Heat Hits Winter Wheat Harder Than Frost -- Study
Temperatures dipped into freezing territory in spots around the Plains earlier this week, adding another reason for nerves to rattle for a wheat crop that's got just a few weeks to go before the combines roll through the heart of the Wheat Belt. Temperatures were around 30 degrees in parts of north-central Kansas, and frost was common all the way to the western edge of wheat country, leaving some farmers worried that the crop that some say "has 9 lives" might be working through all of those lives on the way to harvest.
Last week's Wheat Quality Council tour in Kansas showed there's still some decent yield potential in parts of that state where drought didn't inflict too much early damage, and rainfall has been two or three times the normal levels in some parts of the region in the last two months. Though conditions are improving, the crop is far from made . . . in fact, it may have yet to face its toughest potential foe, both this year and into the future, one specialist says.
"There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that temperatures will increase in the future. What we’ve done here is estimate the impact of what might happen to wheat yields if temperatures increase in Kansas," says Kansas State University ag economist Andrew Barkley, who recently led a study outlining new wheat research needs in a future that many say will be marked by increasing temperatures. "We’re interested in wheat for several reasons, but with climate change, we’re concerned about the potential impact of that on wheat in the future."
Barkley's study reveals heat after the winter wheat crop breaks out of dormancy in the spring is more damaging than an early-fall frost/freeze. Consequently, he says future wheat breeding research should focus not just on wheat's drought- and frost-hardiness, but also its ability to withstand spring heat, considering its growing likelihood down the road.
"As we progress, we are going to be able to deal with these changes in temperature as they arise. Climate change is a slow process, and wheat breeding also is relatively slow, but there have been major advances in wheat breeding, so that we can change the average time it takes to develop a new variety from over 10 years to about half that time," Barkley says in a university report. "We really have a positive forecast of changing these wheat varieties to accommodate for the heat."