Agronomists give practical tips for keeping cereal crops alive throughout the winter, and assessing fields come spring
By Jackie Clark
As we inch through winter, farmers who planted wheat and other cereals in the fall are mindful of how the weather conditions may be affecting their crops in the fields. Ideal conditions for winter cereal include snow cover and moderate-cold temperatures.
“In Southwestern Ontario, the winter weather has been fairly kind on the fall planted cereal crops. With very little snow cover, the rain events that we (received) were able to drain off the land. However, there are still some areas with significant ice buildup which is definitely of concern,” the wheat team at C&M Seeds told Farms.com.
“In the eastern regions of the province, the planted acres are lower due to later soy harvest and memory of widespread winterkill from last year. In most cases, the acres that were planted early look quite good. When conditions were not ideal in October, many growers wisely decided not to plant winter wheat,” the team added.
Adaptation to winter weather can vary by winter cereal species and variety.
“Comparing all winter cereals, winter rye is most hardy to variable winter conditions. There can be slight differences between winter wheat varieties in terms of hardiness but this is usually not a big deciding factor in the fall,” C&M’s wheat team explained.
Winter survival is more dependent on achieving a good stand in the fall and winter weather conditions.
“The best-case for winter weather (moving) forward would be a nice snow cover with little freeze-thaw action. The biggest risk for damaging winter cereals is freeze-thaw events during March and April, and severe ice buildup causing the cereals to suffocate,” the team said.
“If farmers have areas with ice buildup, it is important to find a safe way (if possible) to break the ice layer, allowing oxygen to reach the plants,” they added.
Once spring arrives and the snow has melted, farmers can assess their crops.
Farmers should “look closely at the uniformity of distribution across the field and evaluate overall plant health. Your eyes tend to focus on the poor spots, but it is important to evaluate the whole field, good and poor areas. Have a close eye on heaved plants from freezing and thawing,” the team explained.
Farmers can also “dig up some plants and put them in the window inside the house. (Then, growers can) look for the development of new white roots,” they added.
If their winter cereal crops seem to be developing poorly, producers should carefully consider their options.
Crops may have been “planted late and did not have a good chance to form strong roots last fall. On those fields, many growers have found success with a very early spring application of fertilizer,” the team said.
“As soon as the snow is gone in late March, maybe on a frosty morning, apply a portion of nitrogen and sulphur to the crop. This ‘wake-up’ dose will give the young crop what it needs to move forward when the weather warms up and give the grower more time to evaluate the stand and consider options,” they added.
Growers can discuss specific concerns about winter cereal crops with their agronomists.
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