All the snow cover left on the ground from early winter snowfall actually protects crops from the recent frigid temperatures.
K-State agronomy professor Jim Shroyer said that snow cover decreases the risk of damage to winter wheat in the extreme conditions the area has seen in the last few weeks.
According to Shroyer, wheat stalks are most resistant to winter conditions from mid-December to mid-January. They are more able to tolerate the cold temperatures, but they can still be damaged.
“Time will tell,” Shroyer said. “We’ll know in the next couple of months.”
Shroyer said the two biggest factors in wheat survival are moisture level in the soil and the amount of snow cover.
Dry soil cools faster, and the colder soil will damage the wheat more quickly than moist soil. Snow also influences the temperature of the ground.
“Snow acts as great insulation during the cold,” he said.
On Jan. 6, for example, when the area was emerging from an extreme cold snap, soil temperatures in Republic County were about 9 degrees. Temperatures further west in Colby and Garden City were in the mid to upper 20s, Shroyer said.
Therefore, conditions out west were less likely to damage the crop.
When the temperature in the top two inches of soil drops below the 10 to 12 degree range, Shroyer said, it becomes dangerous to the plant.
“When it gets to the single digits, you’re guaranteed to have some level of damage,” he said.
Winter damage can cause two critical problems in wheat crops. Either it will kill the plant or it can weaken it to the point where it’s vulnerable to disease — such as root rot.
And there is still some potential for damage as the winter continues. As days get longer and temperature begins to fluctuate more throughout the day, the crop just becomes more vulnerable.
If wheat has already been damaged, there is nothing growers can do to help it recover through the rest of the remaining cold months.
“It could cause some serious damage,” Shroyer said. “It all depends on snow cover and moist soils.”