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Will freezing temperatures damage US winter wheat?

Learn what industry professionals have to say about the effects of these subzero temperatures to the national wheat crop.


Extreme cold continues in most of the central and eastern U.S. Lows on New Year’s Day dropped to -30 to -40 F in the northern Plains. While a report from Radiant Solutions suggests that snow cover in the northern Plains and Upper Midwest was good enough to protect wheat from damage, the same wasn’t said for the central and southern Plains and southern Midwest. This includes areas in southeastern Colorado, much of Kansas, far northern Oklahoma, central Missouri, southern Illinois, and southwestern Indiana, the Radiant Solutions report said.

Industry insight

“Winterkill is affected by temperatures and the wheat plant’s establishment,” said Justin Gilpin, CEO of the Kansas Wheat Commission and Kansas Association of Wheat Growers.

“It is too early to speculate on any widespread winterkill at this point,” said Brad D. Reynolds, director of communications with Ohio Corn & Wheat.  As the Ohio wintertime progresses, the organization will have more information and will be asking farmers, as they typically do, about their crops progress, he said.

While professionals in other areas of the U.S. agree with Reynolds that it is too early to determine the level of damage, they offered different insight to how conditions prior to the cold may affect wheat.

“Certainly, the southern Plains have had prolonged, very cold temperatures on a crop that didn’t have significant snow cover for protection and more risk for the later planted wheat,” said Gilpin. That, combined with dry conditions highlighted by the drought monitor report, are playing into the significant decline in Kansas wheat crop ratings, he said.

“The southern hard-red winter wheat crop has concerns, according to this report, as Kansas at 37 percent good/excellent rating is near an all-time low,” Gilpin said.

Although it will not be until spring, when crop breaks dormancy and begins growing and trying to use any available moisture, that professionals will know for certain the extent of the damage.

“Spring rains are always the significant determinant on how the hard-red winter crop fares and this year is shaping up to be even more reliant on more-than-favorable spring conditions,” Gilpin noted.

State associations should have more information related to winter wheat damage as the season continues.

“The general consensus is likely to be that, in the Plains, winterkill may become an issue, but any potential effect will not be known until wheat comes out of dormancy in the spring. Overall, the world has a very large surplus of wheat, so it would take a major weather-related supply shock to affect farm gate prices. Outside the U.S., planted area is large and no substantial weather concerns are in the news,” said Steve Mercer, vice president of communications with the U.S. Wheat Associates Inc.

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