Associated Press Writer
WICHITA (AP) — A spring freeze has raised fears about possible damage to the Kansas winter wheat crop.
Experts aren’t expecting the same widespread freeze damage that devastated the state’s 2007 wheat crop, but temperatures dipped below freezing Monday night across much of Kansas and created some uncertainty among growers.
Damage will likely not be as bad as the Easter freeze of 2007 because the wheat crop is not as mature as it was when a multi-day freeze gripped crops, said Kansas State University Extension wheat specialist Jim Shroyer.
More of the tillers that eventually form the wheat grain heads were still safely below ground when temperatures dipped below freezing for a few hours late Monday into early Tuesday. The 2007 freeze hit more mature crops and lasted two to three days.
In Saline County, where temperatures set a record low of 17 degrees overnight, about 10-15 percent of the main stem tillers could be lost, Shroyer said. But farmers probably won’t detect damage for another two weeks because the plants will still produce other tillers. At most, experts said, growers may lose just a few bushels of production.
Hoisington grower Dean Stoskopf had not had a chance yet Tuesday to check his fields.
“I’m concerned, but with these cold temperatures we wouldn’t know for several weeks what will happen,” he said. “The potential is there for some problems.”
The freeze was more of a concern than last week’s winter storm because in this case, there was no snow cover to protect the plants and the crop was further along in its development, Shroyer said.
Wheat is more vulnerable to freeze damage once the plant has jointed, the point at which the wheat head moves above the ground.
About 20 percent of the Kansas wheat crop had jointed by Monday, when the Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service released its weekly crop condition report. That compares to 13 percent a week earlier.
Crops further south were more mature — and therefore more vulnerable — than fields further north when the cold snap hit. About 29 percent of wheat in south-central Kansas and 25 percent in southwestern Kansas had already reached the jointed stage.
That compares to just 6 percent in northwest Kansas, KASS reported.
Last week’s winter storm that dumped nearly 2 feet of snow and sleet in parts of the state brought welcomed moisture after an unusually dry winter. The storm also left many wheat fields yellow from leaf damage, but that’s mostly a cosmetic problem, Shroyer said.
For growers, the real fear is a late freeze.
“We still have the probability — even into May — of a freeze,” Shroyer said. “The more mature the wheat is, the more developed it is, the more it can’t tolerate as well the temperatures.”