This past fall, most of our wheat was planted at the recommended time due to early soybean harvest, however, dry conditions in late fall and early winter prevented adequate growth and tiller development going into to dormancy, says Pierce Paul, Ohio State University agronomist. This could potentially result is higher-than-usual winter kill and poor stands.
“So, some growers are understandably concerned about this year’s wheat crop,” says Paul. “However, it is still too early to tell what will happen to this year’s crop. One positive is the fact that the crop has had very good snow cover during most of the winter. What happens over the next few months or so will be critical.
“Rapid and repeated freezing and thawing could cause heaving and damage to the crop, but a more gradual transition could see the crop going into the spring in decent shape. Tillering will resume in the spike, making up for poor fall growth. So, we will have to observe the weather and the crop over the next few months before making an assessment.”
Paul says questions have been raised about the effects of ice on the crop in areas where the snow has melted and the water later becomes frozen. “Being a cold-season grass, the wheat plant can tolerate fairly harsh weather conditions,” he says. “It is programmed for this by keeping the growing point (the crown) below the ground until conditions are warm in the spring. However, extremely cold conditions could still cause damage to the plant.
“Once the leaves are hardened (which occurs in the fall), they can tolerate temperatures between 0° and 10° F. Younger leaves are more tolerant to cold conditions than older leaves. Roots may be killed by temperatures between 23° and 26° F, but these are usually protected from such temperature by being below the soil line. The plant is only killed outright by low temperatures if the crown is damaged. So, essentially, unless the crown is killed, the plant will survive freezing conditions.”
Paul says that for varieties adapted to cold conditions, the crown can withstand temperatures as low as -9° to -11° F. The existing snow cover will provide the necessary insulation to prevent temperatures capable of killing the crown. “Since most of our wheat was able to harden in the fall before the snow cover, the crown is less vulnerable to damages if the snow melts and extremely cold temperatures occur shortly after.”