Winter wheat needs proper snow cover to act as insulation
By Diego Flammini
The weather from now until the end of February could be crucial for Alberta’s winter wheat crop, according to Harry Brook, a crop specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.
The crown of the crop is about two inches below the soil, Brook said, and that part of the plant needs the most protection from environmental changes.
“The soil can buffer quick and sudden changes of temperature,” he told Farms.com today. “But if we get temperatures into the plus side of the thermometer without any snow cover, the weather will start warming up the soil.”
Much of Alberta is currently under an extreme cold warning and some areas are experiencing temperatures of -26 C. But by the middle of next week, the mercury could rise in some communities to 2 or 3 C.
If that happens, the wheat may start to break dormancy. Temperatures are forecasted to return below freezing by next weekend, which could severely damage the winter wheat.
“If we get hit with another cold spell, you could kill the crop,” Brook said. “The plant basically has its maximum acclamation to cold weather by late December. If the weather can stay below zero until some time in March, you’re good to go.”
Unfortunately, farmers cannot do much to protect their crop at this time of year.
Rather, these decisions had to be made in the summer or early fall, when winter temperatures would have been difficult to predict.
“There are some winter wheat varieties that do better in the cold weather than others,” Brook said. “But they would’ve had to make those decisions in August or September. Now the farmers are really at Mother Nature’s mercy.”