Winter wheat benefits from winter’s snows

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Farm Forum

Corn and soybeans, two major crops in South Dakota are warm season crops and depending on the growth stage, these crops can have significant detrimental effects from untimely snow and cold temperatures. However, another major S.D. crop wheat can markedly benefit from the snow falling through the winter.

Winter wheat seeded in the fall germinates, grows roots, and gets well established before going dormant during the hard winters of the Northern Plains.

Plant tissues if exposed consistently to sub-zero temperatures can be even damaged permanently. Even though snow that comes with the onset of cool temperatures could be a nuisance for number of daily activities we carry out, it can actually benefit winter wheat crop to a great deal. Snow has two distinct benefits on winter wheat- i) provide insulation for the young plants protecting them from fluctuation in air temperatures, and ii) provide soil moisture in the spring when snow melts.

Although genetics plays a good role for winter wheat’s ability to tolerate cooler temperatures, but not having enough snow cover can impose a risk to any types of varieties planted, especially when temperatures consistently goes below zero.

Another weather factor that can be damaging to winter wheat crops is freeze-thaw during the winter time. Last year, multiple days in January with above freezing temperatures caused permanent damage to some winter wheat fields.

Low temperatures following thaw periods can cause ice accumulation on the soil surface and in some cases even lift ‘crown’ or the growing point of the plant above the ground making it more susceptible to winter kill.

Depending on the overall winter temperatures, three to six inches of snow cover can help to a great extent for winter wheat survival during the winters. Snow covered winter wheat fields generally shows better crop stand in the spring.

Wheat is a major field crop in S.D. In 2015 fall, more than one million acres of winter wheat is planted. Another type of wheat which is spring seeded or spring wheat can also benefit from melted snow as soil moisture is a critical factor in germination and early establishment.

South Dakota is a unique wheat growing state in the U.S. as both types are grown in almost equal proportion.