Bitter Cold Causes Winterkill to Wheat Belt, Midwest Could Be Next

January 2, 2018 02:51 PM

Extreme cold continues to blanket the central and eastern United States this week, and meteorologists say wheat in the Plains will see damage because of it. 

“As far as hard red winter wheat, [damage] is a concern in the Plains,” said Kyle Tapley, senior agricultural meteorologist with Radiant Solutions. “We think about a quarter of the crop saw some damage or at least temperatures are cold enough to cause some damage across about a quarter for the Belt, mainly in Kansas but also across parts of eastern Colorado and far northwestern Oklahoma.” 

The Kansas Wheat Commission (KWC) is also concerned about winterkill in the crop, especially with later-planted, poorly-developed, lack of moisture or dry soil conditions.

“From mid-December to mid-February, Kansas wheat is at its maximum tolerance for cold temperatures,” said Marsha Boswell, director of communications with KWC. “However, winter injury is affected by several things: temperatures at the crown, how established the wheat plant is, depth of the crown of the plant, how long cold temperatures last and how wet the soil is. Time will tell in the coming months.”

Wheat growers will not know the full extent of the damage until the crop breaks dormancy, which could be four to eight weeks. 

“Winterkill in wheat is always a difficult issue to wrap one’s hands around,” said Arlan Suderman, chief commodities economist with INTL FCStone. “I’ve seen many times when conditions were right according to the text book to see significant damage and none occurred. I’ve seen the opposite as well. It’s very dry across the Plains, which should make the crop even more vulnerable to winterkill with temperature readings dropping below zero.”

Lows dropped to -30 to -40 degrees in the northern Plains New Year’s Day. However, Tapley says currently damage in the northern Plains isn’t as much of a threat due to sufficient snow cover.

“Moving over to the Midwest, we think about 5 percent of the soft red wheat crop had some damage, mainly in Missouri, southern Illinois and far southwestern parts of Indiana,” said Tapley.

Tapley says a cold snap will hit the Midwest later in the week, which could be a concern for the soft red wheat in areas without much snow. 

“In the Midwest, most of that belt has enough snow cover but southern Illinois, far southwest Indiana and the Missouri area is where we can see some potential additional damage with that next cold snap coming through later this week,” said Tapley.

Pockets of the Southwest may see a cold snap later in the week as well.


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