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Nine Lives and Winter Wheat
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Wheat farmers in Kansas joke that wheat has nine lives and you don’t produce a crop unless at least eight of them have been used up before harvest. While this may sound a bit like gallows humor, there is a lot of truth in this statement. The wheat crop here is exposed to the extremes of our weather for nine months while crops like corn, soybean, and sorghum for approximately four. One of the hazards continually on the minds of wheat producers is a late freeze. Before the wheat joints in the spring, the growing point of the plant is below the surface and except under extreme conditions, protected from freezing conditions. Once wheat joints upon breaking dormancy in the spring, the developing head is above the ground and as the plant continues to grow it proceeds up the stem until it heads out. Temperatures in the low 20s for an extended period of time can destroy the developing head and/or damage vascular tissue. Questions at the Farm and Ranch Expo concerning possible damage were common. There isn’t enough space here for great detail but at least the highlights? So what are area wheat producers looking at in our area?
· At the St. John K-State weather station located at the 281 and 50 intersection temperatures were 65 degrees at 9 a.m., 47 at 10 a.m. and fell below 28 degrees by 8 p.m. on April 9. The low was 23 at 3 a.m. the next morning and had risen to 26 by 10 a.m. on the 10th. The 11th saw temperatures climb into the low 30s and the evening of the 11th was in to low 20s. Temperatures were certainly cold enough, long enough to damage jointed wheat.
· If the damage to the plant was severe enough as during the Easter freeze several years back, the damage is apparent quickly, especially with the warm temperatures expected over the weekend. This will range from obvious physical damage to the smell of fermenting silage.
· Most wheat in the area was well behind developmentally compared to the last several years. Some wheat had jointed but much had not. For the unjointed wheat with a little luck, the damage will be most to leaves and more visually than physically damaging. The stems that had joint likely suffered damage to the growing point.
· The ice helped in two ways. As ice freezes it gives up a heat and the ice coating wheat helps serves to insulate the wheat.
· Wet soil helps protect the wheat because the soil cools more slowly than when dry. The wet soil also indicates that the plant cells should have adequate hydration. These help protect the growing point below or just at the soil surface.
· Well tillered, thick wheat helps buffer temperatures around the growing point compared to thin stands.
· Wheat that had the main stem joint but where the tillers were less developed has the ability to compensate. Tillers that normally would not have developed will go ahead and produce a head and seed in absence of the main stem. While yields may not be optimal, they can be acceptable. In 1995, Jagger wheat was damaged by a freeze and a lot was taken out as it was pronounced “dead” yield wise. A lot was left and there turned out to be many fields of 35 bushel/acre “dead” Jagger. The tillers compensated.
There’s more but first let’s wait a week and see where we are at.