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Wheat production in southwest Oklahoma is hit hard by a mid-April freeze, while other areas are concerned about drought.

Shelley E. Huguley, Editor

May 8, 2020

5 Min Read
Shelley E. Huguley

The May 2020 Oklahoma Wheat Crop Estimate is out, and while total state production is down 22 million bushels from last year, it's not far from the 10-year average of 101 million bushels.

The May estimate is a 96.524-million-bushel crop, based on 2,910, 787 harvested acres and a 33.161 bushel per acre yield, said Mike Schulte, executive director for the Oklahoma Wheat Commission.

"Based on the reporting, we're looking at an average crop but by no means a bumper crop," he said.

The crop estimate report, generated by the Oklahoma Grain and Feed Association, Oklahoma Wheat Commission and Oklahoma Wheat Growers, was announced during a virtual wheat tour webinar hosted by Oklahoma State University's Extension, May 5. Nine area agronomists, Extension educators, and private industry crop consultants provided acreage estimates along with crop updates from the various regions.

The reduction in Oklahoma's wheat production is due in part to acres lost from the April 15 freeze, primarily in southwest and southcentral Oklahoma, Schulte said.

See, Oklahoma wheat farmer takes big hit from April freeze

On the other side of the state, a change in commodities planted has reduced estimates. "In the northcentral-east region (Garfield, Grant, Kay and Noble counties) we've seen a lot of crops switched over from wheat to corn, soybean and sesame production, so the acres in that region are down and that's hurt our numbers as well."

The freeze damage reported by both OSU Extension Director Gary Strickland in the southwest and CHS agronomist Heath Sanders in the southcentral region is not typical. While freeze damage is typically seen on Day 5 or 7, Schulte says the effects of this frost took longer to be revealed. 

"It was maybe Day 10 or Day 12 before we could see the impact," he said. "I'm even hearing that producers in central Oklahoma have wheat heads that are green on the outside and the stems look healthy, but if you start looking into the head and assessing the head itself, it doesn't look like it's filling correctly or it's not filling all the way in some instances.

"So, I think the verdict is going to be out in the northern and central parts of the state."

In western and northwestern Oklahoma, the wheat stand looks favorable but it's extremely dry, says Schulte. "If we're going to bring in those crops, based on the assessments given May 5, we're going to have to have moisture from here on out." 

"I still think if we turn off hot and dry and don't get perfect grain-fill weather, we are still going to see impacts from those colder temperatures in April," Schulte said.  


During the webinar, OSU Small Grains Extension Specialist Amanda Silva gave an overview of the 2019/2020 crop. "Wheat had a slow start in the fall. We saw a lot of uneven stands and slow growth for forage production," she said. "But it came through in the spring with the moisture we received."

Silva echoed Shulte's concerns regarding the freeze damage coupled with the drought. "A lot of the freeze issues we are seeing is where it came right at flowering," Silva said. "We have a lot of sterile heads not producing any grain."

Drought is starting to affect the crop as well, she added. "I'm seeing a lot of leaf-rolling in dry areas."


Bob Hunger, OSU Entomology and Plant Pathology professor, provided an update on wheat diseases and viruses. Last fall, wheat disease was mostly nonexistent, he said.

"The effective planting date was later this fall due to drought, low prices and maybe a reduction in acres planted," he said. "Because of that later planting date, we didn't see any diseases through the fall and winter."

See, 5 tips for planting cotton into failed wheat crop

But in late February and early March, some disease did start to show, particularly leaf-spotting diseases. "Septoria was by far the most prevalent, which was seen across the state," he said. "But there's some other browning that's gone on this year that we haven't quite figured out, but it's not biotic related. It's not caused by a disease or a pathogen. It seems to be more related to freeze and wind and other environmental factors".

But, there is more Septoria, which has moved up into the canopy quite further than it typically does in Oklahoma, Hunger said. "I've seen it on more of the susceptible varieties, the leaf underneath the flag and even under the flag leaf sometimes."  

This spring, there have also been reports of stripe rust. "Josh Anderson from the Noble Foundation reported it first back in early March, late February. Gary Strickland has seen it across the southwest. It's starting to shut off because it's gotten warmer. But it did hit hard in some fields," Hunger said.

In varieties without resistance, leaf rust is occurring as well, Hunger said. "It's a typical year for stripe rust and leaf rust."


Because of last fall's effective later planting date, Hunger said he didn't expect to see many light-transmitted viruses disease samples. "We've only gotten in six to eight and only four or five of those have tested positive. There have been some positives for barley yellow dwarf because there had some aphid infestations throughout the growing season, and I can see spots of barley yellow dwarf in my plots."

Overall, Hunger said it's a typical disease year except for leaf spotters. "Usually they stay on the lower canopy and don't move up but this year they did.

"From here on out, for most of Oklahoma, except maybe in northern, northwestern and in the Panhandle, it's probably getting a little too late to spray because most of the wheat in the southern half of the state is past flowering."

For more information or view the webinar, click here.


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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