McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

State House

April 30, 2014

East, west, north and south: Drought's impact extends beyond farmers

ENID, Okla. — Little rain and a late freeze have created a grim situation for area farmers this spring.

“It’s so sad. I’ve never seen a year that it’s so widespread. It’s east, west, north and south. The only people that are probably going to have any kind of a crop at all (are) going to be east of I-35,” Brenda Sidwell, of Sidwell Insurance Agency in Goltry, said. “I’ve been doing 34 years of crop insurance and I actually have to say, this is the worst I have seen.”

There already are farmers turning in crop insurance claims, she said.

“It’s everywhere, and it’s just going to really affect everybody. When the farmers don’t have the crop, then it affects the elevators. They aren’t going to have bushels (at the elevators), and they can’t obtain any insurance. And then you’ve got the implement dealers and ... the retailers. It just trickles down to the entire economy of Oklahoma,” Sidwell said. “It’s really going to be devastating to the state.”

Jeff Boedeker, who farms west of Waukomis, shares a similar outlook on this year’s crops.

He planted 1,500 acres of wheat north of the Imo elevator and said he may have a 70 to 80 percent loss so far, “between the freeze and the drought.”

“I’d say 90 percent of the county, I mean, we’re going to be in a total devastation as far as the crops are concerned,” he said. “There’s a lot of the fields that are just completely, 100 percent gone already, as far as wheat’s concerned.”

Boedeker said there has been minimal rain since January.

Rick Nelson, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service ag educator for Garfield County, said it needs to rain.

The wheat is in “early heading” and moisture usage is around a quarter of an inch per day during that time period, he said.

“If the moisture isn’t available ... it will dry up,” Nelson said. “So, what we’re getting into now is critical because, without that amount of moisture per day, it’s just not going to develop any grain.”

Canola is probably a little better off than wheat right now, he said.

“It has a deeper taproot. It’s been able to draw moisture from further down in the ground. So it’s a little better right now, but it’s not, by (any) means, an average crop at this point in time. It’s still going to be lacking,” Nelson said.

The weather forecast is not promising, he said.

According to Sidwell, some of the wheat is holding on, but she thinks the 90-degree temperatures forecast for next week are going “to devastate even what’s left, which isn’t much.”

Farmers who make an insurance claim on a crop may turn the crop into hay or put cattle on it to graze once it is released by the insurance adjuster, Sidwell said. Claimed crops cannot be harvested or the insurance appraisal will be void.

“But the hay is so short that unless they have their own machinery, they’re just not going to be able to do it,” she said, adding it would not be cost effective for a farmer to hire someone to bale the hay.

Boedeker said farmers typically cut hay by the first or second week of May, but plants currently are just 5 or 6 inches tall.

He said after four or five years of drought, there was a shortage of hay until last summer.

“This last summer kind of just barely got everybody caught back up again, and now it’s all going to go back south again. We’re going to be short again,” he said.

Boedeker said he typically runs around 250 to 300 head of cattle on grass. Numbers were down on the wheat pasture last year, and he ran a third of the cattle last year on the pasture.

“That’s affected bottom line several hundred thousand dollars,” he said.

The loss of this crop will affect him further.

“It’s probably going to cost me around $400,000,” Boedeker said, adding that insurance does not cover the entire loss.

This week, farmers were encouraged by the president of Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts requesting use of cultivation methods other than plowing, to reduce the risk of blowing dust.

“I’d want to leave as much crop residue intact on the soil surface as possible right now, because there’s not going to be enough moisture to get a crop up,” Nelson said. “That tillage, if it can be delayed as long as possible, will be advantageous, I suspect. There’s been a lot of soil blown.”

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