Impacts of the current long-term drought extend beyond the wheat crop itself

Amanda de Oliveira Silva, Small Grains Extension Specialist and Brett Carver, Wheat Breeder

Oklahoma farmers plant on average 4 million acres of winter wheat each year, making wheat the largest cash crop in the state. Depending on market conditions approximately 30-60% of Oklahoma wheat acres is grazed by stocker cattle during the winter months. Therefore, wheat plays a crucial role in the cattle industry as it is the primary source of cool-season forage to fall-weaned calves.

Producers intending to use wheat for grazing purposes begin planting wheat around early to mid-September. The optimal time for planting wheat in a dual-purpose system (i.e., wheat used for both grazing and grain production) in central Oklahoma is around mid-September. This maximizes forage production while minimizing yield losses from an earlier planting date. However, with the current dry conditions and lack of soil moisture to drive germination, the likelihood of having forage this year is severely reduced to non-existent.

The current drought conditions result in the loss of a grazing opportunity, which leads to a significant loss of income to OK and OK wheat farmers in the US Beef Industry.

Cattle on wheat pasture near Apache, OK December 2021.

If this drought is extended later into the fall, as weather predictions indicate, it will threaten OK wheat intended for grain production.
What does that mean?

Oklahoma is the 2nd largest producer and an important source of high quality hard red winter wheat (HRWW) in the US (USDA-NASS, 2022). HRWW is the main source of wheat used to make almost all types of bread consumed in the US and abroad (e.g., Mexico). Therefore, a drought that prolongs in October and November will again deprive OK wheat farmers from that source of income (i.e., grain) and the country’s access to a key source of bread wheat.

Research efforts have been made from OSU to test and develop resilient varieties and management practices adapted to changing climate. A history about this was shown on FOX 25 News yesterday morning (link below). A drought of this magnitude uniquely and negatively impacts Oklahoma’s farm economy in two commodities, wheat and beef. We will continue to pray for rain!

FOX 25 News story: Oklahoma wheat farmers devastated by heat conditions while scientists develop solutions