By Sara Brown and Alison Rice
Keep a Watchful Eye on Fields After Warm Temperatures
With above-normal February temperatures and little snow cover across many wheat growing regions, farmers are wondering whether winter wheat might be at a higher risk for winter injury and winterkill.
In western Nebraska, daily high and low temperatures during the last two weeks of February varied from 50°F to 75°F and 26°F to 33°F, respectively.
In North and South Dakota, average temperatures were 6° to 9° above normal during February. By the end of
the month, snow cover was minimal in the Dakotas.
Warmer temperatures can break dormancy and trigger premature spring growth. This year’s winter wheat crop is less vulnerable to winter injury than the 2014/15 crop because of good moisture at seeding and during fall growth, according to University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension. This helps ensure adequate seeding depth at planting and establish deeper crown roots.
Since dry soil warms up and cools down about six times faster than moist soil, the current crop is better protected from wide soil temperature swings. At the end of February, topsoil moisture supplies for Nebraska were 80% adequate; South Dakota, 72% adequate; and North Dakota, 61% adequate to surplus.
Temperature swings that last just a few days are more likely to only kill wheat’s top growth without causing significant damage to the plant. If the plant’s first node is above ground during a hard freeze, the stem and spike will usually be killed, but the plant could come back from the secondary tillers and produce good yield. Damage would be similar to that from an early hail storm or feeding cattle.
Farmers should make low-lying areas a priority for scouting. If severe winter injury or winterkill is suspected, give plants an opportunity to recover before assessing damage or tearing out a field. Also consider any plant-back restrictions for herbicides you have already applied to the field.
Wheat Stocks Continue to Increase and Pressure Prices
U.S. wheat ending stocks for 2016/17 are forecast to be nearly 1 billion bushels, according to USDA. That would be the highest level of stocks since 1987/88, when wheat prices hovered around $3. Such big supply numbers are certainly affecting prices and farmers’ planting decisions.
“We have already seen some decline in crop area for 2016 with winter wheat seeding down 2.9 million acres from a year earlier to 36.6 million acres, sending an early indication that lower prices are pressuring acreage. Spring wheat is expected to follow suit, declining by 5%—leaving all wheat area down 3.6 million acres from last year at 51 million acres,” said Robert Johansson, USDA chief economist, at the USDA Ag Outlook Forum in February.
Although U.S. exports are projected higher, world competition will limit market share gains for the U.S. and pressure domestic prices. USDA expects an average price of $4.20 per bushel in 2016.