Trademark, temperamental Kansas weather turned much of the state, including Sumner County, into a Spring-cicle between April 9 and 10. Luckily, in South Central Kansas, temperatures didn't dip low enough to harm the growing wheat crop.
"Down to 24 [degrees], it could get some damage, but above 24 it shouldn't get much damage," said Agricultural and Natural Resources agent, Randy Hein, at the Sumner County Research and Extension Office. "We got good moisture, and that helps buffer the temperature at the ground level." According to the National Weather Service, the average temperature for the Wichita, Kan. area on April 9 and 10 stayed in the high 20's and low 30's.
However, budding plant life and green landscapes were caked with a coating of ice for about 24 hours, during a critical stage of the wheat's growth.
"Between jointing and boot stage is where we're at, I think everything is pretty well jointed," Hein said. With the damage from the freeze being minimal, the wheat will start to get some length.
Early signs that crops may have been damaged by the freeze are (according to the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service):
Silage smell. If a wheat field is giving off the aroma of silage, it indicates that leaves have been damaged. Damaged leaves will likely turn black within a few days, then become bleached. If the flag leaf is killed, that tiller won't produce much, if any, grain. Damage to lower leaves will not have such a drastic effect. Even if the flag leaf on the most advanced tillers is lost, less developed tillers can still come on and produce grain at this point in the season.
Ice in the stems. If there was ice in the stems below the first node the morning of the freeze, those tillers will probably be damaged (although not always) and may not produce grain. When inspecting a field, flag the areas where you find ice in the stems, and tag individual tillers with suspected damage. Then come back to those areas after three days and see if the stems are crimped and damaged. If so, that tiller will probably not produce a head. If the tagged tillers continue to grow and put out nice green leaves, they are fine. If not, they probably had injury.
Lodging. If the wheat lodged immediately after the freeze, that indicates stem damage. Later tillers may eventually cover the damaged tillers.
Farmers should note that it will take several days of warm weather to find out the extent of the damage, if any.
Much of the state is still going through extreme drought conditions, any moisture is a positive for farmers. The late-Winter precipitation the area has received came just in time, Hein said.
Page 2 of 2 - "That first snow was good," Hein continued. "A lot of that wheat was starting to suffer before that first snow [in February]. That was a crop saver." As the weeks continued, so did the amount of snowfall, which melted slowly, soaking into the ground, giving crops a boost.
"I think another week to 10 days and we would have lost a bunch of wheat," Hein said. From here, any moisture is still more than welcomed. For the wheat crop, episodes of short, slow rain would be ideal.
"The soil can only absorb so much rain so quickly, then the soil reaches a point of saturation where it won't absorb anymore until it leaks down into the ground," Hein explained. "I don't think we're at saturation right now, but we're pretty wet." It's hard to say that moisture is causing some farmers issues, but for corn growers, that might be the case.
"They're glad to have the moisture, they're not going to complain about that, but they need some dry stuff so they can get the rest of the crops in the ground and take advantage of the moisture," Hein said.
If worrying about ice wasn't enough, soon wheat growers will have to contend with more traditional problems. Wheat rust has already been spotted by our neighbors to the south.
"Here before long, we'll need to start looking for rust," Hein said. "There's some that's already showed up in southern Oklahoma. You never know how soon or bad it's going to get here, but it's headed north." From one extreme to the next, once Spring showers – and snows – stop falling, the drought and heat will pick back up again. But for now, the crop looks promising.
"There's not a whole lot of insect problems out there and I haven't seen a whole lot of disease problems," Hein said. "It's still early in the game, but the moisture we've gotten now has been great for it." To find out how the crops will actually do, of course is a waiting game.
"It's growing good...right now there's a potential for a pretty good crop," Hein said. "But between now and harvest is a real long time."