Archive for Saturday, April 7, 2007

Cold snap worries wheat growers

April 7, 2007

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— A wintry storm that left parts of Kansas coated by snow caused headaches in cities and the countryside alike, with wheat farmers worried about their crops and drivers skidding off roads or into other vehicles.

East-central and north-central Kansas received the heaviest snowfall Thursday, with 8 inches reported at Lindsborg, 7 inches at McPherson and 5 inches at Salina.

Although not unusual for early April, the snow was all the more insulting - and worrisome for farmers - because it followed two weeks that had seen high temperatures around the state reach 60 to 80 degrees.

The forecast in the Salina area called for low temperatures 19 degrees this morning.

"I'm concerned, yes," Saline County wheat farmer Gary Olson said Thursday afternoon. "Usually if it gets below 24 degrees, the experts tell us our wheat crop might be in trouble."

Tom Maxwell, district agricultural extension agent in Salina, said he hoped "the weatherman's wrong. If he's right, we're going to see some damage."

The recent warm weather stimulated the wheat to emerge from winter sleep and begin to grow, developing up to two weeks ahead of normal, Maxwell said. The early development includes jointing, when the growth points necessary for grain development begin to move up the plant stems.

"We've got some joints up 3 to 6 inches above the ground. We're pretty vulnerable," Maxwell said.

Snow does provide insulation for the wheat, and there are other protective factors, he said.

"We've got a pretty heavy canopy of growth, which could provide some insulative effect. Moist soils will hold temperatures better than dry soils," Maxwell said.

But an old rule of thumb foretells danger.

"Twenty-four degrees for two hours is kind of the threshold for wheat that's jointing," Maxwell said.

The elevations of fields and wind also are factors.

Determining whether a freeze has damaged wheat is difficult, especially right away.

"Bottom line, we won't know anything for a week to 10 days after these freezes. Don't do anything rash. It'll take time for us to sort out how severe the damage is," Maxwell said.

Even if the damage is severe, he said, the plants could develop enough secondary tillers (late emerging stems) "that could materialize and make some pretty respectable yields."

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