Recent moisture too late for wheat harvest

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Curry County Extension Agent Stan Jones his year’s harvests would be a complete opposite of last year when dryland wheat crops received enough moisture to produce 1.5 million bushels of winter wheat compared to the 453,300 bushels a year before.

By Gabriel Monte: CNJ staff writer

Most area farmers will be unable to take advantage of this year’s record wheat prices as their dryland crops withered away this winter and spring from lack of moisture.

Most dryland farmers had to abandon their dryland wheat crop and collected crop insurance to try and recoup some of the loss, according to Curry County Extension Agent Stan Jones. He said about two-thirds of the wheat crop in the county is grown without irrigation.

The Clovis area received less than an inch of rain in the first four months of 2008, according to Accuweather.

Rhonda Mitchell, with the local U.S. Department of Agriculture, estimated 135,000 acres of dryland wheat were planted in Curry County in 2007.

Curry County ranks first in the state in wheat production.

Jones said this year’s harvests would be a complete opposite of last year when dryland wheat crops received enough moisture to produce 1.5 million bushels of winter wheat compared to the 453,300 bushels a year before.

Roosevelt County Ag Extension Agent Patrick Kircher said dryland wheat farms in Roosevelt County were also decimated by the dry weather.

New Mexico Wheat Growers Association President Paul Stout said the payout for some insurance policies doesn’t make up for the losses from a bad crop. He said farmers typically get 50 to 70 percent of the average annual crop value.

“My experience with insurance, is it’s never adequate enough. Most of the time it doesn’t even break even, when you consider the expense that goes into each one of those crops,” Stout said.

Stout said irrigated wheat is usually owned by dairy operators who use it for feed. Dryland wheat is usual sold as grain, he said.

The price of wheat last week was $7.46 a bushel, according to a Peavey Grain elevator spokesman. Last year’s price was between $4.20 to $4.30 a bushel, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“That’s the really sad part of it, so many guys are right on the cusp of being able to capitalize on a really great market for the first time in a lot of years then Mother Nature just took it all away. But that’s the nature of farming. It’s one of those deals where the guy has to be almost a bit of a gambler,” Kircher said.

Mark Williams grows wheat on about 3,500 acres in Parmer, Bailey and Curry counties. He said 1,000 acres of that is dryland wheat.

He said the lack of moisture during the winter and spring killed most of his dryland crops and have stunted the growth of his crops on irrigated land.

“Our dryland wheat is just non existent. It’s dead. The rain came too late for it,” he said.

Williams said recent rains have helped his irrigated wheat and he expects to make some profit off his crops, but not as much as last year because of the expense to sustain it through the winter and spring.

“They’re looking better since the rain, they’re probably not going to be as good as normal, and we’ve had to put a tremendous amount of irrigation water on them so they’re going to be a very expensive crop to grow,” he said.

Stout said the recent rains would help farmers plant summer crops such as grain sorghum to recoup some of the losses from the winter wheat crops.

“Maybe we’ll see a reversal in the trend,” he said.