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Published December 14, 2010, 09:11 AM

Winter wheat crop in trouble?

Much of the U.S. hard red winter wheat crop may be at risk of winter kill in coming months, a meteorologist with Planalytics says.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Much of the U.S. hard red winter wheat crop may be at risk of winter kill in coming months, a meteorologist with Planalytics says.

The weather phenomena known as La Nina is expected to bring cold dry conditions to the southern Great Plains during the next few months, potentially threatening hard red winter wheat fields, says Fred Gesser, senior agri-business meteorologist.

He and other company officials spoke with the news media in a Dec. 7 conference call.

Philadelphia-based Planalytics provides weather information to businesses.

Strongest in winter

La Nina, a periodic cooling of tropical Pacific waters, affects weather both globally and in the United States. It tends to peak during the Northern Hemisphere winter, according to the website of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

La Nina is the cold counterpart to the arguably better-known El Nino.

What happens to the hard red winter wheat crop will affect the entire wheat market.

Hard red winter wheat, used primarily to make bread flour, accounts for about 40 percent of total U.S. wheat production, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Hard red winter wheat primarily is grown in the Great Plains, Texas north through Montana. Kansas is the leading producer, accounting for about a quarter of U.S. hard red winter wheat. Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Colorado also are major producers.

In the United States, the crop is sown in the fall and usually is established before becoming dormant when cold weather arrives.

The plants resume growing in the spring.

Winter wheat on the central and southern Great Plains already has been hurt by cold, dry weather, USDA says in its weekly weather and crop bulletin issued Dec. 7.

That contrasts with the “well-established, snow-covered wheat crop” on the northern Great Plains, USDA says.

Weather trends

Gesser and Jeff Doran, senior business meteorologist at Planalytics, say one of the most important trends of 2010 was the fading-out of El Nino.

El Nino was strongly in place when the year began, but became far less of a factor by spring, they say.

The fading-out of El Nino was reflected in unusually warm spring weather that allowed farmers on the northern Great Plains to begin planting in April, Doran says.

“Boy, what a great April it was,” he says.

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