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A green John Deere combine in the distance drives through a field of golden wheat as the wheat moves into the combine's header and is cut for harvest. A green John Deere tractor pulls a grain trailer alongside the combine, and the grain runs from the combine's auger to the grain cart.
Wheat harvest in Garfield County, Oklahoma, ends on a high note this year with better yields and test weights than previously predicted. (Photo by Mitchell Alcala, OSU Agriculture)

OSU wheat varieties perform under pressure during 2024 harvest

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Media Contact: Gail Ellis | Editorial Communications Coordinator | 405-744-9152 | gail.ellis@okstate.edu

The 2024 wheat harvest is complete, and after exceptional growing conditions over the winter, dramatic weather in late spring left producers on the edge of their seats.

Fifth-generation wheat farmer Tyler Schnaithman in Garfield County said producers were pleased with the crop in his area of central Oklahoma despite almost writing it off at one point in the year.

“We had a lot of winter moisture and expectations were high, but we got into that more critical timeframe and started to get dry,” he said while discussing harvest on a recent episode of “SUNUP”, the agricultural production television show of Oklahoma State University Agriculture. “We caught some late rains, and filling weather was tremendous — about as ideal as it could be. Test weights have just been off the chart this year.”

Oklahoma’s long-term drought over the past decade has consistently decreased wheat production totals. Early assessments from the U.S Department of Agriculture estimated the state’s 2024 wheat crop at 98.8 million bushels, predicting 38 bushels per acre with 2.6 million acres harvested. However, Mike Schulte, executive director of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission, said production totals surpassed expectations.

“We started 8 to 10 days earlier in southwest Oklahoma than we normally do,” he said. “We thought we were going to have a bumper crop, then we thought we’d lost the crop, but we ended up having a really good harvest overall with more acreage and higher yields.”

Adjusted estimates now sit at an average of 40 to 42 bushels per acre and about 110 to 115 million bushels in total production despite hail damage in isolated locations and other weather challenges. Test weights in southwest Oklahoma and along the Interstate-35 corridor in northern Oklahoma were reduced by locally heavy rains, but the state average is over 60 pounds per bushel.

“Test weights for the state of Oklahoma were remarkable considering the weather season we had,” Schulte said. “The OSU variety research program focuses on test weight, and certainly the varieties we’re planting today compared to those 20 years ago are holding up better in drought conditions. The drought-tolerant traits used in newly developed varieties are more resilient and hardier and can survive harsher conditions. They responded when the rains came later in the spring.”

Schulte said 60% to 65% of the wheat harvested this year in Oklahoma is a variety developed by the Wheat Improvement Team at OSU. Amanda Silva, OSU Extension small grains specialist, said data from the team’s variety trials in 12 locations across the state is extremely beneficial to producers, reporting what varieties thrive in Oklahoma’s variable weather conditions. The trial results list test weights, wheat protein levels, lodging severity and yield rates for intensive and standard management practices as well as dual-purpose and grain-only comparisons.

“At our Lahoma and Chickasha site comparisons of standard and intensive management, the difference is fungicide applications,” Silva said. “We report disease ratings and you can clearly see the difference in resistance for those varieties — compatible with yield loss, the most susceptible varieties with the greatest yield loss did not have a fungicide.”

Producers battled cases of stripe rust and leaf rust this year, diseases that are common in Oklahoma wheat fields. Understanding which varieties are more resistant to disease and pests is critical to protecting yields and test weights, especially for smaller-scale producers who must minimize costs by not applying fungicides.

“That’s why we provide this information for producers to use,” Silva said. “It’s important for producers to select varieties resistant to stripe rust and leaf rust. We’re one of the only variety testing programs to offer this amount of data.”

Schulte explained OSU’s ability to test graze and grain wheat varieties producers can use for forage before harvest is key to selection.

“The data shows us this year that we have some mainstay varieties in the OSU lineup that are great for overall adaptation across the state,” he said. “OSU’s public research program is made possible with support from the Oklahoma Wheat Commission to fund research initiatives. We’ve made great strides increasing yield capability with drought tolerance and nitrogen efficiency traits.”

Schnaithman in Garfield County said he credits OSU wheat genetics for this year’s excellent test weights and the crop’s ability to handle adverse conditions.

“We’re ecstatic about the variety Showdown. It’s been our best wheat by at least 10 bushels,” he said. “It’s exceptional with a ton of top-end yield potential.”

For many farming families, including the Schnaithmans, harvested fields were sprayed 24 to 48 hours later in preparation for planting summer crops.

“Production agriculture is a unique occupation,” Schnaithman said. “You earn all of your income in one given moment. There’s always a lot of stress and pressure, but it’s one of my very best times of the year.”

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