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Published: Tuesday, 4/29/2014 - Updated: 3 months ago

Harsh winter does damage to Ohio wheat crop

USDA estimating commodity loss is up 30% from year ago

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
With 51 percent of Ohio’s wheat crop being rated fair to very poor, ‘in northwest Ohio ... wheat seems to be in pretty good shape.’ With 51 percent of Ohio’s wheat crop being rated fair to very poor, ‘in northwest Ohio ... wheat seems to be in pretty good shape.’
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This past year’s harsh winter may have claimed another victim: the northwest Ohio wheat crop.

Winter wheat is planted in the autumn and harvested the following summer or autumn.

Agricultural experts say it’s still too early to be certain, but there are signs that the annual “winter kill” of the region’s wheat crop may have been greater than normal.

“The winter kill, it’s been quite variable. Up in northwest Ohio, the early planted wheat seems to be in pretty good shape,” said Clay Sneller, an associate professor of horticulture and crop science and a wheat specialist at Ohio State University’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster.

“But the later-planted wheat, the wheat planted toward mid-October, seems to be the one suffering the most,” Mr. Sneller added.

Eric Richer, an OSU extension agent in Fulton County, said in a normal winter, about 5 percent of the wheat acreage in the county gets ripped out and replanted with soybeans in the spring because of winter kill.

This year looks to be much higher. “I would say almost every wheat field in the county has some kind of winter kill damage this year,” Mr. Richer said.

“The amount of wheat acres that will be ripped out and planted to beans this year will be significantly higher than normal,” he said.

Mr. Richer said the total could be 10 to 20 percent of the county’s acreage. But it’s hard to say, he said, because the damage is so uneven, with some acres badly hurt by frigid temperatures and ice while others look ideal.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is trying to assess the damage.

In its most recent update, released Sunday, the USDA said 51 percent of Ohio’s wheat crop was rated fair to very poor while 49 percent was rated good to excellent. A year ago at the end of April, just 30 percent of the crop was rated fair to very poor while 70 percent was rated good to excellent.

Typically, wheat is planted in the fall where it sprouts quickly, said Matt Roberts, an agricultural economist at Ohio State.

“Exposure to temperatures that are too cold will kill or damage it. So, ideally, you want snow cover. That protects and reduces the extreme cold,” he said. “If you have winters like this one you will have a partial melt, then ponding of water and refreezing that locks the plants into ice and kills the wheat,” he said.

Mr. Roberts said there is always a certain amount of winter kill, “but given the particular harshness of this winter there’s a little more concern than usual about the crop.”

Ohio State’s extension service plants wheat fields at northern Ohio test sites in Wooster in Wayne County (near Canton) and in Custar in Wood County.

Mr. Sneller said at the Custar site, “Some of the plots look very good. Some where we planted later, they don’t look so good so we’re going to abandon the field. But most of the crop does look fairly good,” he said.

Mr. Sneller said that when the extent of the damage is known in a month or two, it’s likely that 10 to 15 percent of the state crop will be lost to the cold winter.

“That would be a lot. I’ve been here 13 years and this is the first time that I’ve lost any [test] plots due to winter kill,” he said.

D. Ford Mennel, president of Mennel Milling Co. in Fostoria, is more optimistic.

“I don’t think the damage is any more significant this year than in any other years,” he said. “It’s really spotty for sure, but I don’t know that it’s any more significant. It’s very regionalized and very much depends from field to field.”

Andy Spahr, a commodity merchant at The Andersons Inc., said it’s looking as if Michigan’s wheat crop suffered more than Ohio’s.

“I’ve heard they have more significant damage on eastern side of [Michigan] than the western, and farther north is worse,” he said. “You’ve got stuff that’s really bad and stuff that’s average or pretty good.”

The wheat crop in Ohio already was going to be less this year because the number of acres planted was down 9 percent from last year, Mr. Spahr said.

The good news, he said, is whatever the winter damage was to both Ohio and Michigan, it’s unlikely to drive up wheat prices to the extent that consumers will notice.

“What’s going to impact wheat prices more than Ohio and Michigan is the presence or lack of presence of the Chinese export program,” Mr. Spahr said. “If the Chinese are back in the game [buying U.S. wheat] you could see higher wheat prices. If they’re not a big buyer, you’ll see relatively average prices.”

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.



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