Drought and Extreme Cold May Have Damaged Winter Crops

Jan 19, 2014

Wheat plots, forefront, in the High Plains appear to have little to no damage from extreme cold temperatures, however oats, middle of picture, at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research trials near Bushland show damage.
Credit Jason Baker / Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo

While timely rains have the Texas wheat crop looking much better this year, however the drought and cold may have done some damage to winter crops reported AgriLife Today.

Dr. Clark Neely is an AgriLife Extension small grains specialist in College Station.  He said the substantial fall rains didn’t help the Panhandle.

“Unfortunately, the High Plains received little of these beneficial rains and wheat producers struggled to get their crop up and out of the ground this fall,” he said. “Drought-stressed wheat also had to endure frigid temperatures during the past month, which have some concerned about the possibility of winterkill on small wheat.”

Single-digit temperatures were common throughout the Panhandle; but earlier cool weather helped plants acclimate and become less susceptible to extreme cold, Neely said.

“Healthy, acclimated wheat plants should be able to handle single-digit temperatures without significant damage; however, drought-stressed plants are more susceptible to cold temperatures for multiple reasons,” he said.

“Dry soil does little to buffer temperature change and makes growing points more vulnerable under the soil surface. Additionally, drought-stressed plant tissue is less able to cope with leaf damage.”

Neely also said leaf burn on an unstressed plant from cold temperatures may look devastating, but the plant can recover well if the growing points remain healthy.  

“But damaged leaves on drought-stressed plants can lead to desiccation and death due to destruction of the growing point,” he said, adding that observations from plots in Bushland, near Amarillo, show severe winterkill in oats, minor damage in barley and little visible damage to wheat plants.

“Often, symptoms take time to manifest, so producers may need to wait for a week or more before seeing yellow or necrotic leaves,” Neely said.

Freeze damage can also open the door to secondary fungal or bacterial infections.  

Widespread winterkill is not anticipated at this time, but pockets of damage are possible.  Neely advises producers to keep an eye out for yellowing in their fields.

More information is available from Texas A&M AgriLife