Oklahoma wheat tour predicts good, bad and ugly for wheat crop

The 40th annual Oklahoma wheat tour was held virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing guidelines. However, experts were still able to deliver a detailed summary of what Oklahoma can expect for the 2020 wheat harvest.

Amanda Silva, Oklahoma State University assistant professor and small grains Extension specialist, said in general most of Oklahoma’s wheat got off to a slow start in the fall and suffered from slow growth. Extra moisture this spring gave it a boost. Unfortunately, a mid-April freeze harmed a lot of the crop, specifically in the southwest and southcentral parts of the state.

“The main issue was that when this freeze came, the wheat was right at flowering so we have a lot of heads that are sterile and not producing any grain,” Silva said.

Because of late planting dates—due to drought, low prices and a reduction in acres planted—diseases were limited in the fall and winter. As springtime emerged so did some diseases, specifically leaf spotting disease like tan spot, septoria and stagonospora, with septoria being the most common.

“The septoria has moved further into the canopy. Quite a bit more than it typically does in Oklahoma,” said Robert Hunger, OSU professor of entomology and plant pathology. “I’ve seen it especially on some of the more susceptible varieties on the leaf underneath the flag and even on the flag leaf sometimes.”

Hunger said he has also started seeing stripe rust earlier in the year, but it is starting to shut off with warmer temperatures. Now leaf rust is taking its place.

“Overall, its somewhat of a typical disease year, except for the leaf spotting diseases,” he added.

Breaking down Oklahoma’s regional crops

Oklahoma’s wheat crop is separated into nine regions. For the Panhandle region, Darrell McBee, OSU Extension educator for Harper County, Oklahoma, stated slow growth was a major issue for the four counties in his region. He said growers said they were only able to turn a fourth or a fifth of the cattle they normally turn out on wheat pastures in the fall. Growth eventually picked up, but a drought stress has hampered crop potential as of late.

“I call it a tale of four counties,” McBee said. “Harper and Beaver counties at this point have good potential. We’re bordering on the edge of running out of moisture to finish this crop out. In Texas and Cimarron counties, it’s bleak at best because if we don’t get significant moisture soon in all four of these counties, our quality is going to deteriorate. If I had to draw a line where the good wheat stops and the poor wheat starts, it would be around Hooker, Oklahoma. A lot of these fields have one foot in the grave and one foot on a banana peel. It’s that critical in the west part of the Panhandle.”

McBee ended on a positive note, saying he had not seen any freeze damage in those four counties. He predicted 411,000 total harvested acres for the Panhandle with an estimated average of 22.1 bushels per acre and yield of 9.096 million total bushels.

Greg Highfill, OSU Extension educator for Woods County, Oklahoma, gave the overview for the northwest central region. He said overall, the crops in this region are in excellent condition thanks to more overall rainfall. Highfill said he has seen minor, scattered disease and freeze damage. Additionally, Highfill pointed out that a large variation in fall forage production is creating disparities in rate of crop maturity.

“We expects production to be above average on a yield per acre average basis,” he said. “There are large areas of well-managed, high-quality fields that have a very high yield potential. Between that and the good quality wheat, we think the aggregate potential is very good. We think this crop is in good condition and we’re very hopeful for the future.”

Highfill said making production estimates for harvested acres has been challenging because when the cattle market plummeted, many of the fields scheduled for harvest were diverted to graze-out and feedlots are full, so cattle are still on pasture. Highfill forecasts 473,000 harvested acres for the area, 42.5 bushels per acre and 20.080 million bushels.

For the northeast central region, Jeff Mitchell of Farmers Grain Company in Pond Creek, Oklahoma, expects an average wheat crop, although lack of moisture is adding stress to the crop. He said he has seen a lot of late-planted wheat, minimal freeze damage and smut and leaf rust has been found in some fields. His estimated harvest date is June 5. Mitchell said a lot more corn has been planted in the area than in previous years, as well as soybeans and sesame, bringing wheat acres down compared to last year. Mitchell predicted 606,000 harvested acres for the northeast central region, 35.9 bushels per acre and 21.730 million bushels.

