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Cold Weather Could Threaten Winter Wheat in North Dakota

A number of factors can influence the amount of damage that cold weather causes to winter wheat.

The prolonged recent cold weather could be damaging to North Dakota's 370,000 acres of winter wheat, according to a North Dakota State University agronomist for cereal crops.

"Winter wheat was just beginning to turn green and start spring growth prior to this recent cold snap," says Joel Ransom with the NDSU Extension Service. "Winter wheat is most sensitive to subfreezing temperatures just after planting and in the spring after seedlings break dormancy and start spring growth."

A number of factors can influence the amount of damage that cold weather causes to winter wheat, so it is difficult to predict the kind of stand losses to expect. Growth stage is one of those factors.

"While a properly acclimatized winter plant might be able to withstand temperatures as low as minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit in January, it probably will only be able to survive temperatures as low as 5 to 10 degrees in early April, and some varieties that are less winter-hardy may succumb at temperatures as high as 24 degrees," Ransom says. "One advantage we have in North Dakota is that the winter wheat still is very small. Winter wheat in states farther south that is jointing is considerably more sensitive to cold injury than winter wheat in the two- to three-leaf stage that is common for most winter wheat in our state."

In addition to growth stage, the temperature at the crown of the plant is a determining factor in winter wheat survival. Generally, soil temperatures lag behind air temperatures considerably, particularly if the soil is moist. Snow also insulates and protects seedlings from extreme cold.

"Since the crown of winter wheat establishes at about an inch below the soil surface, it is the soil temperature at that depth we are most interested in," Ransom says. "There is little doubt that in most areas of North Dakota that are without snow cover, the soil temperatures at the 1-inch depth have dipped down to potentially damaging levels. Moreover, plants encased in ice for several days in areas of the field where water was ponded will likely not survive.

"Bringing a few plants into a warm shop or house to see if they survived might be a good strategy this spring, given the very small window of opportunity producers are likely to have between when they determine if they will have an adequate stand of winter wheat and the optimum planting date for spring-planted cereals, if replanting is needed. The fact that young leaves froze, turned brown and dried on the tips and edges does not mean the plant is dead. Look for new leaves to emerge from the whorl to determine if the growing point is alive and the plant has survived."


NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Joel Ransom, (701) 231-7405, joel.ransom@ndsu.edu
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, richard.mattern@ndsu.edu
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