Winterkill possible in Colo., but it’s still too early to tell | TheFencePost.com

Winterkill possible in Colo., but it’s still too early to tell

Storm clouds gather above rows of wheat in a field near Roggen, Colo., in July 2015, as combines methodically harvest sections. Winterkill already seems to be a problem in Kansas and Oklahoma, but it's too early to tell in Colorado.

Frigid temperatures and a lack of moisture led to early problems for winter wheat growers in Kansas and Oklahoma, but Colorado producers have not seen enough evidence yet to worry.

According to Radiant Solutions, which collects data and analytics, the new year started with some drastically low temperatures — some in the negative 30s. The freezing temperatures paired with a lack of moisture, specifically snow pack, led to winterkill in Kansas and Oklahoma winter wheat crops. In Colorado, most areas didn't see the same extreme temperature drop. Even with most of the eastern part of the state waiting for its first significant moisture since October, winterkill isn't a concern.

Plus, it's just too early to even know if the crops suffered winterkill. Most farmers won't know until the wheat comes out of dormancy.

Marc Arnusch, who farms in the Keenesburg, Colo., area said the frost levels in the ground are deeper than he'd like at this point, but he doesn't know what that means for the crop.

“What we really need is some snow cover, especially if we’re going to have those low temperatures. The dryland and irrigated wheat right now is at a very vulnerable stage.”

Recommended Stories For You

Justin King farms in Burlington, Colo., which is about 10 miles west of the Kansas border. He said the biggest need for the crop is an El Nino and significant snow. The snow can help protect the crop from the freezing temperatures.

Basically, it's all up to Mother Nature.

"What we really need is some snow cover, especially if we're going to have those low temperatures," Arnusch said. "The dryland and irrigated wheat right now is at a very vulnerable stage."

The positive for these farmers, though, is that temperatures in Colorado have not dropped far below zero, and there haven't been many of those days. According to the National Weather Service data, the lowest temperature the Denver area witnessed was negative 4 degrees on Dec. 24. The lowest temperatures in October and November were 13 and 22, respectively.

Arnusch said the winter wheat crop is most vulnerable in November through February. While Arnusch's crops did get some moisture from the snow storm that hit most of northeastern Colorado just before Christmas, that snow storm didn't reach the Roggen area, according to Jerry Cooksey.

Cooksey said the last significant moisture his area got was in October. He said most of his crop has emerged.

Farmers in southeastern Colorado are seeing about the same weather conditions. Shelby Britten farms out in Haswell, Colo., which is about 130 miles east of Colorado Springs. He said they've only seen a couple of dustings of snow.

"If it winterkills, it winterkills," he said. "I think we were going dormant before the cold, too, so I'm not too concerned about it right now."

That was the same sentiment Cooksey shared, although it was a few years back when the southeastern corridor was significantly hit by winterkill.

"I don't think it's been cold enough here yet, in the Weld, Adams and Morgan county areas in my opinion, as it would be in southeast Colorado or if you get into Kansas or Oklahoma," he said.

Plus, Arnusch pointed out, there were past instances when the climate should have caused winterkill but didn't and other times when winterkill was present when the weather conditions weren't a cause for concern.

But, as always is the case when there is a large projection of crop loss, the market starts to rebound.

"We certainly like what winterkill conversations do for our market," he said. "Our market has picked up steam and has started to recover from some of the lows we've seen it at."

The catch, for producers, is hoping their crops aren't part of the large losses.

— Fox is a reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at (970) 392-4410, sfox@thefencepost.com or on Twitter @FoxonaFarm.