Further north, damage seems less severe. Dr. Jackie Rudd, AgriLife Research wheat breeder in Amarillo, scouted fields in both the Deaf Smith County area and in the Rolling Plains. He said leaf burn is showing on the wheat plants, but most of the wheat hit by freezing temperatures was not advanced enough to get major damage.

“There will be some leaf burn and upper canopy damage, but the young immature heads did not appear to be damaged,” Rudd said. “The canopy will grow out of the damage,and yields will not be hurt by this single stressor.”

If the wheat was already under stress or is stressed further due to insects or drought, the damage could increase.

Rudd explained that wheat in the vegetative state is not susceptible to freeze, but once the head of the plant emerges above ground, it can be damaged and suffer yield loss. The higher the head is above the ground, the more exposed it becomes.

Research plots at Chillicothe had heads 2 inches to 3 inches above ground where temperatures reached 25 degrees, but the canopy and ground temperature appeared to provide some protection.

“It will vary field by field where there might have been pockets of colder temperatures,” Rudd said. “In 2009, the Rolling Plains lost a significant amount of wheat to an April 5 freeze when the crop was further along. But I think we might be okay in most of that area this time because we were not as far along.

“The foliage here will recover if it already had good moisture or receives good rain,” he said. “But it does need rain.”

Rick Minzenmayer, Texas AgriLife Extension specialist for Green and Runnels Counties, in the Southern Rolling Plains, says freeze injury was not as damaging to wheat as the prolonged drought.

“Wheat looked pretty good in December and early January,” Minzenmayer said during the recent Concho Valley Cotton Conference, held every two years in San Angelo. “Typically, we get rainfall in February but we didn’t get it this year and wheat has gone back rapidly. It is extremely dry. I expect much of the wheat acreage to be zeroed out.”

Minzenmayer says much of that acreage could go back to cotton, which has a better option for insurance coverage than other crops.

Jim Swart, Texas AgriLife Extension IPM specialist in Commerce, says he’s not as pessimistic about the wheat outlook as he was shortly after the freeze.

“I am more encouraged by what I recently found in the wheat,” he said. 

As is the case across the region, the more mature, early-emerged wheat was more vulnerable.

“The older wheat has sustained significant damage from the freeze that occurred two weeks ago,” Swart said.  “Many of the plants I saw headed appear to be sterile, which means the anthers have been damaged by the cold. The heads look normal but the anthers are green and will not produce viable pollen.”

Younger wheat may be less damaged. “Plants that were jointed but less developed at the time of the freeze have developing heads that appear to be normal. We will know for sure when heading, and hopefully, pollination occurs.”

In most years, wheat planted in late October or early November in the Northeast corner of Texas, offers the best opportunity for profitable yields. That may not be the case this year.

“The wheat that sprouted following the Christmas rain and snow event appears to be unaffected by the freeze,” Swart said. “The heads look normal and healthy, and will likely pollinate when they emerge from the boot. We will continue to monitor the situation and provide weekly updates.”

Almost 80 percent of the wheat in Texas is grown in the High Plains and Rolling Plains region. The remaining crop is grown in the Central and North Central regions.

Thanks to Robert Burns and Kay Ledbetter, AgriLife Extension for Texas crop updates.


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