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Agriculture Today

Hard freeze likely damaged much of fall-emerged wheat

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Robert Burns
April 4, 2013 | 4,513 views | Post a comment

COLLEGE STATION -- A large part of the Texas winter wheat crop could have been damaged by hard freezes March 24-26, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

“Temperatures in the teens and low 20s appear to have been common in the Panhandle, and in the upper 20s and low 30s in the Blacklands on Sunday night [March 24] and Monday morning,” said Dr. Travis Miller, AgriLife Extension agronomist and Texas A&M University soil and crop sciences associate department head. “These temperatures are sufficiently cold to cause severe injury to wheat in advanced stages of growth.”

The exact extent of the damage won’t be known for five days to a week or longer, and another hard freeze was expected in the central areas of the state on the night and early morning of March 25-26, Miller said.

A hard freeze can kill individual developing seed heads, he said. Throughout the state, wheat was in various growth stages and each plant has multiple tillers of different ages, he said.

Wheat where the heads are in an early stage of development can tolerate temperatures as low as 20 degrees for a few hours without much damage, but wheat in bloom can suffer significant injury from 32-degree temperatures, Miller said.

Further complicating damage assessment, temperatures registered by nearby thermometers may not reflect actual field temperatures, all of which makes on-the-ground field scouting necessary.

“Temperature may vary several degrees in a field,” he said. “Freeze damage is always worse in low spots in fields. It might kill the older heads and not the younger heads. It’s a real mixed bag out there, a real hodgepodge.”

Miller noted that it was a mixed blessing that much of the wheat in the eastern part of the state suffered from a droughty fall and did not emerge until January.

“I don’t expect that late-emerging wheat will be far enough advanced to be injured, but this late wheat has a lower yield potential than wheat that germinated in the fall. When it emerges late, it has lower potential yields due to fewer tillers and a greater risk of exposure to heat during critical growth stages.”

A month ago, Miller predicted a below-average wheat crop for the Texas South Plains, Panhandle, and Rolling Plains because of a dry fall and problems with emergence.

At that time, he noted that Blacklands wheat -- from the Metroplex north and east -- looked good, being in better shape than anywhere else in the state. Now that wheat is at risk too because of the freezes, he noted.

“It’s a large and complex problem out there,” he said. “But if you had wheat that was blooming and your temperatures got down to 26, you’re going to have some injury.”

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries for the week encompassing March 18-25:

AgriLife Extension district reporters for the Coastal Bend District, including Karnes County, reported windy and dry weather continued to dry out soils. Some areas received sparse, isolated showers and damage from high winds and hail. Farmers were planting cotton and sesame into dry soils. Corn farmers held back side-dressing fertilizer until a rain is in the short-term forecast. Lack of rainfall has local producers nervous. Pastures and hay fields were trying to grow, but with damage from continuous grazing and lack of rain, not much growth was taking place. Cattle inventories continued to drop as producers opted to sell rather than provide expensive feed.

AgriLife Extension district reporters for the Southwest District, including Wilson, Gonzales, Guadalupe, and Bexar counties, reported the drought was ongoing and weather was windy. Most irrigated corn had emerged and was doing well. Soil moisture was a problem in dryland corn, sorghum, and cotton. Grain sorghum planting on irrigated land wound down. Overall, livestock were in good condition, but without rain soon, pastures will not be able to continue to support the current numbers. Small grains continued to head out.

AgriLife Extension district reporters for the South District, including Atascosa County, reported dry conditions continued throughout the region with no rain forecast. Soil-moisture levels were mostly very short throughout the eastern, western, and southern counties, and short to very short throughout the northern ones. Rangeland and pastures continued to decline. Livestock producers throughout the region were selling cattle, in many cases mature cattle. In Atascosa County, 95 percent of the corn was planted, with 60 percent of the crop emerged. Also in that county, 80 percent of sorghum and 15 percent of cotton were planted. Winter wheat in that area was mostly in fair condition.

Robert Burns has nearly 30 years’ experience writing about agriculture and agricultural-related research. He writes about Texas AgriLife Research and Texas AgriLife Extension Service activities at the Overton Center and centers in Stephenville and Temple.

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