Wheat in dire need of moisture

By Argen Duncan: PNT senior writer

No rain and a lots of bugs have wheat farmers across the region wondering if they will have a crop this year.

If the area doesn’t get moisture, Roosevelt County farmer Brent Corbin said, dryland wheat crops would produce nothing and much of the irrigated wheat would likely yield less than 40 bushels per acre. The normal amount is 50 to 60 bushels per acre.

Curry County Extension Agent Stan Jones was more optimistic. He said the county’s top cash crop looked surprisingly good considering it had almost no moisture since October.

“There’s still a chance for a wheat crop,” he said. “Things are just going to have to change really quickly, or we’re going to be suffering.”

Curry County farmer Frank Blackburn said the area needs 2 to 3 inches of “slow, easy” rain as soon as possible.

Blackburn said his farm northwest of Clovis received 60 percent of the usual precipitation last year, and the reserves of water held in the soil were low.

Jones said the wind also causes problems by drying out and blowing soil, which can cut off the wheat.

Corbin, who raises dryland and irrigated wheat, said he would water some of his crop, but not heavily because it costs too much and the wheat still wouldn’t yield as much as in a year with rain.

Russian aphids, green bugs and cutworms are also affecting wheat in Curry and Roosevelt counties.

“We’re starting to get some bug pressure,” said Corbin, who farms near N.M. 267.

Russian aphids and green bugs bite into plants and suck out the sap. Cutworms chew the wheat off just above the ground.

Jones said bugs were causing serious problems in some fields.

Corbin said he would spray insecticide on his irrigated wheat but not the dryland crop.

Blackburn said he didn’t think insect numbers were high enough to affect his wheat’s yield, if the crop received moisture.

Jones said the insects may have come out of their winter dormancy this week with the 80-degree temperatures. He attributed the presence of cutworms to the lack of low temperatures to kill bugs this winter.

Corbin and Blackburn seem to take the potential loss of much of the wheat crop in stride.

“That’s just part of farming,” Corbin said.

People in the area aren’t really dependent on wheat, he said. He expects to make his living this year on milo, corn and alfalfa.

Blackburn said he doesn’t see much rain coming, since humidity was low and there were no clouds.

What’s he going to do?

“Without,” Blackburn said.

The farmer expects his irrigated land will produce at least enough wheat for seed next fall, and he hopes to get some income from his cattle and milo, he said.