Much of the freeze-damaged west Tennessee wheat crop appears on life support for now, hanging on only for insurance purposes in some cases or until the actual extent of damage becomes known in others. Some has been burned down so that cotton and corn can be planted.
One thing is more certain for upper Mid-South wheat fields struck by an Easter freeze. There's not much hope for a full recovery.
According to Chris Main, Extension cotton and wheat specialist in west Tennessee, “the wheat crop is in very bad shape. At least 80 percent of our acreage is going to have significant yield loss, if not complete yield loss. Losses are from head injury on the wheat that was a little more mature in the southern counties, to varying degrees of stem damage to plants that were jointing farther north.
“A lot of the plants were in boot at the time of the freeze. Heads are either not coming out of boot or if they are, they are malformed and the reproduction structures are destroyed.”
Insurance adjusters are doing stand counts on damaged wheat, “but most is still standing, so we're not getting good adjustments based on stand counts. A lot of farmers are leaving a 10-foot strip in the field to do a later damage assessment.
“Some farmers with insurance are just letting the wheat grow out to see if they can harvest anything and get an adjustment when they bring the combine in the field.
“Farmers who didn't have insurance on the crop are either letting the crop grow out on less-damaged fields, so they can harvest what they can and double-crop soybeans. Others are burning down the wheat and replanting to early soybeans or cotton, or corn, if they can find the hybrids.”
One question frequently asked of Main is how to manage a damaged wheat crop. “As far as I can tell, there are very few acres that are going to get a fungicide application. There have been times when we've just broadcast wheat on the ground and made 40 bushels. We can also not harvest anything because the wheat is flat on the ground.”
Tennessee planted a little over 360,000 acres to wheat this year. Main said Tennessee producers “had been on track for a good crop, 60 bushels to 80 bushels, depending on the inputs. Now, most of these guys are going to be lucky just to cover costs.”
Damage to the wheat crop in southeast Missouri “varies quite a bit,” said Mike Milam, Dunklin County Extension agent. “I've heard estimates ranging from 30 percent to 90 percent.”
Milam estimates that between 75 percent and 80 percent of wheat will be carried to harvest. “Most producers who will not harvest their wheat crop due to freeze damage will probably go to soybeans.”
Assessing damage to the wheat crop has been problematic, Milam said. “Wheat heads I've seen look pretty good. On one field, the heads were smaller than usual. I couldn't tell how it was going to pollinate. We won't know for another two weeks.”
The north end of Dunklin County “had far more damage to wheat,” Milam said.
Meanwhile, producers in areas not affected by the freeze are optimistic. In April, LSU AgCenter wheat experts were predicting outstanding yields across the state this year.
“Growing conditions are excellent, diseases are minor and the weather forecast looks good for wheat,” said Ed Twidwell, LSU AgCenter forage specialist.
Some 220,000 acres of wheat were planted in Louisiana last fall, double the acreage over 2005. The gross farm value of the 2006 crop was $25.3 million, up from $19.6 million in 2005, due to increased prices, Twidwell said.
Diseases have been light this season, according Clayton Hollier, LSU AgCenter plant pathologist. “Wheat rust disease is scattered here and there, but it is very late and very minor.”