U.S. wheat threatened by Arctic cold, dryness
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 on Friday.
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 and exporters.
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 region.
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 much."
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.
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