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More Than Half of Oklahoma Experiencing Drought Conditions, Could Affect Planting

Seth Bodine / KOSU
Cattle ranchers in the state worry that the drought may affect the planting of green winter wheat needed to feed their livestock, like those shown here in Bristow, Okla.

Oklahoma is in another flash drought — a drought that appears and spreads rapidly like a flood. This could affect farmers trying to plant crops, ranchers trying to feed cattle and increase wildfire danger across the state.

About 50% of the state is in drought conditions that can stress crops and cause stock ponds to decline, according to the National Drought Monitor.

State climatologist Gary McManus said much of western and north central Oklahoma has seen almost no rain for the past month. This could affect wheat and soybean farmers, who are in the middle of planting season. It could also affect cattle ranchers, who depend on green winter wheat to feed their livestock.

“If they don't get enough moisture to germinate the wheat and don't actually get it starting to grow,” McManus said. “There won't be forage for the cattle. So that's another aspect that we worry about with the drought coming this time of the year, right during planting season for wheat.”

Credit United State Drought Monitor
Drought Monitor map for Oklahoma. Data valid as of October 13, 2020.

Mike Schulte, the executive director of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission, said wheat farmers have had great success in northwest and central Oklahoma. Rain during the first two weeks of September created a window for farmers in those areas to plant. Farmers in other areas, like northwest Oklahoma, haven’t been as lucky.

“A lot of the crop is planted,” Schulte said. “But a lot of it (has) not emerged to the fullest potential because we just ran out of moisture.”

McManus says this drought is similar to 2017, when La Niña conditions developed in the equatorial Pacific waters and caused drier conditions in the fall. If the dry conditions persist, it could cause wildfire dangers.

“It's not the brightest picture as we go over the next couple of weeks through the next few months,” McManus said. “But there's certainly time for the weather pattern to change.”

Seth Bodine was KOSU's agriculture and rural issues reporter from June 2020 to February 2022.
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