A mild winter and a wet and warm start to spring had many U.S. wheat industry players predicting a bountiful summer harvest.
But that changed over the weekend when unseasonable freezing temperatures blanketed the U.S. Plains and Midwest winter wheat growing areas, killing off some of the rapidly maturing plants.
"Before this happened we were looking at a really big, big crop. Now we're not going to have that," said Kansas Association of Wheat Growers-Kansas Wheat Commission spokesman Aaron Harries.
Kansas is the largest U.S. wheat producer, with an estimated 10.3 million acres planted to winter wheat this season, 23 percent of the country's total.
The frigid air that swept through the nation's midsection also blasted the next two largest winter wheat-growing states of Oklahoma and Texas, with more than 12 million planted acres of wheat combined. Temperatures slid from the balmy 70s and 80s (degrees Fahrenheit) in mid-March to below 20 degrees over the weekend.
Lows ranged from 17 to 26 degrees Fahrenheit in Kansas, 24 to 31 F in the Texas Panhandle, 26 to 35 F in Oklahoma and 29 to 35 in north-central Texas, according to forecaster Joel Burgio with DTN Meteorlogix weather service.
There was some talk about farmers tearing up damaged wheat fields in time to plant corn, which is in high demand amid competition between ethanol, livestock feed and food sectors.
Emerson Nafziger, extension agronomist at the University of Illinois, says winter wheat in southern Illinois was hit hard by the freeze and he expects farmers to give up on their wheat.
"I think it's going to be bad. In a lot of cases, there's little chance the crop will come back. I think a fair amount of wheat will be planted to another crop."