Extreme weather could hurt winter wheat crop

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The extreme changes in temperature that Indiana has been experiencing are the biggest concern wheat producers have for the development of their crop this season, a Purdue Extension agronomist says.

Temperatures in recent weeks have risen to between 50 and 60 degrees and then dropped to single digits.

“The cycling of cold to warm temperatures is a great recipe for freezing, thawing and winter heaving,” Shaun Casteel said.

Winter heaving occurs when moisture in the soil expands as it freezes and then contracts as the ice thaws. The soil gets pushed up and down, shoving young plants higher out of the ground and exposing roots. The plants’ lack of access to soil moisture and soil contact could result in stand loss, Casteel said.

Another weather concern is that there has been little snow to protect wheat from extreme cold.

“A lot of wheat fields no longer have a blanket of snow for insulation, and they’re exposed to the cold weather,” Casteel said. “That’s going to cause some potential leaf burning.”

But beyond temperature fluctuations, he said farmers should expect a fairly normal growing season.

Most wheat planted after corn will have good growth and tillering because there was extra nitrogen left in the ground from drought-stressed corn that couldn’t take up normal amounts of the nutrient, Casteel said. Nitrogen helps improve tiller numbers and yields.

Wheat planted after soybean was aided by rainfall late last fall.

Even with the extra nitrogen and late-fall rains, producers still need to inspect wheat fields in the spring.

“We’re at a point that here in a month or two we can start checking on wheat fields and assess what we have,” Casteel said.

If producers suspect their fields might have stand loss, they can begin to adjust the rate of nitrogen application.

“Farmers might be looking at a split application of nitrogen, some to help with the early green-up and tillering and some for the normal top dressing later,” Casteel said.


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