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Spring, summer rains prolong Oklahoma wheat harvestSpring, summer rains prolong Oklahoma wheat harvest

Oklahoma wheat producers wait for fields to dry so they can continue harvesting. Chatanooga producer Dallas Geis says despite harvest woes, he's thankful for above-average yields.

Shelley E. Huguley

June 23, 2023

6 Min Read
wheat harvest
Southwest wheat harvest is underway. Oklahoma producers and custom harvesters dodge thunderstorms and wait for dry fields to finish the season.Shelley E. Huguley

The 2023 Oklahoma wheat harvest can best be described as a stop-and-go season, producers and custom harvesters dodge thunderstorms and wait for fields to dry from spring and summer moisture.

“With all the rains we’ve been getting here, it’s been a little bit slow,” said Oklahoma State University Extension Small Grains Specialist Amanda Silva, on a recent OSU Sunup TV episode. “I would say we are about 30% harvested and by the end of this week, more advanced, hopefully.”

Wheat is Oklahoma’s largest cash crop, with producers sowing about 4 million acres of winter wheat annually, according to the OSU Extension website. Since April 21, rainfall amounts throughout the state, as reported by the Oklahoma Mesonet, range from 11.7 inches in Ringling to 15.1 inches in Hinton and 11.9 inches in Okemah.

Chattanooga wheat producer Dallas Geis has received at least 10 inches of rain over the last two months. While he’s thankful for the moisture after extended periods of drought, he said the sporadic rain showers followed by humid and cloudy days, made for a challenging wheat harvest.

“We got probably 600 acres out and then we got a big rain, maybe an inch-and-a-half, depending on where you were at. Some got from a half inch up to 2 inches. It stayed humid and made it where you couldn’t put in a good long day so that drug things out.”

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About the time the fields would dry, Geis said it would sprinkle or shower or “flat out rain,” again.  “The last 200 acres, we pretty much had to mud out of the field. And it was a good thing we did because there was a weak tornado that came through and it would have finished things off, so it was good that we got it out.”

Wheat quality began to decline as well, including in his dad, Lynn Geis’s fields. “The last two patches dad harvested, he was getting sprout damage, like 10% to 15%, and the test weights were going down. It was just time for it to be out.”

Little to no spring moisture also took a toll. “The lack of rain during the month of April severely limited our yield potential. There was some good wheat in our area, but the poor ground really showed up due to April.”

Despite setbacks, Geis and his dad, who just finished his 47th wheat crop, harvested above-average yields. “We were in that 45-to-50-bushel range, which was common. There were some guys making 80 to 90 bushels.”

Geis credits his yields to continuing his “normal” fertility program, regardless of high fertilizer prices. “We spent what the budget would allow,” he said.

He also attributes above-average yields to the unseasonal late-spring weather. “The thing that really saved us was the cool temperatures we had in May. It was abnormally cool, like in the 70s and 80s, so that allowed the wheat to fill that third mesh and that’ll add another 30% to 50% to your yield.”

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Geis said he’s thankful 2023 was “one of those better years. It has to be with what everything costs. You have to have it. I mean the combines were up 4 cents over last year and we got a pretty good deal. We were at $29/acre. I heard of some people charging $30 or $32. One guy said when he comes back next year, he’s going to charge $35. If you have a bad wheat crop, that’s not going to pencil on top of everything else.”

What’s next?

Since harvest, Geis has been moving cattle and quickly trying to get a summer crop planted. “The vast majority of our ponds are full, and the grass is in good shape,” he said. “We’ve been trying to get cattle moved around to different pastures and utilize grass that hasn’t been touched yet.”

He’s also planting double-crop cotton. “I may need to be shot for putting 200 acres of cotton in behind wheat,” he joked, “but I’ve got to try to get back into a rotation.”

In 2022, anything that got a stand, didn’t survive. “On a couple of places, I had cotton (two to three times more than I normally would) and then on another place I gave black-eyed peas a whirl.  All of it burned up, plus I didn’t make any wheat.”

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Geis is hopeful this recent moisture will redeem his weed management strategy. “The last couple of years has gotten our crop rotations out of whack. I would like to try to get back on schedule,” he said.

“Last fall, with the lack of rainfall, we were unable to clean up the usual flush of cool season grassy weeds in our wheat. We just dusted the wheat in and waited on a rain which finally came at the end of October. As a result, we have many fields that have a lot of cheat, Italian Ryegrass, rescue grass, wild oats, etc., in them. Rotating to cotton or another summer crop is our best tool for keeping our wheat fields clean.”

He admits some producers have had luck spraying herbicides. “If everything lines up just right then yes, you can do a decent job. But I think it’s a 50/50 proposition at best. I’d rather get back to my crop rotation where we can clean things up.”

Favorable yields

As wheat harvest has concluded on his Chattanooga farms, it’s ongoing in Extension field trials, beginning in the southwest southern plots. “Yields have been favorable -- good test weight, good protein,” Silva said. “In some cases, where the wheat was ready and the ground took a while for us to cut, then we are seeing some decline on test weight.”

In areas where drought has been prevalent, the rainfall was timely for some wheat and too late for others. “The earlier the crop was, or the less developed, the more beneficial that rain was to our wheat. So, we could see a positive impact, especially for grain filling,” she said, adding that it was also timely for wheat that was flowering.

“We are seeing good impacts of that rain.”

Variety trial data

As fields are harvested, regional field trial data is posted. The information can be found on OSU Extension’s website under “Wheat Research & Extension.“ 

Trial data includes yield, test weight and protein, as well as additional information helpful to producers including “anything we see out of place,” Silva said. “Anything we see in those trials, let’s say lodging, sprouting or anything, we include it so they can see the differences among the varieties.”

Overall, though the recent moisture has made wheat harvest challenging, it’s been a welcome blessing to a region battling drought. “We got through it and had an above-average crop,” Geis said, “and that’s all you can ask for.”

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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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