Much of Texas wheat crop escapes major freeze damage

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AMARILLO – The High Plains and Rolling Plains wheat crop appear to have escaped major damage from the March 24-25 freezing temperatures that dipped into the teens and mid-20s, but the Blackland region might not have, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service officials.

Dr. Jackie Rudd, AgriLife Research wheat breeder in Amarillo, said he scouted fields in both the Deaf Smith County area and in the Rolling Plains. And while there is leaf burn already showing on the wheat plants, the majority of the wheat hit by freezing temperatures was not advanced enough to do major damage.

“There will be some leaf burn and upper canopy damage, but the young immature heads did not appear to be damaged at this time,” Rudd said. “The canopy will grow out of the damage, and yields will not be hurt by this single stressor.”

However, he said, if the wheat was already under stress or is stressed further due to insects or drought, the damage could be increased.

Rudd explained that wheat in the vegetative state is not susceptible to the freeze, but once the head of the plant emerges above ground, it can be damaged and yield loss can suffer. The higher the head is above the ground, the more exposed it becomes.

He said research plots at Chillicothe had heads 2 to 3 inches above ground where temperatures reached 25 degrees, but the canopy and ground temperature appeared to protect them somewhat.

“It will vary field by field where there might have been pockets of colder temperatures,” Rudd said. “It was in 2009 when the Rolling Plains lost a significant amount of wheat due to an April 5 freeze when the crop was further along. But I think we might might be okay in most of that area this time because we were not as far along.”

Almost 80 percent of the wheat in Texas is grown in the High Plains and Rolling Plains region, Rudd said. The remaining crop is grown in the Central and North Central regions.

“The foliage here will recover if it already had good moisture or receives good rain,” he said. “But it does need some rain.”

Dr. Travis Miller, AgriLife Extension agronomist and Texas A&M soil and crop sciences associate department head in College Station, said while the damage is isolated and not as broad as it might have been, there was still some damage done.

“The exact extent remains to be determined,” Miller said. “The early emerging wheat in the Blacklands that came up in the fall appears to be damaged. The crop that came up in January didn’t appear to be affected.”

The extent of the damage will be more visible next week, he said, and AgriLife Extension officials Dr. Gaylon Morgan and Dr. Clark Neely will be traveling through the state to scout wheat fields for damage.

A series of freeze damage clinics are being set up on April 2 in the Blacklands region, primarily in McClennan, Hill, Bosque, Limestone, Falls and Ellis counties, Miller said. The meetings will begin at 8 a.m. in Ellis County, then move to Navarro, Hill and McLennan counties, and conclude by 5 p.m.

“It looks like they might have some injury, but we don’t know how extensive it is,” Miller said.

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