* Damage expected in far southwest Plains
* Texas and Oklahoma wheat most vulnerable
* Some harm possible in SW Kansas, SE Colorado
* Warmer weather by early Wednesday
(Adds freeze details, adds agronomist and crop expert quotes)
By Sam Nelson
CHICAGO, March 26 A deep freeze early this week
likely harmed some of the hard red winter wheat crop in the
southern U.S. Plains, adding to the woes of a lingering drought,
crop experts and agricultural meteorologists said on Tuesday.
"It (the freeze) was well within the parameters of damage in
southwest Kansas, the west Oklahoma Panhandle, far northwest
Texas and southeast Colorado," said Don Keeney, meteorologist at
MDA Weather Services.
Early morning temperatures for the past three days fell into
the single digits (degrees Fahrenheit) and teens in those areas,
Keeney said, and remained that low for six or seven hours. A
good portion of the wheat was jointing - a stage of development
after the crop breaks dormancy and begins growing after the long
winter - making it vulnerable to damage.
"For damage to occur to jointing wheat, temperatures would
need to fall below 24 F for three or four hours, and we
certainly saw that," he said.
Data from Texas A&M University indicates moderate to severe
impact on wheat yields on jointing wheat if the temperature
falls below 24 F (-4C) for two hours.
The low early Tuesday in Gage, Oklahoma, in the heart of
wheat country, was 15 degrees F and the low Wednesday morning
will be warming up to 32 F, Keeney said. "This is it for the
real cold weather, it should be 10 to 15 degrees warmer
tomorrow," he said.
OKLAHOMA DAMAGE EXTENDS BEYOND PANHANDLE
Mark Hodges, executive director of Plains Grains Inc,
Stillwater, Oklahoma, said the damage to Oklahoma's crop
probably extended well beyond the Panhandle region.
The Oklahoma wheat crop already had been stressed by
drought, leaving it more vulnerable than normal to harm from a
cold snap, he said.
"We didn't have the tiller production or the root
development we usually have. There already was a shortage of
tillers," Hodges said. "It is a very real concern and will be
several days before we know the extent of damage."
Keeney said the low temperature early Tuesday fell to 10
degrees F in southeast Colorado, a geographic area that likely
would be comparable to Oklahoma for the growth stage of the
The Oklahoma state crop report released late Monday showed
41 percent of the winter wheat crop was jointing. Wheat is more
advanced in Texas.
Travis Miller, an agronomist at Texas A&M University, told
Reuters late Monday that the state "did not dodge a bullet. It
is a mess out there, both from freeze and drought."
MINIMAL DAMAGE SEEN FOR KANSAS
"I don't foresee widespread damage in Kansas but that's not
to say there won't be some local damage," said Jim Shroyer, an
agronomist at Kansas State University, referring to Kansas
wheat, which lags the maturity of Oklahoma's.
"The wheat is further along in Texas and they could have
serious issues, so I do not question Travis at all," he added.
Commodity Weather Group (CWG) said on Tuesday only "spotty"
damage is expected to jointing wheat in the Southern Plains and
emerging corn in eastern Texas from the lows in the 20s F on
"Recent rains have benefited about two-thirds of the Plains
wheat and the southwestern third will remain at risk for
building dryness next month as jointing and early heading
occur," said CWG meteorologist Joel Widenor.
Much of the winter wheat crop in the U.S. Plains has been
struggling due to an extended drought, making the young plants
vulnerable to wild weather fluctuations. Recent snow and rain
have improved conditions in some areas.
The Texas Agricultural Statistics Service said on Monday
afternoon that the Texas winter wheat crop was rated 47 percent
poor to very poor due to the drought, 34 percent fair and 19
percent good to excellent.
Kansas wheat was rated 31 percent poor to very poor, with 40
percent fair and 29 percent good to excellent. The Oklahoma crop
was rated 33 percent poor to very poor, 41 percent fair and 26
percent good to excellent, according to state agricultural
(Additional reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing
by Chizu Nomiyama; and Peter Galloway)