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Freeze may adversely affect wheat crop

ENID, Okla. (AP)--It will be at least a week before Oklahoma farmers learn how much damage an early spring freeze has done to this year's winter wheat crop, officials said.

The National Weather Service issued a freeze warning for all but three counties in the Oklahoma Panhandle. Temperatures were forecast to dip below 32 degrees up until about 9 a.m., on April 7.

Northern Oklahoma counties in the wheat belt may fare better than counties in central and southwest Oklahoma.

The crop is probably two to three weeks ahead of schedule in its development in those areas, and it's already been stressed because of drought, said Mike Schulte, executive director of Oklahoma Wheat Commission.

"The cold temperatures are probably going to have some effect," Schulte said April 6. "It's probably going to have a large impact."

Jeff Bedwell, an agriculture educator for the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service in Garfield County, said only time will tell what effect the freeze will have in the Enid area.

"It's really going to be field-to-field-to-field specific," Bedwell said.

To its advantage, the crop in northwest Oklahoma isn't as advanced in development as crops farther to the south, Bedwell said.

"It's not ready to head out yet here, and the freeze could push that back," he said. "Another thing in northwest Oklahoma's favor is the rain and snow of March 27 and 28, which kind of saved our necks."

The moisture will enable the plants to recover from the freezing event better than they if the ground was dry, Bedwell said.

Statewide, winter wheat production has been up and down in recent years.

Last year, 166.5 million bushels were harvested, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

That was nearly double the 98 million bushels collected in 2007 and more than double the 81.6 million bushels harvested in 2006, a year of devastating drought.

In 2007, the crop was in good shape until an April freeze caused some damage. Then, heavy rains at harvest kept many farmers from getting combines in their fields.

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