Short Harvest and Strong Demand May Reduce Wheat Seed Supply | Agriculture / Energy
ALVA, Okla. — Joe Shirley grew his first seed wheat for an FFA project in 1961. He had droughts, short harvests and high prices, but no year like this.
“It’s as bad as it gets in this part of the country,” he said during a wheat variety tour he organized at his farm northwest of Alva.
The drought has reduced its production by at least 60%, he predicts. Meanwhile, wheat prices surged above $12 a bushel due to unprecedented geopolitical and economic events, including a severe pandemic that disrupted supply chains, followed by the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
Russia and Ukraine together export more than a quarter of the world’s wheat. India, the world’s second largest wheat producer behind China, recently banned exports to deal with extreme heat and drought conditions.
With dwindling stocks, messy global supply chains, and forecasts of a hot, dry summer threatening the viability of summer crops, farmers across the region will likely have a strong incentive to sow wheat in the fall. . But they won’t be able to do that if they don’t find seeds.
As the wheat harvest races into what will likely be an earlier than normal harvest — the first cut began May 18 in far southern Oklahoma, according to the Oklahoma Wheat Commission — it’s unclear how well the crop can recover, even with rains in late May.
Oklahoma State University area extension agronomist Josh Bushong, who has spent the past few weeks attending wheat plot tours and surveying fields, advises growers to get their seeds aligned as soon as possible. .
“Seed wheat is going to be tight,” he told growers during one of his recent stops.
Where wheat is still harvestable, high temperatures in May likely caused kernel wilting and reduced test weight. The windiest April on record also made it difficult to apply herbicides in a timely manner, which increased weed pressure in many fields, he added.
To be sold as certified seed, wheat must meet minimum standards of quality and purity.
Most farmers these days would rather buy Certified seed than save and replant their own, said Brook Strader, who has continued a tradition of growing staple seed at the “hometown” of his grandfather west of Okeene.
Rigorous testing ensures improved performance and helps farmers protect their investment in high-quality genetics, he said.
“A lot of studies have shown that certified seed is the way to go,” he said during a tour of the varieties at his farm.
He fears that the unusual heat wave in early to mid-May will reduce the amount of seed that meets minimum specifications.
“These 90-degree days just cook the core in your head,” he said. “Anything under 60 pounds that we can’t sell as certified seed.”
Typically, when the calls for seed wheat start coming in, he simply jots the names down in a notebook. This year, with triple the usual value of wheat, he plans to ask for an advance deposit to ensure he can meet serious orders.
“Normally we sell everything we have in a year, so I don’t have a lot of carryover,” he said.
Torrential rains fell in northwest Oklahoma the week before Memorial Day, but many wheat fields had already been grazed or baled. Food is expensive and scarce too.
Surrounded by a patchy stand, seed grower Levi Johnson of Helena said he’s already baled some to use as a supplemental feed on wheat pastures next fall. But a few days of cooler temperatures and rain helped ease the tension he and his neighbors were feeling about the prospects for a rapidly maturing crop.
“Varieties that aren’t as advanced will benefit more,” he said. “All this wheat we’re in right now was thick a month ago, but it’s been receding since.”
While farmers can usually venture out of their immediate area to find seed, the potential shortage extends as far as Kansas and Colorado.
“It’s been on farmers’ minds, and they’re wondering what they can expect,” said Chris Hansen, an agronomist at Haven-based Kauffman Seed, one of Kansas’ largest seed dealers.
“It’s hard to know what’s going to happen,” he said. “It is certain that dryland wheat will be a shorter crop than what we have experienced in recent years. In our case, we try to find as many acres under irrigation as possible for seed production, so that our supply is not as limited as some. But some varieties may be more difficult to obtain, depending on the areas they are suited to.
“I could see us expanding our reach with our seed sales this year,” he added.
Jeff Wright, production and operations coordinator for Oklahoma Foundation Seed Stocks at OSU, is responsible for taking a small amount of seed provided by the breeding program and growing it under carefully controlled field conditions.
“Usually in our base fields, I contract enough acres that I don’t need everything I plan to produce to cover what I need,” he said from his Stillwater office.
This is one of those years where he will need every bit of cushion he can get.
He is also fortunate to have saved extra seed in storage last fall rather than bringing it to the elevator to sell.
About 10 years ago, he began collaborating with OSU’s Chief Wheat Geneticist, Brett Carver, to augment promising experimental lines several years before they were ready for release to ensure a pool adequate seed.
Since the amount of initial Breeder seed is so limited, he didn’t expect the drought to have much impact on the program’s immediate plans for rolling out new varieties.
However, for certified seed dealers scattered across the state, this year will likely require more communication and coordination than usual, he said.
Back in Alva, where Joe Shirley and his son Biron are among the state’s largest seed distributors, the two said farmers face many uncertainties but will find a way to continue producing crops amid of an unstable world.
“You just learn to take it as it comes,” Joe Shirley said. “I tell people, worry about what you can change. There’s no point worrying about what you can’t change.