Drought devastates winter wheat crop

Grady farmer Steve Bailey said he hasn't harvested a winter wheat crop since 2010, and he won't be harvesting it this June either.

CNJ staff photo: Kevin Baird

Lane Grau of Grady has already started grazing cattle on his dryland winter wheat since cannot cut and sell the crop.

According to a USDA Crop and Weather Report published Monday, Clovis has had 1.35 inches of precipitation in 2013. Normal accumulation during the same period is 2.85 inches.

Combined that with back-to-back of half the normal precipitation in 2011 and 2012, and the lack of moisture has been devastating to Curry County's top cash crop — especially for dryland farmers.

According to the USDA Crop Production Summary, 2010 was the last good year for growing winter wheat.

Of the 470,000 acres of winter wheat planted the previous fall, 290,000 were harvested in 2010.

The report shows a significant drop in the amount of winter wheat harvested in 2011 with 435,000 acres planted, and 95,000 acres harvested. In 2012, 450,000 acres were planted with 90,000 acres being harvested.

Bailey said on an average year he'll get between 15 and 20 bushels per acre. He will be lucky to get 4.5 bushels per acre this year.

Bailey said he planted 600 acres of winter wheat toward the Texas border that hasn't even come up from the ground because it has been so dry. The winter wheat that did grow is in such poor condition he cannot sell it so he will graze his cattle on it soon.

"I tried to stay optimistic" Bailey said. "Four weeks ago I thought I might be able to cut some wheat."

"We need one of those four or five day drizzles where it soaks into the ground," Bailey said, "A 1-inch rain would be dry in a week."

Jay Blackburn, another farmer from Grady said, "I suspect 99 percent of the dryland wheat is gone. It could rain from now until harvest and we still wouldn't make much of a harvest, because it is gone beyond repair. It already looks grim for the summer crops."

Frank Blackburn of Curry County said his irrigated winter wheat is average, but he has had to plow under 80 percent of his dryland winter wheat since December. He said the high winds and dust have been tearing up his crop.

"Every time we get a wind I lose more of it," Blackburn said.

"Wheat is one of the toughest crops I know," Bailey said. "We just need to have rain. That's all there is to it."

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