Worst Cold Snap Since 1966 Has Farmers Assessing Potential Damage

According to USDA Meteorologist Brad Rippey, the May freeze was one for the record books, but slow emergence in corn could help save some of the crop from major damage. ( Twitter: Aaron Brooker )

Damaged crops in the Corn Belt are starting to surface. From brown leaves to limp plants, freezing to below freezing temperatures blanketed much of the U.S. this past weekend. According to USDA Meteorologist Brad Rippey, it’s one for the record books.  

“This incredible late season cold outbreak, which arguably is the region's worst since 1966, peaked on May 9th across the Midwest, the Great Lakes and the northeastern states,” he says. “We really haven't seen anything like this so late in the year in recent decades, which means there's really nothing that you can compare it to over such a widespread area.”

Rippey says the only areas of the Midwest that escaped a hard freeze were portions of Nebraska, as well as most of Missouri. He says even those areas saw frost. Still, he says the areas impacted the hardest may be the eastern portion of the Corn Belt.

“As you moved to the northeast, just about everybody from Iowa to Kentucky and northeast from there, did experience a widespread killing freeze, if not on the 8th and certainly on May 9th,” says Rippey.

Rippey says areas in the Great Lakes region and in the Northeast saw record low temperatures for this time of year, with temperatures dipping into the middle 20s in the Midwest.

For already emerged crops, damage is prevalent, but for the corn with more growing points under the soil, Rippey thinks the crop will recover. However, he says soybeans may not be so fortunate.

“I think the only saving grace in all of this is a lot of the Midwest has been rather cool for the last month,” adds Rippey. “Even though we had rapid planting in states like Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa, emergence was a bit slow. And that did help to hold back the crop a little bit in the last couple of weeks. We may make it through with a lot of corn recovering except in the coldest pockets. But some of the early soybeans that went in may not be so fortunate. There may be some replanting necessary where the early soybeans came up.”

DuWayne Bosse of Bolt Marketing agrees with Rippey, saying slow emergence could help save potential damage from the frost and freeze.

“In southern South Dakota, where they did get things planted, they were a little nervous, but I'm not hearing of any damage,” he says. “It's been so cold. The soil tests recall that we didn't have a lot of emerging soybeans or the one I'd be worried about, but they're not far enough even out of the ground.”

He says the crop he’s most concerned about is the fruit crop, especially in the key growing areas like the Great Lakes region and Northeast.

“Some of the most significant damage that we're seeing, and we saw a little bit of damage earlier in April to fruit crops, but this may be even more devastating because we're several weeks later into the year, a lot more crops are blooming or beyond,” says Rippey. “As you look at apples, peaches, blueberries, cherries, both sweet and tart through the Great Lakes region into the northeast, this could be an utterly devastating freeze as temperatures dropped as low as the lower to middle 20s in some of these heavy production areas.”

Rippey says some of those areas saw temperatures drop into the mid-20s.

While farmers are busy assessing damage, Rippey says warmer air is on the way.

“As we get past the early part of this week, there is going to be a rapid transition in temperature,” says Rippey. “Cold air is going to shift into the west and it looks much warmer for the Midwest. So within a few days, we should know the full extent of this of this cold outbreak.”

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