Freeze damage, drought damage and hail damage were par for the course during a quick tour through central, western and southern Kansas wheat fields April 15-16.
Kansas Wheat Alliance’s Daryl Strouts and I expected to see freeze damage, after temperatures dropped to the teens April 10-11. But freeze was prevalent at just one of our stops, although we know that freeze and/or drought are hammering wheat farms along the Kansas/Oklahoma border in south central and western Kansas, and the western-most counties of Kansas.
Our tour objective was to find where the northern-most impact of the freeze; the point at which low temperatures combined with advanced plant maturity to cause damage. Our tour also was brief. Had we gone farther west, we would have seen dramatic damage in the southwest corner of Kansas, where there just wasn’t any soil moisture that can help protect the crop in times of freeze.
We went as far west as Meade County.
Father and son team Darwin and Tyler Ediger, who farm about seven miles south and east of Meade, said temperatures dropped to 17 degrees the night of April 10. Wheat here is well past jointing, with the head between three and six inches above-ground. Wheat test plots near the Edigers’ home were not dramatically affected by freeze, but a field of Cedar, seven miles straight south of Meade, was. Spot checks in the field showed a number of severely damaged plants. With a rain, some of the secondary tillers could produce grain.
The Edigers treat their wheat right. At planting, they use high-quality certified seed that has been coated with protectants against disease and insects, plus added micro-nutrients that combined, help get the crop off to a good start. They apply all the crop’s nitrogen fertilizer needs prior to planting, and if needed, will use a fungicide to protect against diseases in the spring. They don’t till the land, preferring to protect the soil with residue from previous crops. In turn, that prevents soil moisture losses from evapotranspiration.
However, Meade County – like much of western Kansas – is in Year 4 of drought, and farmers here have received about half the annual rainfall of 18-inches each of those years. “Water,” Darwin says, “is our limiting factor.”
At Blasi Seed Farms north of Pratt, Dave Blasi, who farms with his son Jesse, says temperatures dropped to 21 degrees on April 9, and 23 degrees on April 10. Ice covered the wheat plants the first night, followed by nearly an inch-and-a-half of soft, pea-sized hail. Dave says the freeze probably didn’t do as much damage as the hail. Wheat plants still showed signs of healthy growing points and heads. Some leaf tissue was definitely harmed by the extreme weather, though.
The Blasis’ have benefitted from timely rains, and even last week’s hailstorm provided much-needed moisture. Dave Blasi was quick to point out, however, that many neighbors have not been as blessed. South of Pratt, farmers report severe freeze damage, no doubt exacerbated by terribly dry conditions. The same can be said for west and east of his farm.
We have had e-mail reports from farmers and specialists in extreme southern and extreme western Kansas who believe their crops are severely – if not totally – damaged by freeze, and in west central to northwestern Kansas by the combination of cold and drought.
- KAWG President Gary Millershaski, who farms near Lakin in Kearny County, says about 75% of his wheat acres are ruined due to freeze and drought.
- One farmer in Sherman County has written off 90% of his wheat crop.
- A wheat farmer in Logan County tells us the combination of freeze and drought will force him to destroy a good share of his crop. Temperatures plummeted to 15 degrees last week, with wind chills below zero.
- Jeannie Falk, agronomist for K-State’s Sunflower Extension District in six northwest Kansas counties, reports that the growing point on most plants she’s examined is below the soil surface, and not moved into the stem thus protected by the soil from freezing temperatures. Still, the extreme temperatures have likely caused some damage; the extent, however, is not yet known.
- In Grant County, irrigated wheat fields that prior to the freeze appeared to have 100-bushel per acre yield potential, were all but destroyed, according to a regional crop consultant. Growth stage prior to the freeze ranged from the side-tiller (Feekes 5) to main tiller (Feekes 7).
Strouts and I also spot-checked fields near Medicine Lodge, where the crop is way behind schedule; and Harper, where the crop is behind, but otherwise looks to be in good shape. Visits to farms near Yoder, Clearwater and Oxford indicated that the wheat crop is in good condition at this point, although farmers there are somewhat fearful of another round of bitter cold this week. We have another week of growth since the last storm, which could put the crop at greater peril. Still, farmers in these areas are hopeful that a) the cold won’t be as extreme as last week and b) warmth from the soil, plus a protective canopy of leaf tissue, will keep the growing point from freezing.
Wheat is a hardy crop. With good moisture and average temperatures in the next several weeks, we could see at best a fair crop in those parts of the state, with yield coming from secondary tillers. In many of these areas, however, it is hard to be optimistic about rain chances when it has been so dry, for so long.
Incidentally, Kansas Ag Statistics estimated the wheat crop was 35% jointed as of April 14, below the long-term average of 47%. The crop is rated at 30% good to excellent, 33% poor to very poor and the rest in just fair condition.