Mark Hodges: Winter Wheat Yields Have Nowhere To Go But Down

Apr 25, 2014

With harvest time rapidly approaching and rainfall happening on a hit or miss basis, wheat producers all across Oklahoma are getting a sinking feeling in the pits of their stomachs. Mark Hodges with Plains Grains said the 2014 wheat crop got off to a good start and was able to establish a good root system with good tillers, but from there it seems everything has been downhill.

“We really haven’t gotten any moisture, any significant moisture, this spring since we broke dormancy, so it’s really taken a toll on the plants. Of course, the most evident part of that is when you go across the state and walk out in the wheat field and that wheat is either in the boot or headed out and it’s boot-top high. That tells you quite a little bit. That tells you that head is probably pretty short and that plant has been under a lot of stress.”

Hodges spoke recently with Radio Oklahoma Network’s Ron Hays and said that a mid-April freeze on top of an already-sparse soil moisture profile hit the Oklahoma crop hard. (You can listen to the full conversation by clicking on the LISTEN BAR at the bottom of this story.) He said the damage hasn’t been limited to the state, however, but much of the hard red winter wheat belt is suffering as well.

“If you looked at a rectangle that would start on the southern side at Lubbock, Texas, and a width from the New Mexico border across to Wichita Falls and go north all the way to I-70, there’s a significant portion of that area and I wouldn’t hesitate to say 30 to 40 percent of that area is in a D4 or a D3 drought which pretty well defines what happened to the wheat crop.”

He said the western and southwestern counties of Oklahoma have been devastated by the drought which has stretched from three years into four in a lot of areas. The drought stress experienced by the crop has hastened its maturity as it seeks to reproduce as quickly as it can given the lack of moisture. That will definitely reduce yields, he said, but the news is not all bad.

“On the plus side, that wheat that is produced could be fairly good quality and could be fairly high protein, assuming that there was enough nitrogen in the soil profile. Of course, that’s kind of an issue, too, because there wasn’t the opportunity to get top dressing on when it needed to go on because there wasn’t moisture even if it was available.”

Hodges said the crop has not had to contend with much insect or disease pressure, but those issues are also related to lack of moisture. “That’s just an indication of how dry it’s been.”

No doubt the continuing drought will hammer producers hard again, Hodges said, but it will also hurt grain handlers in the areas hardest hit by the drought. For many, this will be their third or fourth year of seeing dismally small loads.

“When they aren’t able to handle the volume of grain that they need to stay in business, it’s tough.”

Hodges said that the statewide yield this year could conceivably drop below 75 million bushels. It’s done that a couple of other times in the last ten years, but it has also seen years over 150 million bushels. Hodges said so many producers had such high hopes for this year, but those are fading with each passing day. Some producers may be able to graze off what little remains in the fields in some areas, he said, but baling wheat for forage might be a stretch in some areas given the short stature of this year’s crop.

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