Recent rain helped the 2018 wheat crop but more is needed and cold temperatures could impact yield.
The recent rain was a life saver for the 2018 wheat crop. With no precipitation for almost four months, the wheat was in a bad way and was in danger of dying all across the area, said Glenn Newdigger, Stafford County Extension agent.
After the rain, the wheat immediately greened up and got in gear. For the majority of the area, the rain will help the wheat keep going until the next rain. While the rain helped, more is needed to produce a good yield.
In some cases, the quality of wheat can even vary within a single field. Depending on moisture, one end of a field can be in better or worse shape than another end.
Normally, all the wheat in the area would be past the first joint but because of the lack of rain, much of the wheat is behind on development.
"It's way behind where it should be," Newdigger said.
Ironically, the wheat that is behind development may come out of this temperature drop where it could get to down to the mid to low 20s. If the late developing wheat hasn't reached the first joint stage and hasn't grown out of the ground, it could actually help reduce damage to the plant.
"If the growth point is still low, it won't hurt it that much," Newdigger said.
The amount of damage depends on plant development, how long the temperature stays below freezing and how low it gets.
If the temperature gets to 24 degrees and stays there for at least two hours, it will cause damage to the wheat.
"There could be a lot of damage if it has started to joint," Newdigger said. "There's not a lot of insulation from moisture.
The damage will depend on the development of the individual field. Farmers will have to go examine their fields to find out exactly how much damage was done. It will have to be done on a field-by-field basis.
Wheat is a tough crop. An old saying goes 'Wheat has nine lives' that means it takes a lot to prevent wheat from producing a yield. Wheat has a miraculous ability to tiller and keep going.
If a wheat field suffers damage to 50 percent of the plants from a freeze that doesn't mean the yield will be cut 50 percent. While it may not produce as many heads as it would in a normal moisture year, it will still produce a yield.
In 1997, there was a late freeze that hit the wheat hard. But temperatures remained cool and there was plenty of moisture that helped the wheat produce a better yield than expected.
Some fields that were put in later than usual are actually looking pretty good. There are some bare spots where weeds could take hold. Depending on how weeds were controlled in the fall, it could be an issue. Once the wheat starts growing, it should cover those spots and weeds shouldn't be much of a problem.
So, just like every year, farmers will have to wait to find out how their wheat crop will yield. In the mean time, the wheat still needs more rain for a good root system and to produce a good yield.