Tim Unruh Salina Journal

Wheat damage from last week's late-spring cold snap won't be known for days or weeks, but it's a good bet some harm was done.

Farmers agreed Monday, five days after temperatures in much of Kansas last dipped into danger zones, the extent of harm to the state's staple crop was still more speculation than fact.

The low dipped to 23 degrees in Salina Wednesday morning. It was 20 in Russell, according to National Weather Service records.

"The (crop consultant) looked at it. He didn't see anything. I didn't see anything either," said Steve Clanton, a farmer near Minneapolis.

Clayton Short's wheat fields near Assaria revealed little or no bad news.

"I can't tell that we got any damage. I'm not concerned," Short said Monday morning.

"We have not shown significant damage yet. I think that some of the earlier planted wheat definitely has sustained some freeze damage," said Gary Frownfelter, a farmer south of Marquette.

If moisture froze in the stems, they will turn black and die, Frownfelter said, and if the wheat was jointing, "we could have some yield reduction."

But there is a different story in northwest Kansas. Colby area farmer Jon Friesen figures the region may harvest half of a crop -- or less -- after temperatures in the low teens this month.

"It'll make a little, but it's not going to be near what it could have been on the good wheat, and it probably was a mercy killing on the bad wheat," he said.

The National Weather Service in Goodland recorded lows in the teens several times this month -- ranging from 13 degrees on April 10 up to 19 degrees this past Wednesday.

At one point early this month, Friesen said, temperatures stayed at 16 or below for 48 hours on his farm.

Wheat wasn't as developed in northwest Kansas at the time, compared to the Salina area, but it was thirsty, he said, and might have died from the double whammy of frost and drought.

"The wheat was just as brown as if you'd have sprayed it with Roundup (herbicide)," he said.

While the looks of some fields have improved, Friesen isn't sure about a final outcome.

"We're in a collision course, waiting for rain," he said. "If the frost didn't get it, the drought's going to get the rest."

When wheat has jointed, pushing vulnerable growth points above ground, all it takes to cut yield potential is a low of 24 degrees for two hours, said Tom Maxwell, agricultural Extension agent for Saline and Ottawa counties.

When those grain-making parts are frozen, wheat yields diminish, or in the extreme, the crop becomes hay.

"Right around this general area, I can find some leaf tips burned, but the growing points look good," Maxwell said Monday morning.

But there were extremes in these parts as well, he said.

Temperatures in Ada, in western Ottawa County, dipped to 17 to 18 degrees Wednesday morning, Maxwell said.

Crop experts will be in the area today on one of six pre-determined routes on the Hard Wheat Quality Tour of Kansas, hosted by the Wheat Quality Council.

Among the stops is 8:30 a.m. on the Justin Knopf farm at 6229 S. Kipp in southeastern Saline County.

"Nothing I've seen is severe at this point in time," Knopf said Monday afternoon.

"There is a chance we have some damage on main tillers (plant shoots), particularly wheat-on-wheat acres, but it's not severe enough to warrant destroying the crop," he said.

Joe Kejr sees damage on his wheat fields scattered around Salina -- up to 20 percent of the larger tillers frosted in some areas.

"I don't know if it will affect yields or not," he said. "The tillers that are healthy, if they do really well, they can make up the difference. It's still kind of a waiting game."

In other words, Maxwell said, this is no time to gas up the swather and bale your crop for salvage.

"So far, I'm encouraged," he said. "Let's keep evaluating over the next week or two weeks. We don't need to make any rash decisions right now."

Meanwhile, forecasters warn of springlike conditions lingering through tonight, but turning cold again.

The high today is expected to reach 82, but drop to 68 Wednesday with a 60 percent chance of rain, with a low at or near freezing.

Snow is predicted Thursday with an 80 percent chance for moisture, a 41-degree high and a low of 34. There is a 40 percent chance for precipitation Friday, with a high of 54 and a low of 36.