Wheat stalks stand at a farm near Drysdale, Australia.

ENID — Prolonged drought has taken its toll on Oklahoma’s winter wheat crop, which is expected to be about half what was produced last year.

The recent Oklahoma State University crop tour, which surveys the anticipated crop in the state to provide an early estimate on production, projected a harvest of about 57 million bushels, said Grant Mason, an agronomist with Wheeler Brothers Grain, who helped determine the estimate. That compares to the harvest of 110 million bushels last year.

Results were presented at the recent Oklahoma Grain and Feed Association’s annual meeting.

“The crop has not been in great shape this year,” Mason said. “Since September, there has been no significant rainfall in Western Oklahoma.”

As a result, many farmers won’t even have a crop to harvest, he said.

“A lot of wheat in western counties will be released to insurance,” Mason said.

So, even though wheat prices are high, many producers won’t see the benefits, he said.

“Now we have high prices, but we’re just not going to have a lot of wheat,” Mason said. “A lot of farmers will not be able to capture those values.”

Rain received in the area last week may help some, but won’t have a huge impact, said Josh Bushong, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service northwest area agronomy specialist.

“Recent rains will help fill out kernels in the seed heads, but overall won’t add a whole lot to yield,” he said, “but it will help, especially late-sown wheat that still might only be in the boot stage. The fields that have been impacted by the drought the worst have already sloughed off secondary and later tillers to try on support main stems. Potentially, these rains could help make some better wheat hay, but I’m afraid it’s too late to expect any more growth out of the crop.”

Bushong said the drought limited growth of young wheat plants in the fall, and the problems kept multiplying.

“Tiller production and overall growth was limited last fall, which led to poor wheat pasture this year,” he said. “Stocking rates were probably lighter than normal. Stockers were removed off wheat fields early winter due to lack of production. As the drought continued, hopes for a good grain crop started to fade. The crop broke dormancy late, but once it started growing it went reproductive fairly quickly.

“Some farmers weren’t able to get out spring herbicide applications due to weather and wind. Once the crop started to reach jointing growth stage, many herbicides were no longer an option ... Due to elevated fertilizer prices, many farmers reduced nitrogen topdress applications. Due to drought and winds at critical growth stages, a majority of the wheat now has a thin stand, reduced tillers, short in height, small heads and reduced seeds per head.”

Brady Sidwell, president of Enterprise Grain, agreed with Bushong’s assessment.

“Producers around the state are in higher spirits after recent rains provided a slight break from one of the worst winter and early spring droughts in history,” he said. “However, it is largely too little too late for this year’s wheat crop.

“Overall winter wheat conditions in the U.S. (last week) came in at historic lows and were only 17% good to excellent in Oklahoma versus 54% at this time last year. This puts our state’s poor to very poor ratings at 51% versus 12% last year.”

Yields also are expected to be down considerably, compared to last year.

“The brief reprieve from hot, dry conditions will help the quality such as test weight of this year’s wheat crop during the current filling stage, but will do little to increase yields,” Sidwell said. “At the annual Oklahoma Feed and Grain Association meeting in Oklahoma City this week, estimates were compiled from around the state to arrive at a 2022 crop size of 57.05 million based on a 23.5 bushel-per-acre yield. That is half of last year’s crop output that yielded 39.0 bushels per acre. If this materializes, it will be the lowest production since 2014. Weather conditions turn back hot and dry next week and more rain is needed.”

Bushong has seen a range of yield potential in the area.

“Yield potential is very sporadic,” he said. “I’ve seen wheat that is going to be zeroed out by insurance and 60 bushel or better, but I think the average for the region will likely be in the low-20s or even into the teens if we turn hot, dry and windy. Early established fields seem to have faired the year better so far.”

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