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Weather, disease, insects: Wheat crop takes triple whammy

With enough open weather Southwest wheat harvest should move fairly quickly. Acreage is down and the crop will be light, according to reports from Oklahoma and Texas.

“Yields vary even within the same farm,” says Barry Bloyd, state statistician for the Oklahoma Agricultural Statistics Service. “One farmer in the southern part of the state said he cut 60 bushels per acre from one field and only 15 from another.

“Overall, the crop is not as good as we thought it was earlier, but we hear mostly the bad news, so we have to be cautious with estimates. We certainly don't make predictions based on rumors.”

Bloyd says harvest weather has been less than ideal, with high humidity and intermittent rains keeping combines parked. “We've been getting rains in May and early June we needed in March and April,” he says.

With poor yields, Oklahoma production will be hard-pressed to hit the current 111.6 million-bushel estimate, Bloyd says. Yield is estimated at 31 bushels per acre.

Oklahoma acreage is the lowest since 1971, 3.6 million acres for harvest. “A farmer in his 60s told me this would be the first year he's ever failed to harvest a wheat crop,” Bloyd says. “He grazed part of it and declared disaster on part.”

Bloyd says the state will have “some” good wheat, but for now, we're disappointed in this crop.”

So is Travis Miller, Extension agronomist for Texas. He says it's a bad crop “that's going downhill. We want to get this one behind us and move on.”

Miller says north Texas provides the only bright spot. “From Hillsboro north, the crop looks pretty good,” he says. “The Rolling Plains crop is a mixed bag. It rained too late to do any good and we lost a lot of acres.”

He says some two-thirds of the High Plains dryland crop will be abandoned.

“We expect to harvest 39 percent of the planted acreage (statewide),” Miller says. The National Agricultural Statistics service estimates only 2.5 million acres for harvest. “We typically graze a lot of wheat in Texas, but growers usually harvest 54 percent to 55 percent of the crop. A drop to 39 percent is a big loss.”

Texas wheat producers planted some 6.4 million acres, a good percentage of which was grazed. Approximately two-thirds of the crop is grazed at some point.

In addition to drought, Miller says greenbug infestations took a big chunk out of the wheat crop. “We also saw a lot of rust damage.”

He says the 80 million bushel yield estimate from early May is “optimistic.” That's 26 percent lower than last year but 21 percent above 2000.

As if drought, rust and greenbug damage wasn't enough, Karnal bunt has shown up again in three counties, Young, Throckmorton and Baylor.

“Out of 507 samples, inspectors have found only four fields positive for Karnal bunt,” Miller says. “That's way less than last year, but we are concerned that it's still here. We have not found the disease in counties other than those with previously known infestations.”

Nationwide, winter wheat production is forecast at 1.24 billion bushels, down 5 percent from the May 1 forecast and 9 percent below 2001 to the lowest level since 1978. Based on June 1 conditions, the U.S. yield is forecast at 41.0 bushels per acre, down 2.1 bushels from the previous forecast. Grain area totals 30.2 million acres, unchanged from May 1.

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