Hard freeze likely damaged much of fall-emerged wheat
Writer: Robert Burns, 903-834-6191, firstname.lastname@example.org
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 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.
Two-minute MP3 Audio of Texas crop, weather for March 26, 2013
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.”
More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/ .
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries for the week encompassing March 18-25:
Central: Winter grasses and wheat continued to provide grazing. Coastal Bermuda grass fields were breaking dormancy. Corn emerged and stock tanks were full. Cotton planting was expected to be in full swing soon. Peach trees were blooming. Fly numbers increased. Generally, the area needed more moisture.
Coastal Bend: 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.
East: Some counties received nearly 1 inch of rain, but with windy conditions, soils were drying out quickly and more rain was needed. Warm-season grasses began to emerge, but freezing temperatures may damage them, as well as peaches. Vegetable growers were actively planting. With strong demand, cattle sales were up in area sale barns. Feral hog activity picked up.
Far West: Windy weather continued, with temperatures swinging from below normal to above normal. The high winds and low humidity increased the threat of wildfires. Perennial grasses greened up somewhat. Farmers continued getting ready for cotton planting.
North: Soil moisture was short to adequate. A weekend cold front brought scattered showers and dropped temperatures by 15 to 20 degrees, resulting in a freeze in some areas. Winter wheat looked much better after rains it received two weeks ago. Livestock were in good condition, and producers were able to use winter grazing. Farmers continued planting corn and sorghum. More rain was needed to replenish stock ponds.
Panhandle: Temperatures were near average for most of the week, with a hard freeze in many areas over the weekend. Damage from the freeze to wheat has not been assessed yet. Soil moisture varied from very short to adequate, with most reporting short to adequate. Producers were busy with fieldwork: applying fertilizers, compost and manures, bedding up row-irrigated fields and generally getting ready for planting. Wheat was in from very poor to good condition with most areas reporting fair to poor. Some wheat fields were being treated for greenbugs, but no Russian aphids were reported. The wheat crop in general was holding its own, with moisture from the recent snows giving short-term relief to the dryland crop. Irrigated wheat that was top-dressed with fertilizer and irrigated showed a huge growth spurt. Cattle remain in fair condition, and those grazing wheat were making excellent gains.
Rolling Plains: Colder weather returned, putting residents in panic mode as they tried to protect trees that bloomed early because of unseasonably warm weather. Five hours of freezing temperature did considerable damage to a variety of crops. Peaches, plums and apricots that were blooming were mostly destroyed. One grower noted he had temperatures in his orchard as low as 23 degrees. Strawberry blooms were killed, but the crop is cold hardy, and they were expected to rebloom. In about three weeks strawberries will produce fruit unless there is another freeze. Areas that received moisture recently were greening up, giving producers optimism. The wheat crop was doing well. Some earlier-planted wheat remained in poor shape, but the majority of the crop was in good condition. Producers were grazing cattle on wheat, trying to rest pastures and allow them to recover from the past few years of drought. Pastures had greened up enough that producers were considering their weed-and-brush control options. Cattle were in good condition, and producers slowed supplemental feeding. Cotton farmers began preparing fields, finding soil-moisture levels adequate for planting in many areas. After two years without a cotton harvest in some counties, producers were feeling the pressure to produce a crop. Everyone needed more soil moisture and runoff water for stock tanks.
South: 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. In Frio County, farmers continued irrigating potatoes, corn and wheat. Corn planting there was ongoing. In McMullen County, supplemental feeding of cattle continued at a steady pace, and spring calving season was ongoing. In Jim Wells County, many crops had been planted but lacked enough moisture to establish a stand. Some corn established stands, but needed additional moisture to progress. Cattle producers in that area also continued to cull herds. About 50 percent of livestock sold were mature cattle. In Kleberg County, only 10 percent of sorghum had been planted because of dry conditions. In Maverick County, winter oats were still standing despite being pounded by high winds. Producers there continued to prepare fields for planting. In Zavala County, cabbage and spinach harvesting was very active, and late-planted spinach was still producing good-quality yields. Also in that county, dryland sorghum producers delayed planting due to the lack of moisture, while irrigated cotton, corn and sorghum plantings continued. In Starr County, growers were getting ready to harvest onions, and spring vegetable crops were progressing well. In Willacy County, sorghum stands were spotty and many plantings did not even emerge.
South Plains: No measurable precipitation was received for the month, just a light mist. Topsoils remained very dry, and most of the moisture from the earlier snows was gone. Winter wheat struggled due to lack of moisture. Producers were prepping fields and equipment for cotton planting. Wheat was in the jointing stage, with the growing point above ground. In Lubbock County, a weekend cold front brought high winds, with gusts reaching 60 mph. There was lots of blowing dirt. Temperatures varied from a high of 81 on March 21 to a low of 23 on March 24. Producers were concerned about wheat damage from the freezing temperatures. Wheat fields varied in growth stage, and will have to be evaluated individually during next week. Pasture and rangeland improved somewhat because of snow earlier in the month, and were mostly in fair to poor condition, but needed more moisture. Livestock were mostly in fair condition with supplemental feeding continuing. Much more rain will be needed for a successful 2013 cotton crop.
Southeast: Though some counties reported rain, in general the area remained dry and warm, and winter forges began to decline as summer forages emerged. A few counties reported moisture. Fort Bend received 0.2 inch, while Chambers County got nearly 1 inch. But even where there was rain, its effects were not noticeable. In Burleson County, showers and warm weather stimulated warm-season grass growth. Corn planting was nearly completed there, and producers were moving on to milo, soybeans and cotton field preparations. Harris County had a small amount of rain and two small wildfires. Orange County had a limited amount of rain, and the soils were dry. In Galveston County, the warm weather caused trees, shrubs and other plants to bud. Walker County remained very dry, and growers there were already irrigating potatoes.
Southwest: 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.
West Central: Days were warm with cold nights. Some counties had scattered showers and hail damage. Ongoing warm, dry and windy conditions with low humidity continued to dry out soils and stress crops. Wildfire danger was still a great concern, and there were daily red flag warnings in some areas. (Red flag warnings are issued by the U.S. National Weather Service when conditions are ideal for wildfires to start and rapidly spread.) There was very little field activity, as field preparations for spring planting were mostly completed. Some corn farmers were planting, but most were expected to delay planting until soil-moisture levels improved. Producers were spraying herbicides to control winter weeds. Winter wheat was in fair to very poor condition. Many wheat fields were being grazed out, not grown for grain, but some producers hoped some fields could be eventually harvested for hay. Rangeland and pastures slightly improved as warm-season grasses came out of dormancy. However, slow grass growth was expected due to cool nights and no rain. Livestock remained in fair condition with continued supplemental feeding. Stock-pond water levels continued to drop, with many ponds critically low or completely dry. Some producers were hauling water.