Area farmers say their wheat crops are looking much better this year than they did at this point last year and credit warm weather and above-normal rainfall for the improved situation.
However, unseasonably cold weather forecast for this weekend and the early part of next week could threaten the well-being of the wheat, farmers and agriculture officials say. Low temperatures in the Lawrence area are expected to dip into the 20s over the weekend and forecasters say up to five inches of snow could be on the ground by Sunday.
Jim Congrove, who farms about 250 acres of wheat north and east of Lawrence, said this morning that his wheat appeared to be above average for this time of year and looked "considerably" better than it did last year.
A year ago, area farmers feared their wheat crops would wither because of severe drought conditions left over from 1988, when the Lawrence area was left 13 inches behind normal rainfall for the year. Last year, the area was four inches short of normal rainfall.
BUT SO FAR this year, Lawrence and surrounding areas have received above-normal rainfall. Spurred by the rain and recent warm weather, winter wheat has started growing.
The Lawrence area is nearly two inches above normal rainfall amounts for the year so far, according to records kept at the Kansas University Weather Service, the official weather reporting station for Lawrence.
Congrove said wheat farmers need normal or above-normal amounts of rain to produce high-quality crops this year. However, the chilly forecast for this weekend is causing some concern for Congrove.
"THE COLD weather is our biggest concern right now. This is a winter crop and it can withstand the cold when it's dormant, but it's not as tolerant of the cold when it begins growing. We need warm weather and adequate rain to have a chance for a good crop this year," Congrove said.
Jack Lindquist, Douglas County agriculture extension agent, said this morning that the predicted cold weather could damage area crops, but said he doubts damage to occur because warmer temperatures are expected to follow the brief cold snap.
"I'm not sure the cold temperatures will be sustained long enough to do any damage," Lindquist said.
Temperatures would have to drop into the teens and stay there for at least two days before wheat would be damaged, he said.
Lindquist said one potential benefit from the weekend forecast is that the area is supposed to receive more moisture, which would add to the area's surface moisture and could help insulate young wheat plants against cold temperatures. For instance, snow and ice would act as an insulating blanket if it formed on top of the plants, he said.
Pat Ross, who farms 350 acres of wheat on the northern edge of Lawrence, said today that his wheat looks better now than it has for some time and attributes the favorable conditions to recent rain and warm weather.
"It looks excellent right now," Ross said. "It hasn't looked this good in a long time."