Is it too early to be thinking about winter kill in wheat??

  • Mar 03
    Chuck Belanger
    Is it too early to be thinking about winter kill in wheat?? By Chuck Belanger on March 3, 2014
    Categories: Tips

    There has been a lot of talk the last week about the potential for winter kill in wheat. Last week’s milder temperatures, the rain and lack of drainage due to frozen soil and snow pack, and the amount of water and ice sitting on the crop is worrying.

    I did a lot of reading on the topic to write this article, and the articles I read agree on one thing - it is still a little too early to tell, and there really is nothing that can be done about it right now.

    The determination of whether a wheat crop will be winter hardy begins way back at planting time.  Planting depth, soil condition, time of planting, early crop development and weather going into dormancy are critical determining factors for the crop’s ability to survive a hard winter.  The amount of snow cover also affects winter survival in wheat.  Good coverage with a blanket of snow is a great insulator for wheat.  We have had good snow cover throughout the whole province. Our biggest issue is the amount of rainfall, the thaw, and the quick freeze afterwards.  Water that is left lying on areas of the field does not allow the wheat to acquire the oxygen necessary for its survival. The formation of ice over the crop, a quick thaw and freeze also creates the concern of heaving.  Heaving will lift the plants out of the soil exposing the roots to freezing conditions.

    It is too early to tell the amount of winter kill, but, the “stars have aligned” for the potential.  If you are really interested in trying to see for yourself and are ambitious, you can grab a shovel and try to dig into the frozen soil.  Remove a good sample of soil and plant, put it in a pail and bring into the house. If the plants respond to the warmth, green should be seen in a few days.  If it is outright dead, the plants will stay brown.  If they are just damaged, they may green up and then slowly revert back to brown.

    My advice for now is to stay warm.  Keep an eye on the crop and do what you can to remove standing water when it occurs.  We will soon know the effects of the hard winter we have seen this season.  Start planning on what your options will be if you have too much winter kill.  In a future article, I will discuss how to determine the percentage of winter kill in your field and help you determine if a replant is necessary.

    Chuck Belanger, Maizex Seeds Yield Specialist, North Essex and South Chatham-Kent Counties
    Twitter: @sprayman63