December 22, 2008

Meteorologists downplay threat of cold weather damage to US wheat


A blast of cold weather bearing down on the US Plains is unlikely to cause serious wheat damage, meteorologists said Friday (December 17).


A week's worth of winter-kill worries accompanied a 38.5-cent rally in the benchmark wheat contract at the Chicago Board of Trade as of Thursday's close. The wheat markets in Kansas City - where the threatened hard red winter wheat is traded - and Minneapolis saw similar rallies.


The rally is selling off Friday as the US dollar strengthens. And while winter-kill chatter continues ahead of a brutally cold weekend forecast, many meteorologists are underplaying the damage threat.


Still, Cropcast's Friday forecast outlines western Nebraska and northeastern Colorado, noting that limited snow cover and sub-zero temperatures present some concerns.


"I do not think that there's any really serious threat for the majority of the crop," said agricultural meteorologist Drew Lerner, president of World Weather. "There's no meaningful reason for us to expect any real problem.


"Most of the areas that will be below zero Sunday and Monday have significant snow on the ground today, and we won't see any significant melting through the period."


The far-northern hard red winter wheat-growing areas this weekend will experience temperatures of minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit, and the weather in the northern third of winter wheat area will drop below 0, according to a forecast by meteorologist Mike Tannura, president of T-Storm Weather.


"However," Tannura notes, "snowfall over the last 18 hours blanketed much of this area, with only east-central Colorado through west-central Kansas snow-free and to be below 0 degrees on Sunday. Therefore, a major winter-kill is not foreseen."


Lerner said he's watching southwest Kansas, southeastern Colorado and "a few spots in Missouri and Illinois with little or no snow on the ground." But, he added, while those areas have "a little" damage potential, "I really doubt seriously that there will be any loss."


Cropcast said that after some winter-kill damage occurred last weekend in western Nebraska and the contingent areas in Kansas and Colorado "another bout of cold air appears likely during the next three mornings in many of the same areas where snow cover remains non-existent or limited."


Without digging up plants and transplanting them indoors to observe their reaction to a stimulating growing environment, winter-kill damage can't be determined until spring.


"Winter-kill is hard to determine because it is all dependent on snow cover, moisture conditions, stage of the crop, how cold it is, and condition of the crop at time of cold temperatures," said Todd Ballard, statistician specializing in wheat at the National Agricultural Statistics Service.


Winter-kill estimates are "very subjective estimates, and the true winter kill won't be known until the crop breaks dormancy," he said.


About three southwestern counties exhibit the conditions necessary for winter kill to occur, said Kansas State agronomist Jim Shroyer in a Wednesday press release.


"The crop is most winter-hardy from now until late January," Shroyer said. "I think the wheat was prepared for this cold snap."

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