Southwest wheat farmers either dodged a bullet or took one in the head, depending on where they were located, what stage of growth the wheat had reached and how cold it got and how long temperatures remained at damaging levels.

Wheat that had shown the highest yield potential appears to have been hardest hit. Later-emerging wheat may not have been mature enough to suffer as much damage. But drought that delayed emergence and early growth had already limited yield potential of some of that less mature wheat crop.

Across the region, wheat specialists report the following conditions.

Jeff Edwards, Oklahoma State University Extension agronomist, says freeze injury “is worse than we thought.

“On April 4th, I toured southwest Oklahoma. In my experience, most freeze events are overhyped; however, this one was the real deal. I traveled from Faxon to Chattanooga to Altus to Blair and ended up at Apache. Damage was similar at all sites, with injury ranging from 50 percent to 80 percent.”

He says the best wheat was damaged most. “The best looking wheat was the hardest hit,” he said. “Particularly troubling are some fields in the Altus area that easily had 80-bushel potential prior to the freeze. In most of these fields, we are too far past the tillering stage to have yield compensation from secondary tillers. Late-emerging fields that were jointing or smaller escaped the freeze with little injury.

 

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“Fields that had been heavily grazed and/or under-fertilized also escaped with relatively minor injury. Conditions improved slightly on wheat in the Chickasha area with injury more in the 10 percent to 30 percent range.”

He’s not optimistic about recovery for badly damaged wheat. “I’m frequently asked if the injured wheat head will go ahead and ‘push through’ as the season progresses, and the answer is no. If you see heads emerging out of the boot in a few weeks, they are likely not damaged and a head count at this stage will be a reasonable estimate of fertile heads. Since there will not be additional stem elongation in freeze-injured wheat, it will not accumulate as much tonnage as in a ‘normal’ year.”

Field conditions are variable. “Freeze injury can vary greatly among fields and even within a field. So, it is important to check several sites within a field and split several stems when determining the percent injury,” he said. “Check early-maturing varieties such as Jackpot, Billings, and Everest first, as they are most likely to have injury.”