Growers urged to scout for possible frost damage
Though more than a month has passed, many farmers are feeling the sting of late season frost events in small grains fields.
Agronomists are urging farmers to scout their fields extensively to assess damage to small grain and make decisions regarding harvesting and crop insurance.
In Virginia, damage is intermittent but severe in some places where the freezing temperatures hit wheat fields that were in the pollination stage and most susceptible to frost damage, crop scouts said.
In a June 5 post to the Virginia Ag Pest and Crop Advisory blog, Extension agronomist, Dr. Wade Thomason said he has received numerous reports of fields with crop damage.
“The symptoms are completely or mostly blank/absent kernels on entire heads,” Thomason wrote, adding earlier in the season, the symptoms appeared, as a few missing kernels or scattered white heads in the field.
Thomason said severely injured fields are rare but have yields of under 10 bushels per acre.
“It all depends on what stage the crop was when the frost hit,” said Tom Hardiman, seed certification program administrator for the Virginia Crop Improvement Association. “It killed the pollen.”
Thomason said low areas of fields tended to have more damage, as well.
Hardiman has been scouting wheat fields across the commonwealth certifying varieties for seed production and said he’s seen fields ranging in damage from 10 percent to 95 percent.
“It’s not fun to call the farmer and tell him there’s 90 percent damage,” Hardiman said but added he wants growers to know as soon as possible so they can contact their crop insurance agent or make a decision about harvesting or not.
In many cases with high damage levels, Hardiman said the crop in the turn rows and along forest buffers looks better than further into the field and a main reason for urging growers to go deeper in the field to get a full picture of the field damage.
“Things that held heat in to protect the crops didn’t have much damage,” he said.
In Maryland, Extension agronomy specialist, Dr. Nicole Fiorellino, said she had no reports of frost damage but had heard of some barley fields in Delaware that were damaged, contrasted with barley fields in excellent condition.
Hardiman said, anecdotally he’s heard of incidents of frost damage stretching from South Carolina to Ohio and in Virginia, he said the true picture on yield and seed production won’t be clear until harvest is underway.
“We won’t know until the combines are in the fields,” he said.
Tyler Franklin, an Axis dealer in Virginia and North Carolina, said in his scouting, damage appears to coincide with where corn plants were hurt most.
“You could almost write a map, where the corn was injured the most was where the wheat was injured the most,” Franklin said. Then “you drive five miles and the wheat looks perfectly fine.”
Franklin said some growers will harvest the crop regardless to get the straw. Others may forgo harvesting and move right to planting double crop soybeans.
Either way, he said scouting beyond the field edges is necessary.
“They really need to get out and look at every field,” Franklin said.
Harvested wheat acres in the Delmarva region has steadily declined over the last five years, due in part to repeated weather challenges and crop prices. According to USDA data, Virginia farmers harvested wheat on 105,000 acres in 2019, down from 210,000 acres in 2015.
For the same time period, Maryland’s harvested acres fell by 105,000 acres and Delaware’s harvested acres fell by 15,000 acres.
However, USDA’s crop forecast for winter wheat in Virginia, using crop conditions as of June 1, had production up 69 percent from last year. Virginia growers expected to harvest 180,000 of their 260,000 planted acres.
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