Louisiana wheat crop struggles with cold temperatures

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The 2013-2014 wheat crop came through one of the coldest north Louisiana winters on record, according to Josh Lofton, agronomist and assistant professor at the Macon Ridge Research Station in Winnsboro, La.

But, unlike last year when cold temperatures in late March decimated some of the early-heading varieties in the northern half of the state, the 2014 wheat crops appears to be set for decent yields if the weather will cooperate in late April and May.

Louisiana growers planted more wheat than expected last fall when lower prices compared to recent years had many looking for alternatives. “We had great conditions when we started planting,” said Dr. Lofton. “So we saw a lot more wheat than we could have because the weather was so favorable.” (USDA’s latest estimate has Louisiana at 175,000 acres.)

“You guys know with the kind of wet winter we had those harvest numbers probably are not going to be at 175,000 acres,” he said. “We probably lost quite a few acres because of the temperature and the moisture. We’ll just have to see how the wheat finishes out.”

Lofton said the wheat crop endured one of the coldest winters on record, particularly for the more northern parishes close to the border with Arkansas.

“This meant that we were well vernalized,” he noted. “We’re not going to have any problems with any of our wheat not vernalizing this year. It also hardened off our wheat early. We had some cold temperatures early in the season, and the wheat was well-prepared when we experienced some of those temperatures in the teens at night.”

Some areas in south Louisiana received excessive rainfall during the winter months; the northern part of the state not so much until corn-planting time arrived. And some wheat had to be replanted in December because of moisture and bird predation, resulting in less tillering than normal before the cold temperatures set in.

Wheat specialists had hoped the crop would begin to catch up once warmer temperatures arrived, but the cooler, damper weather hasn’t cooperated, Lofton said. Disease and insect pressure, on the other hand, has been relatively low compared to last year when stripe rust was prevalent in north Louisiana.

“So we have the potential to have a pretty nice wheat crop,” he noted. “We just need Mother Nature to play along with us and to be alert for wheat diseases and insect pests.”

Although weather forecasters were predicting lows in the 20s in north Louisiana in mid-April, temperatures didn’t fall below 30 degrees for two hours in most of the areas. That’s the threshold, so to speak, for freeze damage to occur during the flower stage that much of the north Louisiana wheat was in at that time.

“The good news is that for most of the state, it wasn’t as bad as they were predicting,” he said. “So most of us didn’t reach those critical temperatures, and, if we did, we didn’t stay there for long.”

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