CHICAGO Jan 3 Bitter cold temperatures across
the U.S. Plains early next week will put some of the dormant
hard red winter wheat crop at risk of damage, particularly in
drier areas of the region, meteorologists and agronomists said
Low temperatures on Monday morning were expected to hit 5 to
15 degrees Fahrenheit below zero (minus 20.6 Celsius to minus
26.1 C) in parts of Kansas and Nebraska, cold enough to destroy
some crops through winterkill.
"Snow cover will remain quite thin across much of Nebraska
and north-central Kansas, and some extensive winterkill damage
is likely there," said Don Keeney, senior agricultural
meteorologist for MDA Weather Services. "Snow cover of 2 inches
or less will offer little protection."
Hard red winter wheat, the most common variety grown in the
United States, is the top choice of domestic millers for bread
Keeney estimated that 15 percent to 20 percent of the hard
red winter wheat belt was at risk of injury from the cold.
Winterkill can injure wheat's crown, leaving it unable to
provide nutrients to the rest of the plant.
Another forecaster, John Dee of Commodity Weather Group,
said temperatures were not likely to stay cold for long enough
to cause widespread damage, although he admitted isolated areas
of northern Kansas and southern Nebraska were vulnerable.
The soft red winter wheat crop grown in the U.S. Midwest and
typically used for cookies and snack foods was protected from
the bitter cold by a deep blanket of snow that covered the
A global supply glut muted the impact of crop concerns on
the wheat futures market, where prices trended near their lowest
since May 2012.
At 10:54 a.m. CST (1654 GMT), KCBT hard red winter wheat for
March delivery was up 4-3/4 cents at $6.36 a bushel.
Chicago Board of Trade March soft red winter wheat, the
benchmark contract typically used as a proxy for all varieties
of the grain, was 3-3/4 cents higher at $6.00-3/4 a bushel.
Dry areas in western reaches of the wheat belt were the most
susceptible to damage from the cold, said Jim Shroyer, agronomy
specialist at Kansas State University, as temperatures
fluctuated faster in arid soils.
"The wild card in this situation is soil moisture, Shroyer
said. "If it is dry, I worry. If it is wet, I do not worry as
Shroyer said that air temperatures can be 5 to 10 degrees
below zero for a day and soil temperatures will still be 20 to
25 degrees above zero. But if temperatures stay cold for more
than 24 hours, crops planted in dry soils will be at risk.
"I am worried about it," said Roger May, a farmer in
Oberlin, Kansas, in the northwest portion of the state. "We
started with good moisture. It has kind of turned a little dry
here lately. This crop is exposed out here. There is no snow
May, who seeded 1,300 acres of wheat during the fall, said
he has had problems in the past with winterkill to crops planted
on the exposed sides of terraces, which are more vulnerable to
At the end of November, the U.S. Agriculture Department said
the winter wheat rated 62 percent good to excellent, up from 33
percent a year earlier. In Kansas, the largest wheat-producing
state, the crop was rated 63 percent good to excellent at that
The USDA does not rate the crop during the winter as it is
hard to assess plant health during its dormancy phase.
Farmers will not know for weeks the extent of the damage
done by the cold.
If plants are killed outright, they will not turn green as
the weather warms. If they are only damaged, they could turn
green at first but still die as they fail to mature.
(Additional reporting by Julie Ingwersen; Editing by Jeffrey