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Despite weather challenges, May, Sept. redeem cropsDespite weather challenges, May, Sept. redeem crops

Producer Merlin Schantz testifies to the challenges this year's weather has brought to wheat, cotton and peanut production. But good growing conditions in May and September have redeemed struggling crops.

Shelley E. Huguley

October 9, 2023

5 Min Read
Merlin Schantz
Hydro, Okla., producer Merlin Schantz says despite a July hailstorm, his peanuts and a few cotton fields have pulled through. Shelley E. Huguley

Hydro, Okla., producer Merlin Schantz says a wheat crop in Western Oklahoma is made in the month of May and a cotton crop in September, a pattern he’s noticed over the last 10 years. 2023 is proving no less true.

“You don’t have to have much before May but if May’s good to you,” Schantz says a harvestable wheat crop is possible. But this April as he evaluated his wheat, it appeared beyond a May redemption.

“We got rain last fall in October and a lot of us jumped in there and sowed our wheat. We had rain to get it up. Then there were a few fall showers in November,” Schantz recalls.

The early-sowed wheat, planted at the beginning of October, provided some grazing. But then the rain stopped. “We had no rain through the winter. The first rain we got was around May 1.”

In April, the wheat was waning, and with no precipitation in the forecast, Schantz decided to cut his losses and swath the wheat rather than take it to grain. “It looked like we were going to have 5- to 10-bushel wheat, if we were lucky.”

Not long after the swathers started cutting, it began to rain, leaving hay on the ground and unharvested wheat in the field. “The hay was nothing, maybe a half-bale to the acre.” Reflecting, he says, “It was a horrible mistake, but you have to make decisions with what you have. It just didn’t look like we were going to have a wheat crop.”

Related:WHEAT SCOOPS: Tired of hearing about Russian wheat

For the next seven to eight weeks, his region received 30 inches of rain. “Our annual rainfall is 29 inches. It was a beautiful rain.”

The wheat that wasn’t swathed, was combined at the end of June. “Wheat harvest lasted five weeks. It started late. We usually start the last week of May or early June, but it was mid-July before harvest was over.”

Wheat yields

His “great May,” made for “remarkably better” wheat yields. “We harvested a lot of dryland in the 30s and even some 40s -- the wheat in the 40s wasn’t grazed,” Schantz says.

His irrigated crop was “phenomenal.”  Typically, he averages about 60 bushels per acre. “We cut 80-bushel irrigated wheat. The grades were great.”

Schantz, a 2018 Farm Press High Cotton Award winner, also grows irrigated seed wheat. This year, it yielded 70 bushels to the acre, with some in the 80s. He ran fungicide twice, he says. “It’s a high enough dollar crop that I can afford to spend money on it.”

Overall, “For wheat, May was just a gorgeous month.”

Spring planting

September was beneficial as well, redeeming what was left of his spring crops. While May rains made his wheat crop, they wreaked havoc on spring planting.

Related:Weather, other factors affect wheat planting dates

“Trying to find planting windows was such a challenge,” Schantz says. “We got started planting peanuts and then we would have a 10-day delay. You’d finally get back in the field for a day or so and then get rained out again.”

He began planting Spanish and runners around May 10 and finished, in between rains, May 14. Planting his dryland and irrigated cotton took even longer with 10-day delays in the midst of trying to harvest wheat. Schantz’s last planter left the field June 9.

“We were almost a month planting cotton, and we didn’t plant many acres. It was probably the least number of acres of cotton I’ve planted in all my years of farming but the longest planting season.”

Then, July 9, a hailstorm hit. “We had the worst hailstorm that's ever been north of Hydro in my lifetime. It was little pea-sized hail, but it was driven by 80- to 100-mile-per-hour winds. It just mowed off that cotton.”

Schantz lost half of his cotton. “About 400 acres, some irrigated and some dryland,” he says.

He left his dryland acres fallow but replanted his irrigated with soybeans. His peanuts survived. “Surprisingly, the hail defoliated up to 50% [of one field], but they recovered better than I thought they would. As you know, peanuts are flat on the ground, so they got the hail, but that side wind couldn’t hammer them like it did cotton.

Related:COTTON SPIN: Cotton market tightening more or less

“The weather has just really been a challenge this year.”

September’s redemption

September’s been “great,” for Schantz’s surviving crops. Thus far, he’s dug one peanut field. “They look amazingly good,” he says. “I don’t have grades back yet, but the guys who have gotten them said the quality is good.”

He has three fields of irrigated cotton left. One of the fields that was hit hardest by the hail, “we saved and probably shouldn’t have,” Schantz says. “If you could turn the calendar back about five weeks, it would have looked great because it’s blooming out the top like crazy.”

On his marginal field, he says he’s “dreaming about 1,200 pounds.” As for his third field, south of Hydro, that missed the hail, “It looks good. It was planted about the 6th or 7th of June, a little bit late. But with September being good, it’s finished up and looks good.

“I think I’ve got some three-bale potential.”

Read more about:

DroughtHail Damage

About the Author(s)

Shelley E. Huguley

Editor, Southwest Farm Press

Shelley Huguley has been involved in agriculture for the last 25 years. She began her career in agricultural communications at the Texas Forest Service West Texas Nursery in Lubbock, where she developed and produced the Windbreak Quarterly, a newspaper about windbreak trees and their benefit to wildlife, production agriculture and livestock operations. While with the Forest Service she also served as an information officer and team leader on fires during the 1998 fire season and later produced the Firebrands newsletter that was distributed quarterly throughout Texas to Volunteer Fire Departments. Her most personal involvement in agriculture also came in 1998, when she married the love of her life and cotton farmer Preston Huguley of Olton, Texas. As a farmwife, she knows first-hand the ups and downs of farming, the endless decisions made each season based on “if” it rains, “if” the drought continues, “if” the market holds. She is the bookkeeper for their family farming operation and cherishes moments on the farm such as taking harvest meals to the field or starting a sprinkler in the summer with the whole family lending a hand. Shelley has also freelanced for agricultural companies such as Olton CO-OP Gin, producing the newsletter Cotton Connections while also designing marketing materials to promote the gin. She has published articles in agricultural publications such as Southwest Farm Press while also volunteering her marketing and writing skills to non-profit organizations such as Refuge Services, an equine-assisted therapy group in Lubbock. She and her husband reside in Olton with their three children Breely, Brennon and HalleeKate.

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