Wheat crop needs rain, not freezing temps

Gale Rose
The Pratt Tribune
An irrigated crop of wheat in Pratt County currently looks lush and thick but that may change after a hit from below-freezing temperatures. It will take a couple of weeks to find out what damage, if any, the wheat suffered from the freeze.

PRATT — A second round of below-freezing temperatures over Easter weekend, April 10-12, has Kansas farmers keeping a close eye on their wheat crops.

Pratt County farmer Jesse Blasi said his wheat crop didn’t get in the ground until late last year and then it didn’t get the rain it needed.

“It would have helped to have gotten rain and a little warmer weather in November,” Blasi said.

Recent rains have helped, but earlier warming temperatures caused the wheat to grow faster and draw moisture from the ground so now, the wheat could use some good precipitation.

“It could use a drink,” Blasi said.

What the wheat does not need now is below-freezing temperatures, Blasi said. The further along in development, the more susceptible wheat is to temperature extremes.

Right now, Blasi said the wheat is looking good but it will not be a bin buster. When harvest comes in a few months, he said he anticipates an average to below-average yield. It all depends on when it rains and how much, he said.

But Blasi and state wheat officials agree the most immediate concern is the danger of freeze. It will take a couple of weeks to determine how much the wheat was damaged from temperatures that dipped below freezing temperatures in the past week.

Blasi said wheat heads are emerging already in some of his fields and the number of rows of kernels and how tall the wheat will be has already been determined. He hopes the freeze dips do not last long.

“I’m not that concerned if it doesn’t get below 28 degrees,” Blasi said.

Justin Gilpin, CEO for the Kansas Wheat Commission, said everyone is keeping an eye on the temperature. If the temperature gets down to 24 degrees and stays that way for over two hours, it will cause damage. About 20% of wheat in the state has jointed, so the freeze is a concern.

As for the freeze on April 3, the wheat was not that far along and it was not damaged. But the unusually high temperatures that followed accelerated wheat growth, putting the wheat crop more at risk for freeze damage. If the wheat is headed, it is much more vulnerable to temperatures of 32 degrees and lower, Gilpin said.

Moisture helps against freeze. If it snows, it acts like an insulator, but there is not enough snow in the forecast to protect against the freeze. Some localized freeze damage, especially in low-lying areas, is expected, he said.

The moisture is needed, especially in the western portion of the state where it is very dry. In south central Kansas, the moisture was pretty good but with the warm temperatures, the wheat drew more moisture out of the soil so it needs some rain, Gilpin said.

After a freeze, it takes about two weeks for the damage to show up, so it will be about the end of April to see what damage, if any, the wheat suffered from the freeze.

Romulo Lollato, Kansas State University wheat extension specialist, said freeze damage is based on how cold for how long and what was the wheat development stage. He said the wheat in south-central Kansas has reached the jointed stage but was not there for the April 3 freeze, so it handled it well. There were a few areas where wheat was further along and there is some concern about damage. Early maturing wheat or wheat planted early is more susceptible for freeze. But the majority was not jointed, so it should be OK, Lollato said.

“The planting date and variety selection is critical,” Lollato said.

With wheat, the last 45 days of growth determine where the crop is going to be at harvest. When and how much it rains and the temperature will all help determine the yield, he said.