Extent of April freeze damage to 2013 wheat crop unknown yet
By Jennifer M. Latzke and Doug Rich
A fast moving cold front that came through the Plains overnight April 9 to 11 brought with it freeze advisories and blizzard conditions across most of the High Plains Journal coverage area.
Wheat and small grain farmers across the region were reporting sustained temperatures reaching from the mid-teens in western Kansas to the mid-20s in parts of Oklahoma.
“It got pretty cold,” said Rich Randall, a farmer from Scott City, Kan., and chairman of the Kansas Wheat Commission. “Last week we saw a low of 16 degrees for two nights in a row and for several hours in the night. It was below 25 degrees for most of the night.”
The front came through so quickly too, he added.
“I was checking wells at around 6:30 a.m. and it was about 45 degrees,” Randall said. “It dropped to about 35 degrees in 30 minutes. I talked to someone who drives to work at around 5 a.m., and she said at 5 a.m. it was about 60 degrees. So it dropped 25 degrees in an hour and a half.”
K-State Research and Extension Crop Production Specialist Jim Shroyer said that drought, in this instance, might have been a benefit to the wheat crop in surviving this freeze.
“The good news is that the wheat crop is not nearly as far along in development as it was at this time last year due to the drought, but any wheat at the jointing stage or later will probably lose some tillers where temperatures were in the teens for an extended time,” he said in an April 10 release from KSURE.
Wheat in the jointing stage can usually tolerate temperatures in the mid- to upper 20s. But temperatures below that and for extended periods of time can injure lower stems, leaves and developing heads. If the wheat hasn’t started to joint it might have damage to existing foliage, but the growing points are below the soil and protected, he added.
The Oklahoma Crop Report said the storm front brought rainfall, ice and below freezing temperatures across central and western Oklahoma. “All of central and western Oklahoma dropped below freezing, with a hard freeze over most of northwestern Oklahoma,” according to the report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service. “Beaver County spent more than 40 hours below freezing, and Boise City tied the record for the lowest temperature ever recorded on April 11 in Oklahoma at 15 degrees.”
Kent Martin, a certified crop advisor out of the Alva, Okla., area, said the temperature dropped to about 27 to 28 degrees for most of the evening April 10. The next morning, though, the sun came out and melted the ice that had provided the wheat with some insulation.
“A lot of us saw the sun and thought, great, the worst is behind us,” he said. “But then, the temperatures dropped again and it was worse because there was no insulation and it got colder the second day.” He said farther west in the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles, he has spoken with some farmers around Perryton that walked out into their fields and were faced with a “silage smell.”
“That’s bad news because that signals the plant is starting to break down,” Martin said.
Canola growers might also be concerned with the recent freeze. Most of the canola in the state was just starting to bolt, Martin said. He explained that the freeze might damage the already bolted portion of the plant to produce seed. However, canola as a plant, has adapted a handy survival trick.
“So what will happen, is that the main bolted portion of the plant will be sacrificed and the nodes on the lower portion will send up a new stem and so the bolting that you will see as the plants recover from the freeze will be new bolts from lower on the plant,” Martin said. It works out nicely, in that the plant still can produce seed. But it will slow down the plants in their development some because they have to reallocate their energy to recreating yield.
In southeastern Colorado, farmer Craig Schenck said their wheat near Holly faced wind chills of 7 degrees. “It was a dry cold, there wasn’t a lot of moisture that came with it,” he said.
Schenck’s wheat was a little later than normal, so it wasn’t at the vital jointing stage. However, his part of Colorado is extremely dry and there is little to no subsoil moisture. His irrigated wheat seems to have weathered the freeze a little better than his dryland, he added.
“I think if we have a week of warm weather it will tell us a lot,” he said. “It’ll either stay green or be brown and dead.” With as little moisture as Schenck has, he said his Plan B is to fallow the ground rather than plant a spring crop.
In the Texas High Plains, South Plains and Rolling Plains regions, temperatures were reported in the northwest and northern South Plains of around 20 to 22 degrees. The Amarillo region had lows of 20 degrees, while the southeast Panhandle had lows of 22 to 25 degrees. North of the Canadian River the lows ranged from 15 to 20 degrees, and many areas were below 28 degrees for about 24 hours, according to Calvin Trostle, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agronomist in Lubbock. Trostle and his colleagues were conducting freeze assessment meetings April 17 to 18 around Texas.
In a press release, Trostle said that there was enough jointing in the Panhandle that the probability for damage is high. “There has been enough jointing now into the Panhandle that the growing point most likely experienced the cold temperatures that cause damage,” Trostle said. “Also, the strong wind speed overnight April 9 to 10 probably circulated the temperatures farther into the canopy, whereas on still nights with only a light breeze, this probably doesn’t happen as readily.”
He said on a windy night the lower end of a field, with maybe a playa bottom or draw, might have less injury than other parts of the field.
Nebraska and Missouri
It seems the farther eastern portions of the High Plains Journal region fared better.
No freeze damage has been reported in southwest Missouri, according to Jill Scheidt, University of Missouri Extension agronomy specialist in Lamar, Mo. Scheidt said the temperature had not dropped below 30 degrees in most of southwest Missouri this spring.
“Our big problem right now is aphids not freeze damage,” Scheidt said.
The northern portions of the region also came out of the storm OK. Western Nebraska had a good foot of insulating snow coverage over most of the wheat crop, which allowed it to weather the freezing temperatures. And another 6 to 8 inches was on the way on April 16. Caroline Brauer, public information officer for the Nebraska Wheat Association, said one of their members who lives near Hemingford had snowdrifts up to the roof of his house.
Having enough moisture to keep the crop growing has been more of a concern than freeze damage.
“A lot of our growers will take the risk of freeze damage in exchange for moisture,” Brauer said. “We will take moisture in any form.”
Assessing freeze damage in wheat and other small grains is a tricky combination of factors. Farmers really have to look at damage on a field-by-field basis.
“Freeze damage is interesting, I think, because a lot depends on if it’s a high spot on the field, or a low spot,” Martin explained. “Is it further along than another field? Was it grazed? Did you fertilize it heavily?”
All of these things change the scenario a bit so it is difficult to assess freeze damage right away, he added.
Shroyer and Martin both cautioned wheat farmers to be patient in evaluating any freeze damage.
“Be patient,” Shroyer said. “Do not take any immediate actions as a result of this freeze, such as destroying the field for recropping. It will take several days of warm weather to accurately evaluate the extent of damage.”
For now, producers should just be walking their fields to observe any lodging, crimped stems or damaged leaves. They also might experience a silage smell in their fields, which is due to leaf damage, Shroyer said.
Cutting open stems can also show freeze damage, Martin said. The freeze, as it blasted the cells in the upper sensitive tissues, released fluid into the hollow portion of the stem. That fluid accumulates around the nodes of the plant, and can ice up.
“I suspect that with the growth stage our wheat is at that probably that growing point is okay but the bottom node, likely as the ice expanded, weakened the node significantly,” Martin said. “We’ll likely end up with lodging problems then in the wheat at harvest.”
If the wheat lodged, later tillers might grow normally to fill out the stand and produce enough yield, Shroyer said. But this all depends on if there are good rain events and normal spring weather in the next few weeks.