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Kansas winter wheat breaks dormancy amid concerns of potential freeze damage, drought

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WICHITA, Kansas — Winter wheat has broken its dormancy across Kansas amid reports of winterkill from January's subzero cold and little protective snow cover.

The full extent of the freeze damage won't be known until the crop starts growing again this spring, but officials say there's little doubt the crop was affected.

"It is clear that there is definitely damage," said Justin Gilpin, chief executive officer for the Kansas Wheat Commission and Kansas Association of Wheat Growers. "We are hearing reports from various parts of the state — through the central corridor over out to western areas."

He said it is "exasperating" trying to gauge the extent because of the already-dry spring, which makes it difficult to gauge whether to blame freeze damage or the lack of moisture for the bleak crop condition.

"We are not going to know the full extent of winterkill until we actually get a moisture event to get that crop growing and really tell how severe that winterkill is and how widespread it is," Gilpin said.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Monday that less than half of Kansas is reporting adequate soil moisture supplies. Kansas saw little rain over the past week, which led to drier soil moisture levels as winter wheat crop conditions continued to decline.

The agency rated 21 percent of the crop to be in poor to very poor condition. About 46 percent is in fair shape, 31 percent in good shape and 2 percent excellent condition, the agency said. Below-normal temperatures have also slowed wheat development.

Gilpin said he has been surprised by how widespread the reports of winterkill are — from north-central Kansas to south-central Kansas and as far west as Hays.

Clearwater farmer Scott Van Allen already has seen severe freeze damage, with "substantial winterkill" in one 160-acre south-central Kansas field, and less severe damage in other ones.

"I was surprised because this is really the first time I can remember seeing winterkill to this magnitude," said Van Allen, adding he's farmed in the area for 35 years. "I have never seen a whole field take a hit like that."

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