Oklahoma Freeze Threatening Crop Damage to Wheat Hurt by Drought

Freezing weather in Oklahoma may have damaged wheat plants that already were hurt by the worst drought since the 1930s.

Temperatures overnight dropped to 15 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 9 Celsius) near Guymon, in the Oklahoma panhandle, National Weather Service data show. The freeze may have hurt wheat tillers, which are stems that emerge from the root of the plant and produce grain, Telvent DTN said in a report.

Plants were susceptible to damage because there was little or no snow cover to protect against freezing weather, said Darrell Holaday, the president of Advanced Market Concepts.

“They had moisture a month ago, but the last two or three weeks, it’s been dry,” Holaday said by telephone from Wamego, Kansas. “And their crops were further along. I think you probably had some damage.”

Growers of hard-red winter wheat, used to make bread and grown mostly in the southern Great Plains, may leave almost 24 percent of their crop unharvested this year because of the drought, Futures International LLC said in an e-mail yesterday. Farmers seeded 29.1 million acres with hard-red winter varieties from September through November, Department of Agriculture data show. Oklahoma is the second-biggest grower behind Kansas.

About 26 percent of the crop in Oklahoma was in good or excellent condition as of March 24, up from 24 percent a week earlier, according to the USDA. In Kansas, 29 percent of plants earned top ratings, unchanged from a week earlier, the government said in a report yesterday.

Damage Outlook

The extent of the damage from the overnight freeze probably won’t be known until temperatures warm up and the plants again try to grow later this week, Mark Hodges, the executive director of Plains Grains Inc. in Stillwater, Oklahoma, said in a telephone interview.

When the weather is below freezing for several hours, as it was last night, the oldest stems are hurt the worst because they were more developed, Hodges said. Damage from the drought in the area reduced crop prospects, so the freeze may cut yields further, he said.

“We didn’t have that many tillers to start with,” Hodges said. “We didn’t come into the spring with the crop we would’ve liked, and we didn’t have the root system we wanted to have. We needed every tiller we could get, and I suspect several areas lost some. I’m not suggesting we lost the entire crop, but we did lose some.”

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