Though ice loads during freezing weather can damage irrigation pivots, many producers will keep them running until it drops well below freezing, said Rick Auckerman, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agent. (Photo by Rick Auckerman)
By Robert Burns, Texas A&M University
The damage to the wheat crop in the Panhandle, Southern Plains and Rolling Plains regions from the last bout of freezing weather was not uniform, but losses were "significant," according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agronomist.
And further damage could occur with temperatures forecast to drop below freezing in those areas April 22-23, said Dr. Travis Miller, AgriLife Extension agronomist and Texas A&M University soil and crop sciences associate department head.
"They were predicting 27 and 30 (degrees) in Amarillo," he said. "That’s enough to do damage when wheat is in boot or blooming."
Freezing weather this late is a rare phenomenon, Miller said. He noted that in his 35 years as an AgriLife Extension agronomist, he’s never seen freezes occur this late in the year.
Brad Charboneau, National Weather Service meteorologist, Lubbock, said the late freezes this year haven’t broken the record yet, but they are "definitely abnormal." The average last freeze date for Lubbock is April 10, and the record latest freeze was May 8 in 1938.
Generally, Miller said, irrigated wheat in the High Plains was hurt more than dryland wheat, but the damage so far has varied region to region, in some cases county to county — even field to field.
For example, Rick Auckerman, AgriLife Extension agent for Deaf Smith County, west of Amarillo, reported 20 to 50% damage from previous freezes with many of the tillers still in good shape.
"Two fields that I had inspected were 75 to 80% damaged with collapsed stems and heads dying," Auckerman said. "These fields were thin plant stands and not irrigated well when this freeze moved in. Now with this last freeze, all bets are off, so to speak, and again we will have to wait to assess this past round of damage."
But further north, Brad Easterling, AgriLife Extension agent for Sherman County, north of Amarillo on the Texas/Oklahoma border, reported: "After assessing our wheat, overall don’t think the freeze damage is going to be as bad as what was first thought. We did freeze again last week and another one is expected this week."
Miller said that dryland wheat farmers who had extensive damage don’t have many options.
"They get only one shot at a crop, and then they’re done due to the very dry soils," he said. "They had a marginal crop to begin with because of the drought, but some may at least hay it or graze it."
Irrigated wheat farmers have more options.
"Their biggest interest is to get their crop insurance adjustment as fast as they can," Miller said. "On the irrigated fields, they still have time to plant an irrigated crop if they kill this wheat and get it off the field, and plant right into it with cotton, sunflowers, sesame, sorghum or another crop."
More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website.