01/14/13 — Warm weather could cause crop confusion

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Warm weather could cause crop confusion

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 14, 2013 1:46 PM

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Wayne County farmer Bobby Benton looks over a winter wheat field off Airport Road early today. The recent spate of warm weather has growers concerned that plants will mature too early, creating a number of problems. Wayne farmers are expected to plant more than 40,000 acres of wheat this year.

Wayne County residents driving by wheat fields in some areas of the county might think that the crop is looking good, and it is -- if it was late February or March.

And while the moderate weather that is expected to continue into this week might have most folks longing for spring, more seasonable-like cold temperatures are on the mind of people like Cooperative Extension Agent John Sanderson.

Sanderson, the county's field crop specialist, is concerned that the warm weather might trigger early plant maturity that could come back to haunt wheat farmers.

Wayne growers have planted about 40,000 acres of winter wheat this year.

Strawberries are another crop that could suffer from too much warm weather too soon, although they account for far less acreage.

The weekend's mild temperatures were expected to continue through today with a high around 72. There is a chance of rain Tuesday, but even then the high will be near 65 and lows will remain near 50. For the next several days, the highs will remain in the mid-to-upper 50s with lows in the 40s.

Sanderson said he is aware of the potential for trouble, and is watching to see what happens, but as of yet the warm spell has not become a problem.

"The only thing that we really have any significant amount in the field right now is wheat," he said. "We do have some situations in the county where some of the wheat is beginning to get kind of large for this time of the year. The main problem we are looking at with it is when it gets too large, too early, it gets tall. You have small stems, and those small stems, after it heads out, can tend to lodge (lie down) very severely. Lodging is probably the primary problem that we will see from this warm weather. The stem is just so weak and thin it mats down. It is very difficult to combine. It is hard for it to dry out so that you can combine it. It causes a lot of problems."

The warm weather also can cause excessive vegetative growth. The crop tends to be premature and that can result in early heading, which in turn puts the crop more at risk from freeze damage later in the spring, Sanderson said.

Other potential problems can include the early development of disease, primarily powdery mildew, because fast-growing plants tend to stay damp, Sanderson said.

Warm weather can also lead to early weed emergence and insect development, he said.

"We haven't had a problem yet," he said. "We are kind of on the verge of some fields having excessive growth, but we are OK right now, provided that we get some cold weather to kind of slow it down. We are not in a danger situation or anything like that at this point. If we have weather like they are talking about this weekend for an extended period of time we certainly will be and will be there very rapidly."

Temperatures in the 70s for four or five days begin to cause concern about the size of some of the wheat, he said.

"With the moisture that we have it would really be set up to grow," Sanderson said." Some of these fields that are starting to get close to being a little too far advanced it (cold) would probably burn them back to where it should be.

"The weather can hurt, but then it can turn around and also help you. If it starts top get too big and we get a real hard cold snap it will burn some of this back. The crop can stand that very well."

Corn will be the next crop to be planted and the warm weather should not be a problem, Sanderson said. It could mean that some of the crop is planted earlier if it stays warm on into March, he said.

"You are still taking a risk that you could run into some cold weather damage later on," Sanderson said. "If you have a cold snap in April that could be a problem, but it is not a problem right now."