Bitter cold with a little snow moves into hard winter wheat belt

by Laura Lloyd
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MANHATTAN, KS – Despite the arrival of temperatures 20 to 30 degrees below normal in Kansas and Colorado winter wheat country, the possibility that the bitter cold would be accompanied by snow was viewed as positive for the crop, said Jim Shroyer, agriculture extension agronomist at Kansas State University.

There are no assurances, though. The outlook for snow showers in the far west of Kansas was only about 30% Wednesday and Sunday. Wind that could blow whatever snow does fall also was part of the forecast.

“Temperatures are dropping fairly rapidly as we speak,” Mr. Shroyer said. “As long as there is some moisture at the surface or in the root system, the wheat crop should be all right.”

It was difficult to predict weather damage, if any, to a crop that is dormant. But the market trades on weather developments as much as any other fundamental. Wheat futures were modestly lower Wednesday, indicating no panic among market participants, who would be expected to bid up prices of Kansas City hard red winter wheat contracts if the weather was viewed as a significant threat.

Still, weather conditions were unusual enough to warrant interest. Andy Karst, a meteorologist with WorldWeather, Inc., in Kansas City, said temperatures were expected to be below zero by dawn Thursday in western Kansas, eastern Colorado and western Nebraska. Mr. Karst said daytime temperatures were not likely to return to normal in the central Plains — in the teens and 20s — until about Dec. 11. He said the near-term outlook was for light snow — less than an inch. Slightly more precipitation may fall in pockets late this weekend but accumulation was not expected to be more than one inch. Temperatures, though unusually cold for early December, Mr. Karst said, were likely to stay well above record lows for Kansas of close to 30 degrees below zero.

In his view, this blast of cold weather “probably won’t be a big deal” if there is some snow cover, although he said winds were expected in the range of 25 to 35 miles an hour. Blowing snow would provide less protection to the crop.

Mr. Shroyer said the winter wheat has had several weeks of night-time temperatures in the range of 15 to 25 degrees that led to the hardening of the crop and made it likely able to withstand a spate of bitter cold.

He said he hoped the current weather system would drop some snow across parched areas of western Kansas and eastern Colorado.

“We are not out of drought in western and southwestern Kansas,” he said, “not by a long shot.”

The arrival of snow or sleet would be beneficial for the wheat crop, he noted.

Observers said the 2013 winter wheat crop was off to a better start than in the past several years. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Nov. 25 Crop Progress report said the Kansas and Colorado crops were fully emerged. Sixty-three per cent of the Kansas crop was rated good to excellent. The Colorado crop was rated 55% good to excellent.

The crop has moved into dormancy, which Mr. Shroyer said was not total.

“The wheat is always respiring” and responding to weather conditions in subtle ways even if it appears not to be growing, he said. In his opinion, the blast of abnormally cold weather in western Kansas during the next week was likely to be more of a threat to livestock, who would no longer be able to forage on pasture, than on the wheat crop.
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