Winterkill in wheat possible
Record cold temperatures during the first week of February, coupled with drought conditions in the area, could lead to winterkill of wheat in some fields, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service specialists.
"Winterkill is not the same thing as freeze damage that we occasionally experience in March and April after wheat has broken dormancy and has entered the reproduction stage of development (jointing)," said Brent Bean, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension agronomist.
Winterkill occurs when the crown of dormant wheat is damaged by freezing conditions, Bean said, and it is very unusual for the Texas Panhandle to have true winterkill in wheat.
Typically, he said, wheat becomes vulnerable to winterkill when temperatures get into the single digits for a significant period of time.
Wheat that will be most susceptible to winterkill will be wheat with little tillering and with poor root systems and planted dryland, he said. Typically, this will be later-planted wheat. The dry soil conditions will increase the risk. Soil moisture tends to provide a buffer against cold temperatures around the crown region of the plant.
Wheat planted under clean tillage conditions will also be at more risk since there will be little crop residue to help insulate the soil, Bean said.
"The lack of snow cover, along with the dry soil conditions, is what is potentially putting the wheat crop at risk as a result of these record-low temperatures," he said. "Even an inch of snow will have some insulation benefits to wheat."
Assessing winterkill damage will not be easy in the short term, Bean said.
"Initially we are likely to see desiccated leaves. This will cause the wheat to look very bad, but does not necessarily mean the crown is damaged. If the crown is not damaged, the wheat will grow back," he said. "We will likely need at least a week of warm temperatures before the wheat crowns can be examined for damage, and it could very well take several weeks to know the true extent of any damage."
"As always, never give up too quickly on wheat," he said. "We really do not know if, or how much, wheat winterkill has occurred or will occur in the Texas Panhandle. Wheat varieties we grow here are typically very winter-hardy.
"Probably the more critical problem we are having is the ongoing drought," he said. "If we can get precipitation fairly soon, and spring weather is favorable, the Panhandle as a whole could still have a decent wheat crop."