Lyndel Strain has been farming since 1951 – the year he graduated from high school.
A lot has changed in the ensuing 65 years. In fact, some of the implements he used as a child helping his father on the family farm have found second lives as decorative elements in his yard.
But, some things – like wheat harvest – remain the same.
For the past few weeks, combines have rumbled through golden fields of wheat and loaded down trucks lined up at grain elevator scales.
In late May, a television crew from Oklahoma State University’s SUNUP traveled U.S. 81, which runs along the historic Chisolm Trail, surveying wheat fields and chatting with some of the producers tending those fields.
The two-day tour revealed a cautious optimism building around this year’s potential crop.
“It’s doing fairly well. It’s a good crop,” said Strain, whose 2,500-acre operation in Stephens County also includes alfalfa and 400 head of cattle. “Last year was a pretty good fall [for the 2015 crop]. We didn’t have a problem until May and we had 20 inches of rain and it was tough. The wheat was not nearly as good as it is this year. Now wheat you never measure until you cross the scales, but it looks better.”
Recent U.S. Department of Agriculture figures back up what Strain’s decades of experience and learned eye are telling him.
YIELD EXPECTATIONS ARE UP
OSU Cooperative Extension small grains specialist David Marburger said a May 23 USDA report estimated 57 percent of the state’s wheat rated good, while 9 percent was rated at excellent. By contrast, only 28 percent rated fair with 9 percent rating at poor to very poor.
“Some estimates came out earlier in May from the Oklahoma Grain and Feed Association looking at an average yield throughout the state at about 34 bushels per acre with about 3.8 million acres harvested, giving us about a 130 million bushel crop for this year,” he said. “That’s up an average of eight bushels per acre from last year and approximately 30 million more bushels compared to last year.”
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If there is a potential drag lurking in the shadows of a generally upbeat outlook on this year’s crop, it’s declining wheat prices.
“The price is not where we were those two years, but I would say across the farm we’ll average better this year. That’s our expectation now,” said Kale Vickrey, a third generation producer based in Grady County whose family planted 2,850 acres of wheat this season and also grows alfalfa and runs cattle.
Over the past eight years, the average price for wheat in Oklahoma has hovered around the $6 mark.
But, this year, Kim Anderson, OSU Cooperative Extension grain marketing specialist said already low prices – $3.80 per bushel in late May – have the potential to drop as low as $3 in the state as a result of a large world crop, though he doesn’t see that happening.
However, there is better news for producers who are willing to be patient.
“If you want to store into the fall and winter, you’re bidding off the December KC Futures contract. The July contract is $4.50 and the December contract is $4.90,” Anderson said. “So the futures contract is saying, ‘hey, we’ll pay you 40 cents to store your wheat until November.’”
Uninspired wheat prices aside, Kingfisher County producer Shane Clifton remains positive about the current crop after experiencing up and down results in recent years.
“Over the past five years, what we were getting into was so much hit and miss. We’d have fields managed the same way and one field would make 45 [bushels per acre] and the next, which was sown the same way, would make 20 [bushels per acre],” he said, noting the cool temperatures and rains have been welcome and timely. “It’s been very nice. We cannot ask for any better chance to make a crop than what we’ve had so far.”
Jeff Johndrow no longer farms, but as the location manager for the Pond Creek (Oklahoma) grain elevator operated by Farmers Grain Company in Grant County, he’s as energized as any producer by the prospects of this year’s wheat crop, especially after riding out two difficult years.
“Our 2014 was tough. This last year, 2015, we had more bushels, but the quality wasn’t what we’d hoped. It’s a struggle. We’re really enthused about this year and what we see in the fields looks really promising,” he said.
The facility can store up to a million bushels of wheat and as harvest ramps up and reaches its peak, the elevator anticipates seeing 80 to 100 trucks daily coming across the scales.
“Anytime we can have a good harvest we’re going to welcome that, and we’re prepared,” said Johndrow. “We’ve certainly seen a much improved crop in the last month. These late rains and cool weather have helped this crop turn around to a point where we’re really comfortable with what’s going to come in.”
Oklahoma wheat producers are looking forward to enjoying the results of their diligence.
“It’s just fun to be a part of it,” said Clifton. “It’s fun to watch the crop grow all the year then that’s kind of your bonus, when you get to harvest it and take it to the bin.”