OREANDA-NEWS. US winter wheat conditions were seen steady to lower after a bitterly cold February stressed the dormant crop from Kansas to Illinois, analysts and meteorologists said on Monday before several states released their monthly crop reports.

"Crop conditions may be a little worse including the central Midwest because of the winterkill they've had," said Don Keeney, senior agricultural meteorologist with MDA Weather Service.

Last month was among the coldest Februaries on record in the United States, with series of sub-zero temperatures across the Plains and central Midwest. Dormant wheat, unprotected by snow cover, is vulnerable to winterkill when temperatures dip below zero Fahrenheit (-18 Celsius) for several hours. The damage can prevent the crop from reaching its full yield potential this spring and summer.

The Plains hard red winter wheat states of Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas, as well as Illinois, a soft red wheat producer, are among the states to release their monthly crop reports on Monday afternoon.

"The Plains hard red winter wheat has not had as tough of a winter as the soft wheat areas in the Midwest," said Drew Lerner, head of World Weather Inc.

The Midwest was the chilliest last month. In Illinois, for instance, the average temperature was 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit (-11.4 Celsius) below normal, making it the seventh coldest February on record, according to the state climatologist.

But the Plains states have been stressed by drought, including top HRW wheat states of Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma, meteorologists said. The condition of the hard red crop had deteriorated in January due to dryness.

Areas of the Plains wheat belt continue to struggle with drought including north central Oklahoma and south central Kansas, the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor said in latest weekly report. http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

Rich Nelson, with farm advisory Allendale, said the sharp fluctuation in temperatures during February likely stressed the crop and cut ratings.

As an example, in Dodge City, Kansas, temperatures from Feb. 1-14 were 33 percent above normal, while they were 24 percent below normal from Feb. 15-28, Nelson said.

The chilly temperatures was also delaying fieldwork and corn planting in the southern states and the Mississippi Delta, meteorologists said.