U.S. wheat struggles with cold spring weather

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A cold snap early last Thursday may have harmed some of the soft red winter wheat crop in the Carolinas and Virginia while another round of cold air is posing a threat to the Plains hard red winter wheat crop this week, an agricultural meteorologist said.

"It's (Carolinas) not a big wheat producing area but some of the crop there could have been harmed, temperatures dropped to the mid to upper 20s (Fahrenheit)," said Andy Karst, a meteorologist for World Weather Inc.

Karst said another cold snap was likely in the U.S. Plains next week but it was too early to know how low temperatures would fall. A gradual improvement in spring fieldwork weather is expected in the Midwest over the next 10 days, he said.

Freezing temperatures early this week likely harmed some of the maturing wheat crop in the Plains states of Oklahoma and Texas, crop experts and meteorologists said.

"It won't be ideal but there will be a brief warmup followed by another cool down, some precipitation but not heavy rainfall," he said.

Karst said improved topsoil moisture in the Plains would allow for rapid growth of the wheat crop but subsoil moisture levels remain low. "It is better but they will need a lot more rain to bring them out of drought status," he said.

The cold snap this week added to woes stemming from the worst drought in more than 50 years that continues to hamper growth and development of the hard red winter wheat crop.

Don Keeney, a meteorologist for MDA Weather Services, said that as of Saturday, 6 to 8 inches of rain were needed to bring soil moisture levels back to normal in much of eastern Nebraska and a corner of northeast Kansas, while 2 to 4 inches were needed in the balance of the central Plains and western Iowa. Soil moisture levels had returned to normal in an area from eastern Iowa and Missouri eastward.

Light rains have helped reduce severe and extreme drought conditions in portions of the U.S. Plains, but abnormally dry conditions lingered in the area that produces most of the country's wheat, according to a weekly report issued late last week.

A new weekly report will be released late on Thursday.

There was little rain in Texas, resulting in an expansion of the state's area of "exceptional" dryness, the worst condition as classified by the Drought Monitor report issued by a consortium of state and federal climatologists.

But in the top wheat-growing state of Kansas, "extreme" conditions moderated slightly even though the entire state as well as the entire High Plains region, outside of part of North Dakota, remains in a drought, the report stated.

The lack of rainfall and short top soil moisture levels could stress the wheat crop and reduce yields at harvest. The crop is ending its winter dormancy, and recent below-normal temperatures may also harm the young plants.

In a separate report on Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast an easing of drought conditions and above-normal temperatures this spring in both the Plains and Midwest regions.

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