By Steve Mercer, USW Vice President of Communications
Kansas Wheat CEO Justin Gilpin is not a fellow who is prone to hyperbole. So, when @jp_gilp “Tweets” to the world that “we lost the Western Kansas wheat crop,” people notice.
Blizzard conditions and up to 18 inches (45.8 cm) of heavy, wet snow came down hard on the rapidly maturing hard red winter (HRW) wheat crop in northwest Oklahoma, western Kansas, eastern Colorado and southwest Nebraska April 29 and 30. Much of that wheat looked very good before the storm. Its higher yield potential was a cautious hope for some farm profit this year, a hope now broken like the stems under the snow in so many fields.
This unusual event may have overshadowed separate freeze events April 22, 23 and 27 that affected a big portion of central Kansas as well as south central Nebraska and north central Oklahoma. Kansas Wheat said “the freezes may cause significant damage in many areas because the crop was in boot and early heading stages at the time.”
Local agronomists say it will take 10 to 14 days before the final effects of the unprecedented late-season freeze and snow events can be determined with any accuracy. The first estimate from the snow alone put loss potential at 50 million bushels or almost 1.4 million metric tons (MMT). That would be roughly equal to 5 percent of the 23.8 MMT 5-year average total U.S. HRW crop.
National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) President David Schemm, who farms near Sharon Springs in far western Kansas, captured what is probably on the minds of most Kansas farmers. In a Facebook Live video from one of his fields as he surveyed the damage, he said, “all we can say, thankfully, in these situations is that with crop insurance we can maybe keep our farm for another year.”
More tough blows to already strapped farmers are, as Justin Gilpin added in his striking Tweet, “Just terrible.” Perhaps some of the wheat — and all Central and Southern Plains wheat farmers — will recover from these stresses.
We can only hope.