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Wet May leaves farmers, wheat crops soggy, miserable

Farmers like rain — just not this much rain — at this time of the year.

“I’ve lived here my whole life and the thing I’ve always heard said is that the forecast can say 80-90 percent chance of rain any other time of the year and you might get it or you might not,” said Ronnie Emerson, Hobart Planters Co-Op manager. “The forecast can say 10 percent of rain this time of the year, close to harvest, and you can bet on it happening.”

Memorial Day weekend often marks the start of the harvest season in Southwest Oklahoma. Country roads and state highways are often filled with semi-trucks hauling loads of grain to the nearest grain elevator from combines in the golden fields of the plains. That gold turns into cash — as green as the wheat merely weeks before harvest — that maintains the agricultural economy of Southwest Oklahoma. Today, many of those fields are underwater — flooded on account of a very temperamental Mother Nature.

Heads turning white

“There’s so much rain out there, a lot of the heads on my wheat are starting to turn white,” said George Phillips, a farmer near Hulen. “There won’t be any grain in those heads when they get like that. We have a major wheat problem and it’s all because of the rain. And that doesn’t seem like it’s going to stop any time soon.”

Rain can be a farmer’s best friend — and his worst enemy. Wheat needs rain throughout the winter in order to help the crop cultivate and grow into the familiar golden plains. But too much rain — especially in the weeks leading up to harvest — can create headaches. The crop can develop rust, a fungus that can decimate a crop. In the case of Phillips, it can mold the more it sits out in the field in wet conditions. Normally, farmers would be readying their harvest equipment. But the fields are so wet that heavy equipment would just sink into the ground.

“There’s so much water out there that we’re going to have to let it dry before we can get the combines in,” Phillips said. “I’ve heard now, they’re thinking June 8 or 10 down in Walters. That’s a little quicker than ours. We’re looking about June 10 or 15.”

Harvest at least 3 weeks late

That’s at least three weeks later than most farmers began harvesting in this area. Phillips said that’s going to hurt him and other farmers who rely on wheat as their main source of income. Farming is often a boom-or-bust lifestyle, but it’s also extremely stressful — especially when you’re at the whims of the weather.

“It’s going to hurt us every day it sits out there,” Phillips said. “It’s just kind of a waiting game. It makes you sick every day. It creates a lot of mental stress. This is a dryland crop, so when it’s had all this water, it can’t withstand all that. They say Oklahoma, if you want to see a weather change, stick around an hour. I’m waiting.”

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