money,” he said.
Harris considers himself lucky because he bought a good insurance policy this year on his crop, but he'd rather have a good harvest than cash an insurance check, Harris said.
“I guess it was the way I was raised. I would rather make money by having a good crop. I didn't become a farmer to farm insurance,” he said.
May not affect prices
Lane Broadbent, Oklahoma City-based commodities firm K.I.S. Futures Inc. president, whose family grows wheat in western Oklahoma, said farmers in southwest Oklahoma could have had as much as half of their wheat wiped out by recent freezing temperatures.
“Their crop was really, really hurt three weeks ago and then last week they got hit again,” he said. “A lot of those guys, they are acting like their crop is at least 50 percent damaged.”
While freezing temperatures could affect crop yields in Oklahoma, that probably won't do much to affect wheat prices, Broadbent said.
“Wheat is such a global market anymore, it matters more what kind of crop Kansas, Ukraine and Australia raises,” he said. “Just because the wheat crop failed in a 200-square-mile area doesn't necessarily equate to higher prices.”
David Gammill, who farms near Lawton, estimates he has lost 30 to 50 percent of his crop this year because of late winter weather.
The freeze March 26 and a round of hail and rain on April 9, followed by the freeze on April 11, battered Gammill's 1,000-acre wheat farm near Chattanooga, south of Lawton.
He initially thought his crop might be a total loss, but he now believes he could harvest 20 to 30 bushels per acre.
Although temperatures dipped below freezing again Thursday night at Gammill's farm, he was confident the latest freeze has not further damaged his wheat.
“It looks a little better now. There was extensive damage, but the plants seem to be recovering a little now,” Gammill said. “At least we will have something to harvest.”
Wheat has roles as crop, forage
Oklahoma farmers sow about 6 million acres of winter wheat each year, making wheat Oklahoma's largest cash crop. In addition to being a major grain crop, Oklahoma wheat plays a vital role in the cattle industry. Depending on market conditions, 30 to 50 percent of Oklahoma'wheat acres will be grazed by stocker cattle during the winter months.
Oklahoma wheat production