Figure 1. From the road by Tuesday afternoon this Nebraska Panhandle wheat field appeared to have recovered from the lodging/matting down from snow; however, growers are encouraged to closely inspect their fields to more fully assess damage.
Figure 1. From the road by Tuesday afternoon this Nebraska Panhandle wheat field appeared to have recovered from the lodging/matting down from snow; however, growers are encouraged to closely inspect their fields to more fully assess damage.

Most of the winter wheat growing regions from the southern Panhandle into South Dakota received 6 to 18 inches of snow May 9-10. Earlier photos by Gary Stone (Figures 3-6) showed wheat weighed down by snow. Research plots at Scottsbluff look similar and snow was mostly melted by late Monday.

From the road on Tuesday afternoon the wheat appeared to have recovered (Figure 1). On closer inspection, when plots were sampled, many of the stems were broken or crimped (Figure 2). Damage ranged from 10% to 40% stem breakage/crimping. Therefore, careful field inspection and sampling are necessary to estimate the degree of, damage. The broken and crimped stems will affect both grain yield and quality.

Table 1. Nebraska planted approximately 1.55 million acres of winter wheat in fall 2014, about 45% of that in Panhandle counties (below). (Source USDA NASS)
County Fall 2014
Planted Acres
Percent of
Panhandle Acreage

 
Banner 50,900 7.3%
Box Butte 108,100 15.5%
Cheyenne 187,700 27.0%
Dawes 32,100 4.6%
Deuel 80,00 11.5%
Garden 44,200 6.4%
Kimball 100,600 14.5%
Morrill 27,300 3.9%
Scotts Bluff 9,700 1.4%
Sheridan 49,100 7.1%
Sioux 5,700 0.8%
Total 695,400  

Although wheat can compensate since remaining tillers with viable heads (if not damaged by cold temperatures) will produce somewhat more grain, wheat will not compensate for lost stems if loss is above 25%-30%. Growers are encouraged to scout fields to assess damage.  Having some idea about damage now and in a week or 10 days when damaged stems are brown and more noticeable will give producers an idea of yield and grain quality loss and reduce the surprise at harvest. If growers already had sub-par stands caused by winter kill, they definitely need to evaluate yield potential to see if taking the wheat to harvest is their best choice.

Figure 2. On closer inspection, the authors found that 10-40% of the wheat stems in the field had been broken or damaged due to lodging from the heavy, wet snow. (Photo by Gary Stone)

Our concern is the amount of acreage that could have potential damage. In the Panhandle Crop Reporting District there are over 695,000 acres of wheat this year (Table 1). Since all of this area had heavy, wet snow, the impact could be significant.

Options after Determining Damage

Wheat producers with significant damage have several choices. The first and least expensive is to leave the growing crop and take it to harvest. Depending on your crop insurance coverage, this may not make money but it may keep you from losing money. The grain yield will probably be low with poor quality. The projected price on crop insurance for wheat is $6.41 per bushel, so producers with revenue coverage may have an attractive revenue guarantee, relative to expected actual revenue from both lower yields and lower prices.

Figure 3. Northwest Banner County winter wheat following a May 9 snowstorm.. (Photo by Gary Stone)

A second option is to take the crop for forage — either as harvested hay or for grazing. Growers would need to review their herbicide program for harvest or grazing restrictions and check crop insurance provisions for fallow eligibility. If grazing, bloat prevention blocks or similar supplements containing magnesium and calcium should be placed in the field for the livestock.

Figure 4. A field of winter wheat in northwest Banner County following a May 9 snowstorm. (Photo by Gary Stone)

A third option is to terminate the wheat then plant back to proso millet, corn, or sunflower. Current corn price versus production costs may be a deterrent. Sorghum is an option, however, yield results in past research plots at Sidney have shown variable yields because of maturity and iron chlorosis problems. For more information see the UNL Crop Production Budgets. Tillage is not recommended to terminate the crop due to soil moisture loss. Roundup is probably the best option. Because spring precipitation has been above normal over most of the Panhandle, stored soil moisture in growing wheat is excellent. Growers need to review their herbicide program to make sure there would be no plant-back restrictions and they should check crop insurance provisions for fallow eligibility.

Figure 5. Wheat stubble in this field captured the blowing snow, which will provide moisture for the next crop. (Photo by Gary Stone)

Figure 6. Standing sunflower stubble helped to slow and capture blowing snow during the May 9 snowstorm. (Photo by Gary Stone)