The coldest air in 20 years is sweeping over the central U.S. and heading toward the East Coast, threatening to crack temperature records and bump energy demand. Freezing weather across the country will damage crops from winter wheat to oranges and is threatening livestock, sending cattle futures to an all-time high. As much as 15% of winter-wheat plants in the Great Plains face damage, reports Kyle Tapley, senior agricultural meteorologist at MDA Weather Services, Gaithersburg, Md.

“There’s concern over what the cold can do to damage the crops,” says Jack Scoville, vice president of Price Futures Group. “Extreme cold has made logistics a huge problem, and there’s some risk in loss of production in both wheat and oranges. The cows and hogs are going to need a whole lot of feed to keep warm.”

Wheat futures on the Chicago Board of Trade climbed by 1.2% on Jan. 6, to $6.1275 a bushel. Most wheat in the southern Great Plains and Midwest has about 1 in. of snow cover that can help to protect the dormant crops, Tapley adds. About 62% of the plants were in good or excellent condition at the end of November, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

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