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Dry weather brings brown wheat mites to Oklahoma crops

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Looking at the state of some Oklahoma wheat fields, it’s easy to think the problem is just the drought, but brown wheat mites could also be to blame.

These mites typically follow dry environments and can be seen statewide, but they are more common in the western half of the state and panhandle.

Tom Royer, an Oklahoma State University extension entomologist for small grains and row crops, said the outbreak is something that has not happened in years.

Since the mites are about the size of a period in newsprint, they are difficult to spot and can be mistaken for other issues.

“But the problem with the mite is it’s so tiny that if you’re just looking over a field, and you see it looks like it’s declining, you might think that there’s a problem with drought or there’s a problem with maybe nitrogen deficiency a little bit or something like that,” Royer said.

Royer said the easiest way for producers to inspect for brown wheat mites is to take a sheet of white paper and shake a couple of wheat plants against it. This dislodges the pests if they are in the crop and makes them easier to see.

He said the mites are a common problem almost everywhere, especially in western Oklahoma.

“Oh man, every field day that I’ve been to shows signs of mite injury, the stippling that we would typically associate with that,” Royer said. “And I’ve been in field days in Chickasha and the Altus area or over by Lawton all the way up to Cherokee.

Typically, rainfall and pesticides can help mitigate brown wheat mites. Although parts of the state received rain, Wes Lee, the Mesonet agriculture coordinator, said some parts of the state, particularly in western Oklahoma, are experiencing some extreme drought.

Drought conditions in Oklahoma, as of May 10, 2022.
U.S. Drought Monitor
Drought conditions in Oklahoma, as of May 10, 2022.

He said the state's drought pattern is similar to the one in 2011. For reference, in 2011Oklahoma had more severe drought conditions than the Dust Bowl.

He said some producers already collected insurance on their crop, and the best wheat yield estimate he has seen is a 50% crop.

“That could get a little bit better, it could definitely get a little bit worse if we don’t finish out the crop with rainfall,” Lee said.

Anna Pope is a reporter covering agriculture and rural issues at KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
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