For the west central region, Ron Wright, OSU Extension educator for Custer County, reported drought conditions that have caused the crop to falter. He said disease pressure has been light. Wright said although commodity prices have continued to cause a lack of interest in wheat, acres have remained steady. Wright said Roger Mills and Washita counties have had some significant freeze damage, but recently a storm with baseball-sized hail rolled across their counties and wiped out a majority of the crop.

“We’re in hopes for an average to above average crop this year for most of the region, but it is sliding away at this point because of lack of moisture,” Wright explained.

Wright estimates 352,500 harvested acres, 36.2 bushels per acre and 12.755 million bushels.

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Grant Mason of Wheeler Brothers, Grain Co. in Kingfisher, Oklahoma, said the central region’s wheat looks satisfactory considering how little moisture it has received in the last month. He noted that feral rye was becoming a problem in many fields, but it seems to be better than last year. Ryegrass has been an issue in the eastern part of the region. As far as pests, Mason said aphids were especially prevalent this year. The late freeze in in the central area did not do near as much damage as it did to other fields in the state.

“Overall, we can expect to have a pretty good wheat crop this year,” Mason said. “There is some wheat that has the potential to do mid-60s if it rains,” Mason said.

Mason said he expects 452,680 harvested acres, 38.9 bushels per acre and 17.597 million bushels for the central region.

In the northeast region, Payton Hays, of Consolidated Grain and Barge in Tulsa, Oklahoma, said this was a difficult year to get wheat in the ground because of excessive moisture. Late freezes and strong, hail-producing storms contributed to the trying conditions for producers in the area. Hays predicts harvest to start between June 10 and 15 for his region.

“Given those challenges, everything looks pretty good,” Hays said. “Everything has headed out over the last month. More than anything, we need some dryer weather to help finish this crop out.”

For the northeast region, Hays expects 40,000 harvested acres, 45 bushels per acre and 1.8 million total bushels.

Gary Strickland, OSU Extension educator for Jackson and Greer counties, gave a summary of the southwest region’s wheat conditions. He said the region was on its way to an extremely high yielding wheat crop. Strickland said it was the tallest wheat crops he has seen in a while.

“Up until the first of April, we probably had one of the best standing yield potential crops that I’ve seen in the southwest,” Strickland explained. “We saw dryland acres looking anywhere from 40 to 70 bushel potential yields out there.”

However, the late freeze significantly damaged a large portion of the southwest acres. Strickland said fields that remained for grain production have anywhere from 5% to 80% freeze damage. He added that just about every field has slight awn damage from the freeze. Additionally, in just about all the southwest counties, hay and graze-out acres have gone up dramatically. Strickland estimated 462,257 harvested acres for the southwest region, 22.3 bushels per acre and 10.312 million total bushels.

For the southcentral region, Heath Sanders of CHS in Frederick, Oklahoma, said the area’s 2020 wheat crop was either poor or satisfactory, depending on what county the field is in.

“The farther north I went, I didn’t see near the freeze damage as I was finding farther south,” Sanders said. “As I got up around Hydro and Hinton, that wheat looked a lot better. It was flowering, grain heads were filling and we had a quarter to a three-quarter sized berry in some and the overall plant health looked good.”

However, Sanders said the hard, late-freeze was devastating to certain areas, specifically the Amber area.

“The freeze was severe in some areas and a lot damage continues to show up,” Sanders said. “This has been a very unique freeze event and I’ve never seen one quite like it.”

Sanders said the freeze was unusual because damage was difficult to see even seven days after the event, earlier planted wheat was hit harder than late wheat and there was a lot of variability in the fields as far as low and high areas. Lower areas seemed to have more damage than high areas. Sanders projects 109,000 harvested acres, 27.5 bushels per acre and 3.002 million bushels.

For the southeast region, Brian Freking, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service southeast area livestock specialist, estimated the area’s planted wheat acreages to be down 70% or more for 2020. Significant moisture made planting difficult for growers this year and led more producers to utilize fields for grazing and hay as opposed to harvesting grain. Predictions for the southeast region include 4,350 harvested acres, 34.9 bushels per acre and 0.152 million bushels.

In total, Oklahoma is expected to harvest 2,910,787 acres of wheat, have an average yield of 33.161 bushels per acre and produce 96.524 million bushels of wheat in 2020.

Lacey Newlin can be reached at 580-748-1892 or [email protected].