Wheat farmers cash in on rain

By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent

Wheat farmers in Curry County are feeling pretty good about their crops this year.

Of course, had they been the recipient of one more timely rainfall, they would be feeling even better.

Harvest on this season’s wheat crop began in earnest over the last week and dryland farmers, the majority of those who grow wheat in the county, are expecting higher yields than in recent years.

Credit is going to the rain. And so is the blame.

“When we got all the rain, this crop looked probably as good as I’ve seen for a long time,” said Steve Ray, who has been helping local farmers harvest their wheat for the past 28 years. “Then it just quit raining. If we had gotten one more May rain, after getting a good March rain and a good April rain, it would have been a super crop.

“The yields aren’t as good as we thought it would be,” Ray added. “But they’re better than we’ve had the past three or four years.”

Sometimes known as a “custom cutter” in his business, Ray brings his equipment to local farms and, subsequently, the harvested material to grain elevators.

Ray will likely stay busy with eastern New Mexico wheat farmers until early July.

Stan Jones, Curry County ag extension agent, said last year dryland farmers “were lucky” to get a yield of 10 bushels per acre.

That, however, was barely breaking even. This time, at least, it should be better for those who have chosen to grow wheat.

“I talked to one guy who was making 17 (bushels an acre) and he was hoping to get 20,” Jones said.

Irrigated wheat farmers, according to Jones, hope for closer to 100 bushels per acre. Most of the wheat farmers in Curry County who can use irrigation are located closer to Clovis.

North and west of the city, it’s dryland farmers who are the predominant group. The farms that depend on mother nature for water generally have more acres — but less expectations.

“Dryland, they’d like to get 20-to-25 bushels (per acre). I talked to one guy who thinks he’ll get 25,” Jones said. “We’ll see.”

Jones is optimistic, however, that most wheat growers will be doing better this season than in recent years. It’s a tempered enthusiasm though.

“If we had a little rain in May, it would have been better,” Jones said. “But at least we’re still cutting wheat.”