Cold snap and ice threaten U.S. wheat, livestock, logistics

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Bitter cold temperatures and ice are posing a threat to livestock and portions of the U.S. winter wheat crop, an agricultural meteorologist said.

"There may be some winterkill in the Plains but I don't think it's a major problem. A bigger issue will be the ice cover from northeast Texas into the Delta," said Don Keeney, a meteorologist for MDA Weather Services.

Keeney said temperatures would fall to 3 degrees to 5 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (minus 16.1 Celsius to minus 15 Celsius) on Friday and Saturday in the Plains hard red winter wheat region, and a lack of snow cover could lead to winterkill in northwest Kansas and southwest Nebraska. "Most other areas should have a snow cover and that should protect the crop," he said.

Icing will be a problem from northeast Texas, south central and southeast Oklahoma, north central Arkansas, western Tennessee and in the Missouri Bootheel in the southeast, Keeney said.

"The ice cover will lead to transportation problems and also threaten to kill or smother portions of the winter wheat crop in those areas," he said.

Commodity Weather Group (CWG) on Thursday forecast a potential 1/2 inch of ice that could linger for several days. "It poses ice smothering damage to as much as 15 percent of the soft red winter wheat belt," said CWG meteorologist Joel Widenor.

Keeney said modest snowfall of from 3 inches to 5 inches (7.6 cm to 12.7 cm) would blanket much of the Plains and southern Midwest over the next several days and heavy snowfall of up to 2 feet (61 CM) is expected in the far north, away from crop-producing areas.

"Bitter cold temperatures of roughly 25 F to 30 F below zero (minus 31.7 C to minus 34.4 C) are expected in northern areas, including Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas and portions of Minnesota," Keeney said.

Crop and livestock analysts kept an eye on the winter storm and agreed the brutal cold would likely harm some of the wheat crop and would cause stress on livestock.

"I think the potential for damage is directly related to the length of time this Arctic blast lasts," said Mike Zuzolo, an analyst for Global Commodity Analytics.

"If it is only four days, damage to wheat and livestock will be muted but if this is the beginning of a new pattern, I think the market will add premium," Zuzolo said.

Ted Seifried, an analyst for Zaner Ag Hedge, said the biggest concern from the cold blast is for livestock, although there may be some logistic issues with moving grain and feed.

"In cold weather, livestock have a much tougher time adding weight and animals exposed to the cold weather need more energy to sustain their rate of gain and body temperature," Seifried said.

"The biggest challenge may be getting animals to drink enough water," he said.

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