Plains storms cause minor harm to Oklahoma/Kansas wheat

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Tornadoes, high winds, rain and hail that cut a swath across the midsection of the United States on Sunday and Monday did only minimal harm to the winter wheat crop in top producers Kansas and Oklahoma, agricultural experts said.

"There were some hail reports but nothing out of the ordinary, just normal isolated hail damage," said Aaron Harries, director of marketing for the Kansas Wheat Commission in Manhattan, Kansas.

The state's wheat crop already had been stressed by drought and freezes, while a blast of unseasonably hot weather last week caused further harm.

"I'm more worried about the hot winds a week ago than the storms this week. I'm in Phillips County now, in northwest Kansas, and the crop looks terrible. Last week's heat really took a toll," said Jim Shroyer, Kansas State University agronomist.

Scouts on an annual tour of the state early this month pegged Kansas wheat production at 313.1 million bushels, down 18 percent from last year due to drought and freeze damage.

Harries said he drove across much of central Kansas on Monday and some wheat there had been blown down by wind, but that was not unusual for wheat nearing full growth and entering or near the heading stage of development.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture late on Monday said 43 percent of the U.S. winter wheat crop had formed heads as of Sunday, up from 29 percent a week earlier but behind the five-year heading pace of 62 percent.

Thirty-one percent of the crop was in good-to-excellent condition, down from 32 percent a week earlier and below the 58 percent good-to-excellent rating of a year ago.

"A lot of the storms included hail and high winds but in the grand scheme of things it's not a large area and won't affect total production that much," said Mark Hodges, head of Plains Grains Inc.

"Wheat blown down by wind will come back up unless the stem was damaged, and the moisture received with the storms was welcomed but it would have been nice if it would have been a little further west," Hodges said.

Persistent drought in the western portion of Oklahoma, especially in the northwest Panhandle region, has slashed production prospects for this year's Oklahoma wheat crop.

A group of crop consultants early this month toured Oklahoma's wheat fields and estimated the production at 85.583 million bushels, about half as much as the 154.8 million produced last year.

An executive of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission said at the time that wheat in the Oklahoma Panhandle was on track to be the worst crop in the last 15 years.

Hodges said the worst wind and hail damage occurred in roughly the southeast portion of the state, not a large wheat acreage region.

"It isn't a large area but it is where some of the best wheat is this year," he said.

(Reporting by Sam Nelson; Editing by Dale Hudson)



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