The rain that could have been a blessing has become a curse.
“We have been dry for three years, and it started raining 10 days ago,” said Blackwell wheat farmer Harold Wooderson.
The drought and a late freeze harmed this year’s wheat crops, dragging down the yield. Now that it’s early June, it’s time to harvest. But the wheat can’t be cut when it’s wet. And storing damp wheat makes it spoil.
Farmers have to wait until the dew dries. Now they’re having to wait for rain to stop and the sun to dry the crops. Instead of harvesting all day, they have only a few hours.
Wooderson started the wheat harvest Wednesday at his farm. Usually, it takes about a week. If the rain doesn’t let up soon, it might take two or three weeks, he said.
The longer they wait, the more grass and weeds will grow in the fields. It’s hard to separate them.
His farm has suffered enough without the rain. A normal harvest yields about 50 bushels an acre, he said. So far, they’ve been seeing about 20 per acre.
Wooderson isn’t alone. Wheat farmers across the state have been struggling.
“In many cases, the rain just came too late,” said Mike Schulte, executive director for the Oklahoma Wheat Commission.
Crops yields are exceptionally low this year.
In 2012, the U.S. Agriculture Department calculated a five-year average for the state’s wheat yield: 118 million bushels. That brought in $784 million. The projection for this year’s yield is falling to 59 million bushels, Schulte said. This will bring in only $375 million.
“That’s going to have a large economic impact,” he said.
Oklahoma isn’t the only state facing this problem.
Agriculture Department reports show farmers across the nation producing 1.38 billion bushels of winter wheat, down 10 percent from last year. Hard red winter wheat, the type often used to make bread, is down 3 percent from last month’s estimate to 720 million bushels.
“Severe drought conditions in the Southern Plains had a dramatic impact on the winter wheat crop, with poor fields in Oklahoma and Texas being baled for hay or otherwise abandoned,” the USDA said in its crop production report. “Late-month precipitation was beneficial to this area but likely too late to revive drought-stricken wheat.”
Harvest will continue for the next few weeks, depending on rain conditions.