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We shouldn't rely on Phil

By Holly Martin

I heard they put Punxsutawney Phil in protective custody. Probably not a bad idea considering I walked through snow this morning, the second week in April and over two months since our buddy Phil predicted an end to winter. Even if he had seen his shadow, there was supposed to be only six more weeks of winter.

I think it is something we already knew, but whether a groundhog sees his shadow on Feb. 2 probably isn’t all that accurate of a way to forecast the weather.

But still, we hope. Or at least I did. I hoped that the colder weather was behind us.

I was wrong. The last week of March saw some significant drops in temperatures in Oklahoma and Texas. In parts of Oklahoma, Small Grains Extension Specialist Jeff Edwards saw as much as 50 to 80 percent damage to the winter wheat crop. Texas AgriLife Extension reported the damage was spotty.

But the damage wasn’t over. On April 8 in Dodge City it was 79 degrees. The next morning, however, the temperature dropped 12 degrees from 64 to 52 in just 2 minutes according to the National Weather Service in Dodge City. By the end of the afternoon, it was hovering near the mid-20s.

The storm also brought significant snowfall to the northern Plains, dumping more than 12 inches on some parts of South Dakota.

Anytime there is late freeze in the Plains, the worry immediately turns to the winter wheat crop. Had it jointed yet? Had it developed enough to cause significant yield damage?

In Kansas, the message is always, “We will just have to wait to see.” And so by the time you read this, we should know more. But for John Holman, the potential freeze damage is nothing compared to the stress the crop was under from drought. Holman is cropping systems agronomist for K-State Extension in southwest Kansas.

“The freeze just might help us make a decision on fields where the crop was already dying,” he said.

For the fields that were not as drought-stressed, the damage of this late cold snap could be anywhere from 2 to 8 bushels per acre.

Daryl Strouts with the Kansas Wheat Alliance is also worried about desiccation from the blowing dirt and pelting the tender leaves of the plant.

At press time, Mother Nature was predicted to spend another day proving Phil wrong. And after that, it will take a few days to know the significance of the weather change.

If there’s one thing agriculture producers know, it is the weather can be unpredictable. All we can do is try to react to what Mother Nature deals us.

Holly Martin can be reached by phone at 1-800-452-7171 ext. 1806, or by email at

Date: 4/15/2013


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