Farmers ponder freeze damage in winter wheat
Excessive cold and the prospects of freeze-thaw issues in the southern Plains are adding to wheat market uncertainty heading into the spring. Jim Peterson, marketing director of the North Dakota Wheat Commission in Bismarck, says the market has b...
Excessive cold and the prospects of freeze-thaw issues in the southern Plains are adding to wheat market uncertainty heading into the spring.
Jim Peterson, marketing director of the North Dakota Wheat Commission in Bismarck, says the market has been fickle on whether the possible freeze damage is a concern.
"It's really hard to get a handle on it," he says.
Freeze damage is possible in western North Dakota, with insufficient snow cover and frost depth at 7 feet into the ground, affecting water lines on farms, Peterson says. North Dakota winter wheat can't be insured until spring, to prove that it could be a viable stand. If the wheat doesn't survive, farmers can shift to a spring wheat crop or something else.
Joel Ransom, North Dakota State University Extension Service specialist for small grains, says North Dakota planted 720,000 acres of winter wheat last fall, almost a record. It got off to a good start so has some vigor, but much of it hasn't had snow cover, unless it was planted into wheat stubble and caught snow.
"I would say 50 percent is at risk of being killed or significantly damaged with the cold weather we've had," Ransom says. "I haven't heard of anybody doing any sampling, so there's nothing definitive."
The issue is bigger in the southern wheat belt of Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma, where snow cover can melt, then freeze and damage crops. Joseph Glauger, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief economist, says a slow thaw is crucial in preventing more damage.
"We have had snow cover over a lot of the regions and to a degree that has protected things, but the concern is that when you have a bit of warm weather and wheat popping out of dormancy," he says, referring to the risk that short-lived warmer weather could melt snows and could encourage growth that could be damaged by further cold snaps.
Mike Krueger, founder and president of The Money Farm, a grain marketing advisory service based in Fargo, N.D., says "everyone thinks there's been some freeze damage" in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, because temperatures have been 20 degrees below normal and it's dry, but no one knows.
Myron Eberts of South Heart, N.D., who operates a family custom combining business, says he's about to head to Oklahoma to start an annual road trip to visit customers and study crop conditions.
"The crop is still dormant for the most part," Eberts says. "They were pretty concerned because they had a lot of wind with their cold weather."
He says 2013 was the poorest wheat crop his company has ever cut, running through Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas and Oklahoma. "We're hoping for a lot better crop this year, but I don't know," he says.
Hoping for better
Farmers in the Southern Plains states have fewer options for replanting failed winter wheat than farmers on the Northern Plains, including the Dakotas and Minnesota. Historically, if they have excessive winter damage, the excessive heat and lack of rain in the mid-summer means they don't replant a spring crop. That's changing with better corn hybrids and soybean varieties.
"I think if we get into April or late March and that crop is affected down there, it could affect their decisions to plant more wheat" in the Dakotas, Krueger says.