Watch and Wait

Andrea Burns
Ford County Extension Agent

The extremely cold temperatures we just experienced might have many farmers worried about their wheat crop and the potential for winterkill.

However, several factors determine whether the winter wheat will actually survive the winter. The most important factors from the crop’s perspective include proper cold hardening and root system development, as well as the overall crop status in terms of damage from pests.

From an environmental perspective, important factors include air temperature and soil temperatures at the crown level, as well as snow cover and soil moisture content.

The condition of the wheat crop vary across the area, mostly depending on planting date. Some of the fields planted early were able to capitalize on a few more moisture producing events that happened mid -September and those fields were able to attain good stand establishment and early development.

There are a few fields around the area that had a much more limited development in the fall both in terms of tillers and root, contributing to a combination of a late emergence and cool, dry weather conditions. Thus, fields in this condition will have been more exposed to the potential consequences of the cold temperatures.

Air and soil temperatures can also have effects on the crop, varying from leaf burn to the more severe winterkill. Other environmental factors that affect the crop’s response to these cold temperatures are soil moisture content and snow cover.

So, what should producers be looking for? The next 4-6 weeks will be crucial to determine the recovery potential of the crop. There is nothing to do at the moment but wait until green-up for further evaluation of the crop.

As wheat green-up progresses, any winter injury will become more apparent. Be aware that injured wheat may initially green up, then go backwards.

For more information, contact the Ford County Extension Office.