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Wheat crop better than expectations

Make no mistake: This month will cap a miserable year for Oklahoma wheat. The crop will likely be half the size as last year's, and thousands of the reduced acres that were planted didn't make a crop at all.

But farming is often like real estate: The main things are location, location and location. And that was true with the 2018 wheat crop as a swath of Southwest Oklahoma received just enough rain at the right time to make a crop that has been a pleasant surprise to farmers harried by low prices and another year of drought.

The wheat harvest moved across the Red River last weekend, and by midweek it was in full swing in the Walters area and a stream of trucks was delivering the harvest to the Walters Co-op.

Jerry Krasser, manager of the co-op, said the yield was running 50 percent better than normal and the elevator took in 600,000 bushels on Tuesday. With hot, dry weather, he expects the harvest to total 1.8 million bushels, up from 1.2 million bushels last year. 

"The good Lord was looking after us," he said.

There were good reasons to think it would be a bad year, including the drought and a late freeze.

Many farmers were seeing 50 or more bushels to an acre, and some were bringing in yields in the 60s. A few were "knocking on 70," Krasser said.

Test weights were good  64 pounds a bushel  and protein was 11 percent on Wednesday.

Krasser said the sweet spot stretches from Wichita Falls, Texas, to Walters and on to Lawton. Much farther west, he said, and the wheat thins out. The Walters elevator has a site at Ahpeatone west of town, and Krasser said the crop is running 40 percent of normal yield there.

Steve Sweeney, manager of Lawton Co-op Services, which has elevators in Grandfield and Chattanooga, said the best harvests were east of Grandfield, with the drought taking its toll to the west. Grandfield "exceeded expectations," he said, and the quality "has been exceptionally good, consider what we had the past two years."

Yields at Chattanooga were a bit better than average, Sweeney said, but the production is off because many farmers decided to plant cotton this summer rather than take another chance on wheat.

Rocky Zeller of Geronimo's Zeller Farms is one of them. He was driving a truck full of wheat to the Walters elevator on Wednesday, but it wasn't his. The family is planning to plant cotton this year and he was helping out some of the custom harvesters.

There's just no money in wheat, he said, so ""We're planting cotton."

"Hopefully we can get a little bit of rain," he said.

There wasn't much rain last week  except in a band stretching from Hobart to Velma  which meant that it was perfect weather for the harvest. The heat and wind made for longer hours and less moisture at the elevator.

"I don't like the weather, but it's great for cutting wheat," said Mike Woods, who was driving a grain truck to help a friend harvest a field west of Walters.

Rick High, who farms that acreage with his father Dwayne, had "no complaints" about how the wheat harvest turned out after the drought and late freeze.

"This is a really good harvest for us," he said. "We really got fortunate this year on what this crop looks like."

Near Lawton, Ryan John and his family had three combines running to get the crop in as quickly as possible.

The crop, he said, was "a lot better than we expected."

"We've been grazing it out every year for the last couple of years."

"This might be the first year we might make just a little over break-even," his son Ryan said.

Ryan John also said the large number of fields left fallow created an unusual problem because Canada geese targeted the family's fields because there were few other opportunities for forage.

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