Blizzard conditions and heavy snow swept western Kansas, including 14 to 20 inches in Colby in the northwestern quadrant of the No. 1 winter wheat state in the nation. Justin Gilpin, chief executive of the Kansas Wheat Commission tweeted on Monday, “We lost the western Kansas wheat crop this weekend. Just terrible,”
The wheat crop was at a stage where it was more vulnerable to spring snowfalls and frost. Generally, temps below 32°F for a minimum of about two hours will cause damage to the crop according to the Kansas Wheat Commission. Freeze injury during heading and flowering stages can cause severe yield consequences. A quarter of the wheat crop in western Kansas was headed as of April 23, compared with the five-year average of 17%.
Kansas grew 1 of every 5 bushels of U.S. wheat last year, 467 million of the 2.31 billion bushels nationwide. Kansas farmers specialize in winter wheat, which is planted in the fall, goes dormant during the winter, and sprouts again in the spring. Winter wheat accounts for two thirds, or more, of the U.S. crop each year.
Nearly 90 crop scouts, grain traders, government officials, reporters, millers and a few growers began a three-day tour of the Kansas winter wheat crop on Monday. The annual crop tour examines crop conditions, including frost and disease damage, to estimate the likely harvest. Its route begins in Manhattan then heads west to Colby, south to Wichita, and then returns to Manhattan.
The USDA will make its first estimate of the winter wheat crop on May 10. At its annual Ag Outlook in late February, the department projected wheat production would fall 20% this year because of low market prices and a sharp reduction in the total acres planted to wheat for this year. Growers told the USDA in March they would plant 46.1 million acres, the smallest amount of wheat planted in the state since records began in 1919.