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State wheat crop in big trouble

ELGIN - Fewer acres of wheat will be harvested this year than at any time in at least 40 years, and possibly as far back as the 1930s or '40s, according to Heath Sanders, Southwest Oklahoma area agronomist for the Oklahoma State University (OSU) Cooperative Extension Service.

Sanders said a wheat crop report issued from Oklahoma City on Tuesday forecast only 2.3 million harvested acres for 2018. Yield per acre was estimated to be around 25 bushels, which would put this year's total for Oklahoma growers in the 58-60 million bushel range.

By contrast, 3.5 million acres were harvested in 2016, with an average yield per acre of 39 bushels, for a total of approximately 136.5 million bushels.

"So we're looking at a smaller crop, because I drove around a lot of grazed-out acres. A lot of guys want to take some of it to hay," said Sanders, noting that many farmers planted cotton due to dry conditions during the growing season.

On the plus side, "it's been a calm, quiet year" insofar as diseases are concerned. The only thing he's encountered was powdery mildew among varieties that were planted a little earlier and had a canopy cover that held in the moisture.

The wheat crop may be down, but the number of varieties in the test plot is up. Growers who attended a wheat demonstration field day on Friday examined the strengths and weaknesses of 22 varieties this year, as compared to 14 in 2017. The state wheat specialist, Dr. David Marburger, offered industries the chance to include a few varieties, and they took him up on that, Sanders said.

Comanche/Stephens Counties Extension Educator Greta Meisner gave a couple of reasons why the test plot varieties weren't as tall this year. One, because there was so much rain last October, they didn't get planted until Oct. 30.

And then the rain just stopped. Sanders said there was maybe one little rain in December, but aside from that, Elgin saw no real rain until February.

Sanders credited the Oklahoma Wheat Commission with helping to fund the planting of test plots like this across the state. Elgin's is on land that Larry Bridges has rented from Bob Stephens of Elgin for more than three decades.

Sanders said the Cooperative Extension Service has seen a lot of questions about why growers are not seeing freeze damage. He himself thought that one 10- to 12-hour freeze would have wiped out the crop, but it didn't.

"Every freeze event is unique," he said. "You would think, after that many hours, we would see a lot more damage than what we're seeing."

There are many variables that could account for why the plants survived. Sanders said he's seen a lot more damage with fewer hours and less cold. In the above case, it could have been the wheat growth stage.

Or, "we did have some sunshine down here the day before, which might have radiated off enough heat the next day, or through the night and the morning. Also, when you see a Mesonet station, they measure the temperature right here, five feet (above the surface). That's a lot different from way down here in this canopy. So it can be a lot warmer closer to the soil," Sanders said.

He's also seen differences in no-till versus conventional till. Even farther west, where it was a lot drier, agronomists are not finding the freeze damage they thought they'd see.

The first three varieties Sanders discussed were Duster, which is used as a check in the plots, and the Sons of Duster, Gallagher and IBA. All three are Hessian fly-resistant. Duster has acid soil tolerance, Gallagher less so, and IBA still less.

Duster good for grazing

Duster is a really good grazing, tillering wheat. Quite a few growers in Cotton County still like to use it for the grazing and dual-purpose side of it, but Sanders doesn't see much of it elsewhere. One problem is that when it gets big and tall, it will log and go down, which slows down harvesting.

Gallagher, which derives from 2180 and Duster, doesn't look like Duster but acts like it. It has a good disease package, and Sanders said it cleans easier because it has a little bit bigger seed. IBA, with genetics from Carl 92 and Tomahawk, looks like Duster but doesn't act anything like it. It has good graze-ability, but isn't quite as good as Gallagher as far as forage production. But he sees a lot more IBA planted farther west of here.

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