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An alfalfa field stretches across the landscape 10 miles north of Platte Tuesday. Recent cold temperatures could mean trouble for alfalfa and winter wheat fields that have started to sprout. (Chris Huber/Republic)

Freezing temps threaten plants

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Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

With cold air and freezing temperatures descending on much of the Mitchell region in recent nights, concerns have arisen about crops planted during an unseasonably warm spring.

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Overnight and early morning temperatures in the Mitchell area have been below freezing since Sunday, and the National Weather Service expected a low of 24 degrees Tuesday night with frost developing Wednesday morning.

Meteorologist Chris Jansen, of the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls, said the recent colder temperatures are not unusual for the first 10 days of April, even after an unusually warm March.

What impact the cold temperatures will have on recently planted crops is still uncertain, said Mitchell-based South Dakota State University Extension Field Specialist Jim Krantz.

"If we get these temperatures again next week, we'll have to take a hard look at winter wheat, because there could be some damage there," Krantz said.

The weather service forecasts low temperatures in Mitchell warming later this week to well above freezing.

Krantz said winter wheat and alfalfa are likely the only crops affected by the cold spell.

"It all depends on where you're at, how cold it got and where your crops are in the growing process," he said.

While it's possible some winter wheat growth was temporarily stunted, it is unlikely to affect yields, Krantz said.

"We all know the calendar still says it's the first week of April, so we know we can get temperatures like this," he said.

Krantz said the colder temperatures may hurt some early blooming trees and could impact the production of some fruit trees, but even under these conditions, he does not expect much of a problem.

The weather service has recorded only trace amounts of precipitation in the Mitchell area in April, but is forecasting showers and possible thunderstorms for Thursday and Friday.

Krantz said it's still too early in the growing season to be seriously concerned about the lack of moisture.

"Right now, it's more of a discussion topic than it is a real worry," he said.

But Krantz warned if the trend continues another few weeks, it could have a serious impact on growers.

"Dry and cold is probably the worst combination we can get," he said.

The South Dakota Weekly Crop Weather Report issued Monday by the National Agricultural Statistics Service said only 2 percent of the topsoil in the state has surplus moisture, compared to 43 percent at this time last year.

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