Fuel prices threaten wheat harvests

Lawton_Wheat crops and soaring gas prices may not seem as though they have a lot in common, but for farmers who need help harvesting their fields, it's a big concern.  It's almost time for harvest, and with the high price of fuel, harvest crews outside of the Lawton area may not be able to afford the trip, and farmers may not be able to afford to run their equipment.  Rising fuel costs have also increased the price of fertilizer to nearly four times the price of last year.  For some farmers, it could mean the end of their season profits.

As harvesting time approaches, farmers worry about delaying their work.  Oklahoma's famous weather could destroy everything they've worked so hard to grow.  Farmer Charlie Kelsey says that rising fuel costs may hurt his profits, but he can't get an exact figure on how much it will cost him, despite how good his crop is this year.  "It's the best I remember it," he said.

"We've had some good looking wheat, and we've made some wheat, but it's outstanding this year."

Kelsey doesn't know what diesel fuel will cost in three weeks, and his combine burns a lot of fuel - nearly 500 gallons per day.  "Last year we were looking at fuel prices around $2.22," he said.  "This year it's doubled."  It costs him over $2,000 per day in gas alone.

Hill & Sons Farms owner Clyde Hill says he has more money tied up in this particular wheat crop - in seed, fertilizers, and labor - than any other crop he has raised.  It also may cost other farmers even more if they can't harvest the wheat.  "We've been hearing that some of the guys who come from Canada, and way up north, aren't going to make the trip down here because the fuel's so expensive," said Hill.  "It costs them too much money to get here."

The price of the trip, and unwilling travelers could add to the burden a machine power shortage this harvest.  Hill says it could be bad this year, but he says it will likely get worse next year.  To ease the cash crunch, the Oklahoma Agriculture Department has started a directory that lists custom harvesters who will cut in Oklahoma.  Willing harvesters can also sign up at http://www.oda.state.ok.us/forms/mktdev/mkt-custharv.pdf.