Newly Planted Winter Wheat Likely Not Hurt Much by Season’s First Freeze


Stephen Lee, Capital Journal


Despite a freeze hard enough to kill plants early Tuesday across parts of South Dakota, the newly planted winter wheat crop should be OK, said Reid Christopherson, executive director of South Dakota Wheat Commission.

“I drove across the state this morning,” said Christopherson, who lives in Minnehaha County near Sioux Falls. “It was 27 degrees, at least that’s what it said in my dashboard.”

Pierre saw a low of 25 degrees about 7:16 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 10, according to the National Weather Service office in Aberdeen, where it got down to 18 degrees.

Watertown reported 24 degrees as the morning low.

If around for more than an hour or two, that’s the kind of temperatures that can hurt or kill many of the gentler types of vegetation.

But the winter wheat planted since the middle of September should be fine, Christopherson said. “The growing point is down below the soil surface for most of the winter wheat.” Which means the first hard freeze of the fall shouldn’t threaten the winter wheat crop, he said. Things warmed up fairly fast on Tuesday.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ag statistics office in Sioux Falls reported that 78 percent of the state’s winter wheat had been planted by Sunday, Oct. 8, which is about the same as the five-year average pace.

“But it USDA doesn’t say 78 percent of what,” Christopherson said.

After long-time lows in planted and harvested acres of winter wheat and spring wheat this year, everyone wonders how much of what kind of wheat South Dakota farmers will plant this fall and next spring.

Nobody will know much for sure until USDA releases its first official look in January, Christopherson said.


The unusually wide gap between winter wheat and spring wheat prices at the elevator – spring wheat is about $1.30 per bushel higher right now than winter wheat – has some farmers waiting until spring to put in wheat, he said. The high yields for winter and spring wheat in 2015 and 2016 were in part a function of low protein content – just the way agronomy in wheat works – so there is sharper demand for higher protein wheats, Christopherson said. Winter wheat runs under 12 percent protein, spring wheat over 14 percent, normally.

Meanwhile, the harvest of corn and soybeans is well behind normal pace, according to USDA. Only 6 percent of the state’s corn crop has come off, compared with the five-year norm of 29 percent by Oct. 8.

Soybeans have been gleaned off 22 percent of the acres, not much better than a third of the normal pace by now of 59 percent.

Good rains, especially in eastern South Dakota, in the past two to three weeks, have dampened the state’s two major crops, forcing farmers to leave them to dry in the fields for now.

“We have had several inches of rain in recent weeks,” Christopherson said of Minnehaha County and surrounding area on the eastern side of the state. “So the extra precipitation is slowing the dry-down.”

Ten percent of the state’s sunflowers were harvested by Sunday, pretty close to the average pace of 12 percent by now. Only 3 percent of the sorghum was harvested, compared with the five-year average pace of 32 percent by now.