An early morning freeze Tuesday could have put further stress on Oklahoma’s wheat crop, already hurting because of continued drought conditions.
Temperatures dipped below 32 degrees for more than 10 hours in many parts of the state. Plants in southwest Oklahoma could have been particularly affected by Tuesday’s freeze because the wheat crop is further along than in the northern part of the state, said Mike Schulte, executive director of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission.
It will be another week before farmers are able to tell if Tuesday’s freeze significantly harmed this year’s crop by examining wheat plants for signs of damage, Schulte said.
“The crop this year was already extremely stressed because of drought before this freeze event, so we are concerned.” Schulte said.
The state’s wheat crop has suffered the past two years with continued drought, late freezes and severe weather conditions, he said.
In 2013, Oklahoma’s wheat crop yielded 105.4 million bushels, down from 154.8 million in 2012. The five-year average yield for the state’s wheat crop — 106.58 million bushels — is much lower than in previous years because of less-than-ideal crop conditions, Schulte said.
Kiowa County wheat farmer Zac Harris, who grows about 6,200 acres of wheat near Hobart, said temperatures dipped below 28 degrees for several hours Tuesday morning, leaving him worried he won’t have much wheat to harvest this year.
“It will be another week before we will know if we will be able to harvest something, or not much of anything and get an insurance check that will pay some of the bills and will get us until next year,” Harris said.
Stress from drought
A month ago, Harris looked out at his fields and believed he would have a good crop this year, but a dry month has left wheat plants stressed.
“We haven’t had any rain and the wheat is turning blue,” Harris said.
A blue cast to wheat plants is an indicator of drought stress.
Rick Kochenower, area research and extension specialist for Oklahoma State University in Goodwell, said the wheat crop in the Panhandle is less likely to be damaged by Tuesday’s freeze because plants are about a week behind their normal growth rate because of colder weather this past winter.
Drought is the biggest problem for Panhandle wheat farmers, Kochenower said. Wheat growers there had believed they would have a better crop this year, but a lack of rain has all but dried up those hopes.
Panhandle crop lost?
Goodwell has received only about a quarter of an inch of rain in the past 180 days, Kochenower said.
“The western two thirds of the Oklahoma Panhandle may not cut any wheat this year, and the eastern third isn’t going to cut any if it doesn’t rain soon,” he said.