Drought Persists as Low Temperatures Threaten Wheat

Drought stays steady this week; temps threaten winter wheat without snow cover

Published on: Jan 23, 2014

The increasingly concerning drought situation in the West continues to wage on, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor report out Thursday.

Minimal precipitation across a majority of the U.S. yielded little relief to any drought-stricken areas and offered a few areas of continued degradation. One area was western Iowa, where 60-day precipitation totals were under half of normal.

A few areas in southeastern Texas and the Texas Panhandle also worsened to D0 or D1 levels which were on the cusp of classifications last week, reports Drought Monitor author Richard Tinker of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

D0 was moved to D1 in south-central Louisiana where 6-month precipitation totals were at least 9 inches below normal. In a larger surrounding area of central and southern Louisiana and adjacent Mississippi, D0 expanded into areas at least 4 inches below normal for the last 60 days and recording fewer than 4 inches of precipitation since late December 2013.

Drought stays steady this week; temps threaten winter wheat
Drought stays steady this week; temps threaten winter wheat

Condition of wheat is again a concern for Plains farmers, mostly due to sub-zero temperatures which have covered Kansas and Nebraska. Much of the winter wheat area continues in moderate to severe drought.

Related: Deep Freeze Has Wheat Producers Concerned

According to Brad Rippey, USDA meteorologist, the variations in temperature – from extreme cold to relatively mild in a matter of days – are a big concern.

"It's not just the extreme temperatures but these rapid variations that can also stress wheat," Rippey says. "We have seen quite a bit of this in the last few months."

Farmers likely will not know the survival rates of wheat until green up, but the good news is that wheat is very resilient in the dead of winter.  

"From mid-December to Mid-January, that's when winter wheat is its most winter-hardy," notes Jim Shroyer, Kansas State University Extension wheat specialist. "It can tolerate some pretty darn cold temperatures at that time, and still shake it off and just be fine."

However, if snow cover is nonexistent, conditions are dry and temperatures get down in the single digits in the soil and in the air, then there might be a problem.

In that case, Shroyer says assessing winter kill is tricky because there are two types – outright kill and when the plant begins to grow, but dies later.

"Cell membranes break in the crown region," Shroyer says, leaking nutrients and leaving reserves insufficient to continue plant growth. Then, fungi move in and kill the plant off.

Fortunately, the southern Plains are due for a warm-up next week, says Rippey, and the northern two-thirds of the country are expected to receive near to above normal precipitation. 

For the south and the West Coast, however, he forecasts continued precipitation deficits.

Drought Persists as Low Temperatures Threaten Wheat

Read more:
Western U.S. Falls Deeper Into Drought
Drought Focused On West
Nationwide Drought Improves Over 2013; West Still Suffers
Far West Drought Situation Appears Dire
Drought Persists in California, Texas Panhandle