January 16, 2020

What to Watch for This Winter: Northern Region Edition

Scouting your fields can have a real impact on yield and profit potential for your wheat crop. We spoke with WestBred Technical Product Manager Grant Mehring so he could share what to be looking out for in the northern regions. 

“Farming winter wheat in the Northern Plains of North Dakota, South Dakota and even a few acres in Minnesota comes with an inherent risk of winterkill,” said Grant. “The last field season I went through with considerable and widespread winterkill was the 2017-2018 season.

Here are a few tips to prevent winterkill 

Moist soils insulate far more than dry soils.

“The year 2017 was droughty, but speaking specifically to any 2019 winter wheat that was planted, the saturated moisture conditions should limit any winterkill that could arise due to dry soils,” said Grant.

A well-established plant in the fall with a tiller or two is best for winter survival as there is more root matter to provide nutrients and water to the plant during dormancy.

“Specifically in South Dakota this year, with the extremely late harvest of soybeans due to wet conditions, there is not much wheat that is as advanced as anyone would ideally like because of late planting and a cool fall. Even with this concern, the amount of snowpack across the region is considerable for this time of year and should insulate the relatively delayed wheat plants,” said Grant.


Causes and Concerns for the Northern Region

Hardening-Off Period

 “One issue that does concern me this year, however, is the hardening-off period our winter wheat had,” said Grant. “Wheat likes a gradual, slow decline in temperatures to harden off, go dormant and be ready for the long winter. This year, with our wheat generally late planted, that coincided with a cold snap around November 11, 2019, where air temperature minimums were just below 0 on the North Dakota/South Dakota border. Coupled with no snow cover at this time, our wheat plants did have a period of stress to deal with. I am not sure how cold our 1-inch soil depth got with that cold spell, which would be the real indicator of risk, but bare soil temps stayed above or at 32° Fahrenheit.”

Negative Temperatures

“The second cold snap came around December 9, 2019, where temperatures along the North Dakota/South Dakota border were at -10° Fahrenheit and below for three days, although there was some snow cover at this time broadly speaking. All of this is background to the simple fact that the crown of the winter wheat plant needs to stay alive to have no winterkill. 

When planting depths are 1.5 inches deep, the crown should be about 0.75 inches below the soil surface and in a place to be well insulated with moisture to soften temperature fluctuations and benefit from snow cover throughout the winter,” said Grant.

Final Factor: Winter Weather

“After two winters in a row with an early April blizzard and huge snowfall in South Dakota, that’s the last piece of the puzzle we’ll want to keep an eye on — to see how long and hard the winter was for our winter wheat plants in the ground,” said Grant.


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