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U.S. Midwest cold spell may hinder wheat growth, meteorologist says

Chicago | Reuters — A cold spell arriving in the U.S. Midwest this week will probably stall the emergence and growth of late-seeded soft red winter wheat, a meteorologist said Tuesday.

Temperatures are expected to fall to 15 to 20 F (-9 to -7 C) this week in Missouri and Illinois, the two states where winter wheat seeding and emergence are furthest behind.

“The majority of the (forecasting) models are keeping things cold enough over the next two weeks that it really hampers germination for winter wheat,” said meteorologist David Streit of Commodity Weather Group.

“It’s not an outright winterkill situation; it’s just going to hamper getting the crop up,” said Streit.

If wheat is poorly established ahead of its winter dormancy, it depends more on favorable weather in the spring.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said 52 per cent of the Illinois wheat crop had emerged by Sunday, lagging the five-year average of 74 per cent. Planting in Illinois was 84 per cent complete.

Colder temperatures are forecast in the central Plains, with lows dropping below 0 F (-18 C). But winter wheat there is further along, and any damage should be limited to the relatively minor crop areas of the Nebraska panhandle and northeastern Colorado.

The coldest air will not arrive for another day or two, giving the Plains wheat time to acclimate, said World Weather Inc. president Drew Lerner.

“There is a bit of warmth in the soil still,” Lerner added, “and that will help to keep the crown of the plant just a little bit warmer.”

The U.S. Agriculture Department said all of Nebraska’s winter wheat had emerged, while in Kansas, the top U.S. winter wheat producer, the crop was 88 per cent emerged.

Farmers in the Plains grow hard red winter wheat, which is used for bread and typically accounts for 35-40 per cent of all U.S. wheat production. The Midwest grows soft red winter wheat, which is used in cookies and snack foods and represents 20-25 per cent of the wheat crop.

— Reporting for Reuters by Julie Ingwersen in Chicago.

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