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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

/articleid/3746815/1/pictures/1930124">Photo - Above: Harold Wooderson looks over his drought-stricken wheat field near his home in Kay County. The soil in his field is much more visible than the wheat he’s planted.
Above: Harold Wooderson looks over his drought-stricken wheat field near his home in Kay County. The soil in his field is much more visible than the wheat he’s planted.

“There was the moisture three inches deep and nothing below it,” Harold Wooderson said. “The wheat came up and looked pretty good, but there was no reserve there at all.

“As soon as it used up the three inches of moisture that we had on top, it basically just started shriveling back up. The leaves just got dry and some of them blew away. The wheat, you might say, disappeared.”

But to say they had hope for this wheat crop would be incorrect. Because they still do. They still think they'll be harvesting the crop for grain in probably early- to mid-June. Now while it might not come close to the average for this field, 46 bushels an acre, the price for wheat might be enough to make what they do cut worth it, Max Wooderson said. Even if things don't change in terms of moisture, they'll take the cattle off the wheat by the middle of February, Bruce Wooderson said.

“We're optimistic,” their father said. “Wheat's a dry-weather crop. We still have the stand. Although it's shriveled back down to almost nothing, the plant's still alive.”

Making the best of it

The situation is tough for ag producers in many areas of Oklahoma, and their circumstances vary.

Harold Wooderson is just an example.

This week he said, “I honestly don't remember, even as a kid, seeing this little creek up north here, named Dry Creek, bone dry, but it was last year and it's been bone dry since summer.

“I've got a brother that is eight years older than me and he was just starting to farm during the really dry years in the '50s,” he said. “I heard someone ask him last year if it was as dry as it was back then. He said, and again this was last year, “It's drier than it was in the '50s, but that one lasted three years.” Well, this one is kind of going into its third year now. We didn't realize it here at our place in 2010, because we lived on subsoil moisture.”

Harold Wooderson has been farming since 1959. This isn't the first time weather has kicked him in the shins.

This area of the state usually gets precipitation. So while drought has probably damaged only a about a half-dozen of his crops, too much rain has likely hindered about 10 other crops, he said.

There's no shortage of factors that can come into play.

It's been 15 years since The Oklahoman's four-part series on Harold Wooderson and the 264-acre field west of his house. The purpose was to provide an example of what goes into a wheat crop from the time of planting to the grain bin. From the start, some of that wheat had to be replanted. Then it encountered freeze damage in patches. And then on the day the combines pulled into the field, it started hailing. One disc-shaped hailstone was measured at 2 inches. But within five minutes the storm had passed. Despite the challenges, that crop yielded 46 bushels an acre, and Harold Wooderson was happy.

As for the drought and the pitiful look of that field and other wheat fields in 2012, he falls back on the words of his father, Lawrence Wooderson, who said, “Don't worry about the things you can't change.”

“I don't worry as much as some,” Harold Wooderson said. “I am concerned, but I cannot change the drought.

“We're farming for a crop. I'm just trying to make the best of what we've got.”

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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