A month or so ago our wheat crop in Ellis County was behind the average normal growth and development for the time of year. However, in my opinion and observation it has really taken off and grown significantly in the last 3 to 4 weeks. We were fortunate to have adequate soil moisture and when it warmed up, it took off.
So much so, that I am concerned about our wheat crop and what the below freezing temperatures might have done in Ellis and Barton Counties, and the surrounding counties. Every week myself and Greg Kerr, FSA Director are required to do a weekly crop progress report to the USDA Agriculture Statistics Service. We collectively reported that the wheat in Ellis County was 79% jointed. It is an estimation but we do our best to drive around and look at fields and visit with growers.
Once wheat has started to joint, elongate and put on its’ first internode is when the growing point or tiny wheat head is above the soil surface, it sits on top of the first joint/internode. At this point it becomes much more vulnerable to freezing temperatures. Of course there are other factors involved in the vulnerability of the crop. Such as soil temperature, soil moisture, snow and ice covering the plants can even help insulate the plants from the cold temperatures, landscape/topography of the field, variety and how cold did it get and for how long.
There is a saying about wheat, it is like a cat and seems to have nine lives, in other words it will fool you. I’ve included a chart from K-State Research & Extension of a study done some years ago on wheat in a growth chamber, in which they could carefully control the temperature and duration to measure the potential effects of freeze injury on wheat at various growth stages. This information comes from a publication we have “Spring Freeze Injury to Kansas Wheat”, or you can request a copy from your Extension Office, https://bookstore.ksre.ksu.edu/pubs/c646.pdf.
It takes about seven to 10 days after a freeze with preferably some warm days to really be able to go out and start slicing stems to observe the head for any apparent freeze injury.
Because of the COVID-19 situation, our office doors are locked but our office professionals are inside working, answering the phone and emails, and the agents are working from home. Myself or Alicia would be glad to take a look at your wheat fields in Ellis and Barton Counties. You can dig up some plants from three to four different locations in the field and drop them off at our offices, knock on the front door to let them know. You can call our offices 785-628-9430 Hays or 620-793-1910 Great Bend and they will relay the message to us or email works great firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
If we come out to look at your fields, and we can, we have to keep the social distancing in mind at all times.
Stacy Campbell is an Agriculture and Natural Resources agent for Cottonwood Extension District.