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Published December 09, 2013, 10:09 AM

Winter weather threatens wheat crop

Bitter cold temperatures and ice were posing a threat to livestock and portions of the U.S. winter wheat crop into last weekend, an agricultural meteorologist says.

By: Sam Nelson, Reuters

CHICAGO — Bitter cold temperatures and ice were posing a threat to livestock and portions of the U.S. winter wheat crop into last weekend, an agricultural meteorologist says.

“There may be some winterkill in the Plains but I don’t think it’s a major problem. A bigger issue will be the ice cover from northeast Texas into the Delta,” says Don Keeney, a meteorologist for MDA Weather Services.

Keeney expected temperatures to be 3 to 5 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (minus 16.1 to minus 15 Celsius) on Dec. 6 and 7 in the Plains hard red winter wheat region, and says that a lack of snow cover could lead to winterkill in northwest Kansas and southwest Nebraska. “Most other areas should have a snow cover, and that should protect the crop,” he says.

Icing will be a problem from northeast Texas, south central and southeast Oklahoma, north central Arkansas, western Tennessee and in the Missouri Bootheel in the southeast, Keeney says.

“The ice cover will lead to transportation problems and also threaten to kill or smother portions of the winter wheat crop in those areas,” he says.

Commodity Weather Group on Dec. 5 forecast a potential half inch of ice that could linger for several days. “It poses ice smothering damage to as much as 15 percent of the soft red winter wheat belt,” says CWG meteorologist Joel Widenor on Dec. 5.

Keeney predicted modest snowfall of 3 to 5 inches (7.6 to 12.7 centimeters) over much of the Plains and southern Midwest late last week and heavy snowfall of up to 2 feet (61 CM) was expected in the far north, away from crop-producing areas.

Deep freeze

Bitter cold temperatures of roughly 25 to 30 degrees F below zero (minus 31.7 to minus 34.4 C) were predicted in northern areas late last week, including Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas and portions of Minnesota, Keeney says.

Crop and livestock analysts kept an eye on the winter storm and agreed the brutal cold would likely harm some of the wheat crop and would cause stress on livestock.

“I think the potential for damage is directly related to the length of time this Arctic blast lasts,” says Mike Zuzolo, an analyst for Global Commodity Analytics.

“If it is only four days, damage to wheat and livestock will be muted but if this is the beginning of a new pattern, I think the market will add premium,” Zuzolo says.

Ted Seifried, an analyst for Zaner Ag Hedge, says the biggest concern from the cold blast is for livestock, although there may be some logistic issues with moving grain and feed.

“In cold weather, livestock have a much tougher time adding weight and animals exposed to the cold weather need more energy to sustain their rate of gain and body temperature,” Seifried says.

“The biggest challenge may be getting animals to drink enough water,” he says.

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