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Easter freeze aftermath

Agriculture.com Staff 04/18/2007 @ 3:22pm

Easter 2007 was one to remember for wheat farmers from Kansas to Ohio. During the holiday weekend, Mother Nature brought freezing temperatures and snow to the middle portion of the country, much to the detriment of the wheat crop.

Now that more seasonable conditions have returned, farmers are just now getting a grasp on the extent of the Easter freeze. For some, this clarity is bringing disappointment, as indications this week in parts of Kansas are that the crop will have difficulty recovering.

"When that freeze came, it was just devastating," says Brookville, Kansas, wheat farmer Joe Kejr. "Not quite half of mine is in some form of laying down. The further on we go, with some of my wheat I thought would make it, the more question I have as far as how it's going to end up."

Some analysts have compared this year's spring freeze to one on April 11-13, 1997, that preceded what would be one of the largest winter wheat crops in Kansas history. Though close in proximity date-wise, the similarities between 1997 and 2007 end there, says Kejr.

"We keep hearing we might see some tillers come back up that will take care of the problem, or maybe get a yield like 1997," he says. "We're pretty well convinced this isn't the 1997 freeze. It's just a different story."

The difference, Kejr says, is crop's development leading up to the Easter weekend freeze. This year's crop was around two weeks ahead in its development compared to 2006, and with the plant's growing point higher up, more freeze damage was incurred. The results, he says, are clear when walking through one of his hardest-hit fields.

"It broke off and was laying flat, and it crunched while you walked on it," Kejr says. "Below the joint, the stem was yellow or brown, and with the heads, they're white or brown. We found one or two tillers maybe trying to come back."

While continued green growth is evident in other fields that sustained less freeze damage, much of the regrowth isn't sustained. In his area of north-central Kansas where freeze damage may have been worst, Kejr says even those fields that could recover show damage from which recovery is questionable.

"On the wheat that's standing, the tops are kind of burned, but below that top burned spot, it looks green," he says. "But, when you lay the plant over with your hand to see if there's more regrowth coming, they just sort of break. When you cut one or two of those off, you'll see white or brownish joints, not the green you'd expect to see there.

"Just yesterday, I started seeing that the flag leaf that's coming up is starting to look like it's dying."

Kejr, currently serving as president of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers, says he's talked to growers around the state who say freeze damage varies according to the crop's development. According to farmers who have posted to Agriculture Online Crop Talk discussion groups since late last week, wheat in other parts of Kansas as well as Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri and Nebraska are looking at substantial losses.

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