Freeze gave farmers reason for concern

Staff writer

Terry Vinduska of Marion was cautious when he reached down to survey the condition of his wheat crops Monday.

“You just don’t know how hard the cold, winter weather hits until you get up close and personal with the plants,” he said. “It’s a gamble. Sometimes I wonder why I am a farmer. I don’t have much patience.”

Vinduska is just one Marion County farmer who was concerned about the condition of his crops when temperatures dropped below freezing and ice, snow, and sleet blanketed fields of already emerging crops.

However Kansas State extension agent Rickey Roberts, believed it was the order of the winter weather that provided a blessing for area farmers.

“We really dodged bullets,” he said. “The ice sort of covered the wheat like a warm sweater, keeping it safe from all the cold and snow. Then it melted and gave the plants the extra moisture they needed to keep growing.”

Vinduska said he found a little bit of freeze damage on his crops, but said he didn’t see the kind of damage he expected; only the tips of the leaves had started to brown.

“It could have been a lot worse, but as you can see the head is moist, green and in real good shape,” he said. “This could end up being our best crop ever, we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Other crops, however, like corn, didn’t fare as well.

“It’s stunted,” he said as he looked at the 3” tall plants in the middle of one of his corn fields. “You can tell the difference between the plants that emerged before the storm and the ones that came up after. This one has browned right up, and will take a long time to grow. This one, on the other hand, probably just emerged this morning. It’ll probably take the same amount of time to reach the same height — even though it was planted almost a month later. It’s just the nature of the freeze.”

Vinduska said at this time last year he had already planted his second round of corn. But, he said he couldn’t do that this year because of the extremely wet ground conditions.

“You can see, especially in the low-lying areas, all the water that’s still on the ground,” he said. “It’s unbelievable. Last year we had such a dry season that we were harvesting wheat by June 1. This year, we’ll be luckily if we can harvest by the end of the month. It all depends on how the rest of the season goes.”

Vinduska said if things don’t dry up soon, he’ll be forced to plant either grain sorghum or soybeans — plants that do better in the wet conditions.

“Wheat and corn need moisture to start out, but the other plants need it all the time,” he said. “If it looks like we’re going to have a real wet season, I’ll just go in another direction.”

Nevertheless, Vinduska said that he plans to keep a careful watch over his plants, especially over the next couple weeks.

“I planted a lot of wheat,” he said. “It likes hot, dry conditions. If you get it too wet, it can be at-risk for all different kinds of diseases. Insects usually come with dry conditions, so I’m not really concerned about that. We usually just have to deal with disease.”

Due to the three-year drought cycle, Vinduska said he is not too worried about the soil profile. He said the area has had a good deal of moisture this spring, which has led to a good deal of soil moisture. But he said, the key to season-long moisture is having an abundance of moisture locked deep down in the soil — and that’s something that area farmers don’t have.

“If you go down three feet, it’s still pretty dry,” he said, explaining that drought still could be a possibility. “We might not be out of the woods yet, conditions are wet but it might not be enough if we have some really hot weather, and wind.”

Vinduska prefers to think on the positive side. While he is always cautious when looking at his plants, he knows that he wouldn’t stay farming long if he worried about every single weather forecast.

“There are some things you just have to realize you can’t help,” he said. “That’s why we have crop insurance out here in Kansas; if we didn’t, we would be in bad shape.”

Crop Futures

May wheat and corn futures dropped this past week, as forecasters projected that Kansas crops would be affected by the winter weather conditions. May wheat landed at $7.58 and corn bottomed at $6.82 at closing of the market on Monday. Soybeans landed at $14.48.

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