After temperatures dipped to 25 degrees Wednesday morning, area wheat farmers were waiting and worrying.
Farmers will have to wait several days before the condition of the wheat crop becomes evident.
Until this week, central and eastern Kansas appeared to have escaped the significant freeze damage that had blanketed much of the western third of the state. In fact, the rain, ice, sleet and snow all brought welcome moisture.
Kent Winter, who farms in western Sedgwick County, said his wheat was looking pretty good despite the cold April.
But this week’s cold snap may have changed that.
“This was the worst,” he said. “It was the coldest, and the stage of development was a little more developed than previously.”
He said that in a few days, he’ll cut open some wheat stalks to look at the condition of the heads. If they’re green and firm, that’s good news. If they’re discolored and mushy, that means ice crystals formed and exploded the plant cells.
Statewide, this week’s freezing weather may have spread the damage seen earlier in the month by western Kansas, said Bill Spiegel, communications director for the Kansas Wheat Commission.
He said he toured the state a week ago and didn’t see any damage until he got to Meade County, which is west of Dodge City.
The annual wheat tour to assess the condition of the crop will be next week, and Spiegel said it may be too early to know exactly what happened to the crop in central Kansas.
“We’re looking at what could have been a pretty good wheat crop,” Spiegel said. “But after the last three weeks, we just don’t know what we’ll find.”
Those answers are a little clearer in western Kansas. Farmers there were already seeing the crop struggle because of the drought.
Then temperatures dropped in the first and second weeks of April. Goodland in northwest Kansas saw lows in the teens on three consecutive nights, with a low of 13 degrees on April 10, according to the National Weather Service.
David Schemm, who farms near Sharon Springs and is president of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers, said he expects to write off a few of his fields and expects a below average crop.
He said a nearby farmer estimated the drought had already cut the yield to 30 bushels per acre, and now the freeze would cut it to 20 bushels per acre.
“We’ve lost 20 to 30 percent of the yield, at least,” he said.