The jury will be out for a while as to the damage to wheat and other winter crops caused by last night’s sub-freezing temperatures in North Carolina and Virginia. 

Also at risk is early planted corn, some of which was planted as much as three weeks early to take advantage of unseasonably warm temperatures.

The forecast for tonight calls for sub-freezing temperatures as far south as southern North Carolina. Forecasts, for example, in Charlotte call for 31 degree lows and 60 degree highs for tomorrow (April 13).

Temperatures on the morning of April 12 dipped into the low to mid-20s in western areas of North Carolina and Virginia and below freezing throughout most of both states. Though not a prolonged or severe freeze, these low temperatures may affect a number of fall crops and early planted spring crops.

Clearly, the most at-risk crop is wheat. However, significant acreage of canola is in full bloom in North Carolina, and is at or near the cold temperature line for damage at this stage of growth.

North Carolina State Small Grain Specialist Randy Weisz says wheat growers should wait 5 to 7 days and then look at the heads. If there are heads or parts of heads that are turning white that is freeze damage. 

In an e-mail memo to growers and others interested in small grain production in North Carolina, Weisz suggests a Kansas State University website as a good source to measure freeze damage to wheat. The site is http://www.smallgrains.ncsu.edu/_Pubs/Xtrn/SpringFreezeInjury.pdf.

Of particular interest to North Carolina and Virginia growers is the following excerpt from the Kansas State report: “Spring freeze injury occurs when low temperatures coincide with sensitive plant growth stages. Injury can cover large areas of the state or only a few fields or parts of fields. It is most severe along rivers, valleys, and depressions in fields where cold air settles.

The risk of spring freeze injury is greater when wheat initiates spring growth early due to higher than average temperatures and inadequate moisture and advances through its developmental stages quicker than normal. If a freeze occurs, wheat has a greater chance of being damaged because it is further advanced.”

Based on weather conditions over the winter and leading up to the recent freeze, growers may be in for bad news on their on wheat crop.

In some areas of the Southeast, not only did they see record or near record temperatures throughout the winter, they also saw record-shattering high temperatures in March.

In Alabama, for example, the average high temperature in March shattered the old mark by eight degrees F.

rroberson@farmpress.com