Warm winter brings early fruit, wheat maturity

This winter’s mild temperatures and the early onset of spring have some North Carolina agriculture crops maturing ahead of schedule. In most cases, the early crop maturity will not be a problem. But a late freeze could signal big problems for some crops.

In 2007, what became known as the “Easter freeze” claimed much of the state’s tree fruit crops, from mountain apples to Sandhills peaches. It also destroyed much of the state’s wheat crop. Though forecasts do not suggest a repeat of that freeze, there are still several weeks remaining before the state will be past the threat of a freeze.

With a bumper crop of more than 800,000 acres of winter wheat in production across the state, the warm winter and early spring have presented some challenges for wheat growers, according to Dr. Randy Weisz, crop science professor and Cooperative Extension small grains specialist.

Wheat is about three weeks ahead of schedule, Weisz says. In some cases, the wheat has begun to develop heads that will flower and become kernels of wheat. “If we had a good hard freeze, we would lose the crop,” Weisz says.

Some growers have mowed the wheat, cutting it to a height of about three inches to prevent it from lodging, or falling over before it matures. If the wheat falls over before maturity, it can be difficult to harvest.

Weisz says that growers also have struggled with when or if they should apply the top-dress nitrogen normally used to increase yields. “But at full growth, nitrogen could damage the crop,” he said. Yet, without the additional nitrogen, the wheat could run out of nitrogen before maturity, and growers would lose yields.

“It’s been a difficult spring for growers to know how to manage their wheat crop,” Weisz said.

Winter wheat is the only wheat grown in the Southeast. In North Carolina, much of the wheat crop is used for animal feed, though some is used in commercial baked goods manufactured here.

Dr. Randy Weisz, 919.515.5824 or randy_weisz@ncsu.edu
N.C. State Small Grains Production

Additional crop experts:
Grapes, Dr. Sara Spayd, sara_spayd@ncsu.edu or 919.513.0772
Blackberries and raspberries, Dr. Gina Fernandez, gina_fernandez@ncsu.edu or 919.513.7416
Fruit trees, Dr. Mike Parker, mike_parker@ncsu.edu or 919.515.1198 and Dr. Steve McArtney, steve_mcartney@ncsu.edu or 828.684.3562
Strawberries, Dr. Jeremy Pattison, jeremy_pattison@ncsu.edu or 704.250.5410
Blueberries, Bill Cline, bill_cline@ncsu.edu or 910.675.2314

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