By Sarah Meyer: Freedom New Mexico
Recent rain brought some relief for a thirsty dryland wheat crop, but not enough to make a difference, officials said.
The precipitation Feb. 16 brought the year’s total to .24 inches, which is about half of the historical average of .49 inch for the first six weeks of the year.
“We don’t have near enough yet,” said Stan Jones, Curry County agriculture Extension agent. “It could be a huge problem.”
The moisture shortage stretches back to late summer.
AccuWeather.com records show the area received 4.77 inches of precipitation from August through December 2007 — more than 3 inches less than the average 7.94 inches for those five months. Most of that fell in September — 2.75 inches — and the last substantial precipitation of .45 inches fell on Sept. 19.
Farmers planted less winter wheat in the fall than they did in 2006, according to Rhonda Mitchell with the local U.S. Department of Agriculture.
She estimated 135,000 acres of dryland wheat were planted in 2007 in Curry County, as compared with more than 150,000 acres the previous year.
Mitchell said her office predicted a 10 percent decrease in planting because of dry conditions in late summer and fall.
Curtis Breshears of SpraGreen in Portales said he sold more seed to dryland wheat farmers in 2006 than 2007.
Jones estimated that 50 percent of dryland wheat planted last fall didn’t even sprout. “It’s usually green by this time,” he said.
Tom Dannelly of Eastern Plains Insurance in Portales said he didn’t see much difference in wheat acreage insured.
“What they finally do with it may be different,” he said. Wheat typically is used for grazing, for silage and sometimes for hay. But farmers are more likely to harvest the crop’s grain at current prices.
Wheat was selling for about $10 per bushel on Friday; a few weeks ago it was around $8.50.
Farmers in Curry County grow less than half as much irrigated wheat as dryland, according to Mitchell. They used irrigation on about 61,000 acres of wheat last year and will grow an estimated 55,000 acres this year.