July 21--Just before the 2012 wheat harvest, David Gammill described the waving wheat at his farm near Chattanooga as an "ocean of promise."
But without taking a breath, he added, "What I want to see is the grain going into the bin."
Now it's July, and two producers The Oklahoman talked with before combines entered their fields, Gammill, 58, and Terral Tatum, 45, of Grandfield, took time to look back on their personal experiences with the 2012 wheat harvest.
Statewide, if the U.S. Department of Agriculture's estimate for the 2012 wheat crop holds at 155.4 million bushels, it will be Oklahoma's 20th-largest on records dating to 1909. But remember that this is coming off the drought-stricken crop of 2011.
With only 70.4 million bushels harvested for grain, the 2011 crop marked the lowest total production for wheat since 1957.
Always remember that behind the numbers are thousands of individual experiences; those of Gammill and Tatum included.
In early May, six days before Gammill's harvest began, a hailstorm hit.
Roughly, this was in an area from near Loveland to Grandfield to Devol to Randlett in southwestern Oklahoma and into Texas. Hail was reported up to the size of grapefruits and softballs.
Gammill only had one field hit, where the hail was the size of quarters.
He lost 50 percent of his crop in that field, and felt fortunate that his loss wasn't greater.
But on the day they started cutting, combine-related problems led to a fire in the field.
Gammill lost 230 acres of wheat.
This was in an area where, nearby, they cut wheat that yielded 42 bushels per acre, Gammill said.
"I planted in mid-September," said Gammill, who serves on the Oklahoma Wheat Commission.
"It doesn't take many years of farming to train you to never count your chickens before they hatch. No matter how good the crops look, they are nothing until they are in the bin. That is also why we are truly paranoid about being ready and in the field as soon as it will harvest."
In April, Tatum said, "It looks so good I don't want to talk about it."
While fire turned out to be Gammill's bigger problem, it was the ice of the hail that damaged about half of Tatum's crop.
"The hail was like hockey pucks, big and thick," Tatum said.
"I didn't time it, but in town they said it lasted more than 20 minutes and it did a lot of damage to houses, cars and equipment. I know guys who didn't cut any wheat -- the hail got it all."
On July 1, the USDA estimate for the 2012 Oklahoma wheat crop was 155.4 million bushels, harvested from 4.2 million acres with an average yield of 37 bushels per acre.
Gammill's average yield for his farms is 33 bushels per acre.
This year, his crop was good, four bushels above average, and at a very good price of $6.50, Gammill said.
But in 2011, Gammill averaged nine bushels on what he could cut during the drought.
Because of the variability of agriculture, he sought off-farm income and got involved in the insurance business in 1995.
Gammill and Tatum each said they had insurance that paid a portion of the losses caused by the hail.
And the custom harvester's insurance paid toward the loss caused by the fire.
"This year, everyone had a field or two with some kind of problem that dropped the yield," he said. "Then of course there were a lot of fields in the Grandfield, Devol, Randlett corridor that were completely lost to hail.
"The nation's weather underscores the extreme variability we farmers must deal with. Outside agriculture, some will point out how good farming is with the high crop prices, but most Oklahomans had to sell at harvest to pay the banker and the combines, and the corn farmers won't have many bushels to sell on those rising prices."
In many cases, those with cattle had to sell off or reduce their herds during the 2011 drought.
The new U.S. Drought Monitor report shows that 64.31 percent of Oklahoma is suffering a severe to extreme drought as of this week.
A week ago, 38.61 percent of Oklahoma was in that category.
Overall, 99.61 percent of the state is in some form of drought.
Tatum said because of the hail in early May, some of his fields had little to nothing left, while others with hail damage yielded 9 bushels to the acre.
He said in some places the wheat looked fine, but the hail had knocked the grain out of the head.
The grain was left scattered on the ground.
The good news for Tatum was that in fields not affected by the hailstorm, he had some wheat yielding about 50 bushels per acre.
He hasn't put a pencil to the losses yet, because he doesn't want to know.
"It's a way of life. We know we can get hailed out the day we cut it or the night right after we cut it," he said. "It's a fact we accept and have to live with.
"At least it did leave me some to cut. It could have taken everything we had. For some it did take it all. We feel for them."
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