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Freeze Could Hit Hard Red Winter Wheat Fields

The condition of the hard red winter wheat crop in the states of Oklahoma and Kansas is precarious after temperatures dropped below freezing April 14-15. July Hard Red Winter wheat futures settled up 23 cents at the Chicago Board of Trade on April 15, due in part to weather concerns in the Hard Red Winter wheat region. 

In Oklahoma, much of the state had overnight temperatures below 32 degrees, for as many as several hours along the northern border of the state. In his blog, “World of Wheat,” Oklahoma State University small grains specialist Jeff Edwards writes, “While temperatures in the wheat canopy might have remained slightly higher than reported air temperatures, they were still probably low enough to result in significant injury to wheat.”


Kansas State University research indicates that at the boot stage, severe damage can occur to wheat when it is below 30 degrees for more than two hours. In the jointing stage, wheat will exhibit moderate to severe damage when temperatures drop below 24 degrees for more than two hours. 

Edwards notes that over the next few days, the state’s wheat farmers will need to scout fields closely to see whether freeze injury is present. Healthy wheat heads will remain turgid with a green color. Damaged wheat heads will be bleached, yellow, or brown and will easily break when pushed against. "I anticipate that we will not have any partial 'blanking' of wheat heads and that most wheat heads will either be OK or a complete loss. Symptoms may start to appear later this week and will likely be clearly identifiable by early next week,” he writes. 

Already, 53% of Oklahoma’s wheat crop is rated poor to very poor by the National Agricultural Statistics Service in its April 14 Crop Progress Report. 

In Kansas, about two-thirds of the crop had reached the pivotal jointing stage of growth when many areas were hit by the freeze. It’s too early to tell what – if any – effect the cold will have on the crop, but Jim Shroyer, Kansas State University Extension wheat specialist, says jointing wheat can usually tolerate temperatures in the mid- to upper 20s with no significant injury. “However, if temperatures fall into the low 20s or even lower for several hours, the lower stems, leaves, or developing head can sustain injury.”

Daryl Strouts, president of the Kansas Wheat Alliance, says the state’s crop is from one to two weeks behind, perhaps saving it from serious freeze damage. 

Strouts visited farms in south-central Kansas on April 15 to assess the Kansas wheat crop to date. 

“I expect we’ll have an average crop,” says Strouts. That pegs the state’s wheat production at 35 bushels per acre on 9 million acres. The state’s crop is rated 30% poor to very poor in the April 14 Crop Progress Report. 


Winfield, Kansas, farmer Bruce Ehmke says while temperatures plummeted to 22 degrees for a short time April 14-15, he is more concerned about dryness than the freeze. 

“If it will rain within a week, we will have an average crop,” Ehmke says. 

Scott Van Allen, who farms near Clearwater in Sumner County, Kansas, says the temperature dropped to 27 degrees for a few hours. That could have a moderate effect on the wheat crop, but Van Allen, too, is most concerned with precipitation. 

“We are in decent shape. There’s not an abundance, but we have picked up little showers here and there,” Van Allen says. 

“There is some very nice wheat in the area, but there is some tough wheat, too. We have the potential for a crop of about 40 bushels per acre or so if we have enough moisture,” he says. 

Other observations from farmers belonging to the grower organization, Kansas Wheat:

  • In southwest Kansas, overnight lows of 22 degrees had little impact on the drought-stricken wheat crop, which is two to three weeks behind normal schedule and has not jointed yet. Drought remains the biggest concern. 

  • In northwest Kansas, precipitation of 0.05 inch to 0.25 inch was well-received. The area is still very dry due to long-term drought, and freezing temperatures had little effect on the wheat. 

  • In central Kansas, wheat that had jointed may suffer from 19-degree temperatures; however, much of the wheat in the area is further behind and will probably escape freeze damage. 

The annual Wheat Quality Council Hard Red Winter Wheat tour of Kansas wheat fields occurs April 28-May 1; any freeze damage showing up in the state of Kansas will be apparent then. 

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