Still too early to tell if cold hurt crops

More time, warm weather and sunshine will determine the extent of the crop loss.
Sunday, April 15, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:56 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Although growers estimate heavy losses, it’s still to early too gauge exactly the extent of the damage to Missouri crops caused by record low temperatures the weekend of April 7 and 8.

MU agronomist Bill Wiebold said corn and wheat farmers will need several days of warm weather and sunshine to know just how many of their crops survived.

When plant cells die, Wiebold said, bacteria invade to decompose the tissue, imparting the telltale brown and mushy look of dead crops. Those bacteria need warmth and sunshine to do their work.

Wiebold said wheat farmers could suffer losses of nearly all their crops or hardly any losses at all. That analysis, he said, will have to be made field by field.

“It’s kind of a mixed effect,” Wiebold said.

If it were clear cut and everything were dead, “it would be easier to predict what’s going on. But it’s not quite that way.”

Portions of the corn planted in mid-Missouri before the cold snap might have been killed as well, Wiebold said. Even though corn’s early growth primarily occurs underground, pockets of cold air that settled on some fields and froze the soil might have damaged the young plants.

“Normally, we would think that that corn would survive because the growing point is below the soil surface,” Wiebold said. “But it got so cold in some places that the soil actually froze down past that growing point.”

Fruit growers are also waiting to tell just how much damage the cold snap caused.

Bruce Arnett owns 2,000 trees on Peach Tree Farm in Howard County. Though he’s certain the cold killed this year’s peach blossoms and crop, he’s waiting to see whether his trees survived. The record low temperatures might have frozen sap rising from the trees’ roots, killing the trees.

“I’ll know within about a month,” Arnett said. “(The trees) will start sending out new leaves and then they’ll just die. I hope I don’t see that, but I might.”

Tim Puchta, chairman of the Missouri Wine and Grape Board, said officials from the Missouri Department of Agriculture are assessing damage to Missouri’s grape crop. Many growers are facing total losses of this year’s grapes, and Puchta said it’s too early to say whether the cold killed vines, a loss that could affect the Missouri grape crop for three to four years.

State law requires that 85 percent of grapes in Missouri wine be grown in Missouri.

But in years of poor harvest, Puchta said, the Wine and Grape Board can ask state regulators to lower the requirement. Puchta said the Wine and Grape Board will hold an emergency meeting in hopes of making a recommendation to state regulators Tuesday.

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