As winter hangs on, freeze adds to worries for U.S. wheat crop

Mon Mar 25, 2013 3:30pm EDT

By Carey Gillam
    KANSAS CITY, Mo., March 25 (Reuters) - A late blast of cold
and snowy conditions could harm parts of the U.S. winter wheat
growing area, with widespread freeze damage feared in some of
the more mature fields, experts said.
    "I think we'll certainly have some (freeze damage)," said
Travis Miller, an agronomist at Texas A&M University. "We did
not dodge a bullet. It is a mess out there, both from freeze and
drought."
    It will take several days after the freeze passes to
determine the extent of plant-tissue damage, wheat experts said,
with areas where wheat fields were maturing quickly seen
suffering the most harm.
    Wheat fields in key growing areas of Texas have been two to
three weeks ahead of normal maturity due to recent beneficial
moisture and warm conditions before the freeze that descended on
the Plains over the weekend.
    Temperatures fell into the low 20s and upper teens
(Fahrenheit) in Texas and were much colder in top producer
Kansas, where they dropped to single digits - 2 to 4 degrees -
in some areas over the weekend, said Mary Knapp, Kansas state
climatologist.
    MDA Weather Services (Cropcast) meteorologist Anthony
Chipriano said overnight Sunday and overnight Monday would be
the coldest readings for the week in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
    "There could be some potential harm but it's going to turn a
little warmer after tonight so I don't see much impact for
wheat," Chipriano said.
    There is a freeze warning from north central Texas extending
to Dallas and as far south as Waco, temperatures will drop to 32
degrees Fahrenheit early Tuesday morning, he said. "The freeze
could extend into Oklahoma and Kansas as well," he added.
    Chipriano said low readings by Wednesday morning would be
back up to the mid-30s in most of the wheat belt.
    Much of the new winter wheat crop in the U.S. Plains has
been struggling due to extended drought, making the young plants
vulnerable to wild weather fluctuations. Recent snow and rain
have improved conditions, but the crop generally is still seen
as likely to have much-shortened production potential.
    "Wheat is a wreck looking for a place to happen," Miller
said.

 (Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by Dale Hudson)
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