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More grain, less wheat likely for OK farmers

Central Oklahoma farmers may turn up some early planted, drought-plagued wheat this spring and replant milo or corn, taking advantage of good pricing opportunities. Late soybeans also may make it into the mix.

A combination of volunteer wheat, germinated from acreage abandoned last summer, and poor planting conditions early last fall left many farmers unhappy with prospects for the winter crop, says Enid, Okla. farmers James and Richard Wuerflein, and Sherwin Ratzlaff.

“Wheat planted in early September looked poor in late fall,” said James Wuerflein. “Volunteer wheat and cheat grass also caused problems.”

”A lot of wheat was left in the field last summer and never cut,” Ratzlaff said. At planting time a lot of that old wheat germinated and caused problems for farmers trying to get in a new crop.

“We sprayed some fields five times with Roundup,” said Richard Wuerflein.

“We had 40 to 60 bushel per acre wheat just laying on the ground,” Ratzlaff said.

“Some varieties were still coming up in October,” James Wuerflein said. “Wheat planted in early October did pretty well. Also, no-till wheat planted into milo stubble looks pretty good and is clean. Anything planted behind wheat is a mess.”

“Some farmers are killing it and starting over,” Ratzlaff said.

“And we’re seeing some leaf rust,” James Wuerflein added. He said rust may be coming from the abandoned wheat.

“It’s been a tough three years for wheat farmers,” Ratzlaff said.

Drought in 2006, a late April 2007 freeze, and then a summer deluge that prevented harvest took a chunk out of profit potential.

They said residue planting — double-cropping milo or soybeans into wheat stubble — has been a good option. Some farmers have also been successful with double-crop sunflowers, planted late. “We did pretty well in 2007 with double crop soybeans,” James Wuerflein said. “We plant beans as soon as we finish harvesting wheat, about June 15. We can’t go beyond July 15.”

They no-till all their crops. “We spray milo with Roundup before a late August or early September harvest and plant wheat into the stubble,” he said.

The 2007 milo crop was “the best we ever made. A lot of farmers cut corners on milo and don’t manage it. If we manage milo, it does well.”

They say 80 bushels per acre is a good year for milo. “In an exceptional year we’ll make 100 bushels,” Ratzlaff said. “We fertilize for 100 bushels and hope to make 100 or better.”

They said early milo, planted in fields with no winter wheat, is the “best by far.”

Market options for corn and grain sorghum are promising for 2008. “Milo prices are pretty good in this area,” James Wuerflein said.

“It usually runs about 10 cents below corn,” said Ratzlaff. But he sees a flip side. “Anhydrous was up to $430 a ton in early October. Two weeks later it was $520. That seems like price gouging. But we still have to topdress. We can’t leave our crops alone.”

They’ll manage the wheat they have left for top yields.

“We used to be all wheat and cattle, but we have to diversify or cut back to manage our farms efficiently,” Ratzlaff said. “Soybeans make us better managers and we went to no-till to reduce labor.”

“We’re always busy, planting, spraying or harvesting,” James Wuerflein said.

“Last year we sprayed a lot,” said Ratzlaff.

“Wheat harvest persisting into July put things back a month,” James Wuerflein said.

This spring, milo and corn will be top priorities. “Early soybeans are not consistent. They look good until July 4, but if we miss one rain they get hurt.”

“Planting milo and corn early is critical,” said Ratzlaff.

The Wuerfleins like to plant corn from late March to early April. “I like April 15-30 for milo,” James Wuerflein said. “I never plant milo from May 15 to June 15.”

Ratzlaff said area farmers made a pretty good corn crop in 2007.

“We may see a few late-planted soybeans this spring if prices stay close to $10 a bushel,” he said. “That’s profitable and beans do a lot for the ground.”

“We’re cutting back several hundred acres on wheat,” James Wuerfleins said. They say some farmers are looking at canola as an occasional alternative to wheat.

Whatever the crop, they agree that cutting corners will not be prudent with current pricing opportunities.

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