Farm Talk

April 22, 2014

Big chill, little damage in SE Kan. corn fields


Mark Parker — Corn seedlings turned brown by recent cold temperatures had growers speed-dialing their crop insurance agents last week.

For most, though, it may be one of those “not-as-bad-as-it-looks” situations.

K-State Agronomy Specialist Doug Shoup and Wildcat Extension District agents Josh Coltrain and Keith Martin were out in fields late last week surveying the situation.

“A lot of the corn that was up looks bad from the road but I’m pretty confident that, if it was planted deep enough — about 2 inches — it’s going to be okay,” said Coltrain, who is the district’s crops agent based in Girard.

Coltrain explained that even though there was obvious above-ground injury to plant tissue in some fields, the all-important growing point and stalk tissue was still beneath the soil surface.

The only field they felt had a high likelihood of significant damage had been planted about 1 inch deep.

“In some cases the seed leaf and first leaf are gone but the seedlings are still viable and they’ll come out of it,” Coltrain noted. “Those leaves don’t have an impact on yield and would likely shed off before yield is determined anyway.”

The key, he said, is to check fields five to seven days after the chilling event.

“If you see new green growth you’re probably going to be all right,” Coltrain said.

Temperatures did not drop enough to damage just-planted corn, although extreme cold can cause kernel cell tissues to rupture and fail to germinate.

In-between just-planted and emerged, however, there could be issues for growers in areas where soil temperatures were low enough.

“During the emergence process, chilling can cause the plant to not emerge right — it may try to leaf-out below the soil surface and fail to emerge,” Coltrain said. “I don’t think we’ll see that in southeast Kansas but it may be a possibility north of here.”

Again, the acid test for chill damage is to check for growth a week or so after the cold weather event.

As for the wheat crop, the picture is brighter than Coltrain expected.

“I was worried about the wheat,” he admits. “I thought it was more vulnerable because of its stage of growth but, from what I’ve seen there is little or no damage — I think most of the area’s wheat came through unscathed.”