Is Manitoba’s Winter Wheat Crop Set Up to Survive Winter?

The most common question I receive over the winter months related to winter wheat production is “How is the cold weather/warm weather/lack of snow impacting my winter wheat?” Unfortunately, there are no easy answers over the winter months as we typically have to wait until spring when winter wheat breaks dormancy and stand establishment is known.

However, there can be a few key factors during fall establishment and weather conditions over the winter months that can provide guidance in terms of assessing weather and its impact to Manitoba’s winter wheat prior to the crop actively resuming growth next spring.

First step: record crop condition prior to winter. The crop stage and health/vigour of the crop as it heads into winter will provide an indication if the crop has a high chance of surviving the winter with minimal winterkill or winter injury. Ideally plants should be at the 3 leaf to 1 tiller stage and have well-developed crown tissue (and of course established into adequate standing stubble to ensure snow catch). And remember, the stage of crop development in the fall influences not only winter survival, but also yield potential, crop competitiveness, maturity and the risk of infection with diseases such as rust and fusarium head blight.

Second step: note the weather after seeding and prior to winter. Cool conditions in the fall where plants grow for 4 to 5 weeks, followed by 4 to 8 weeks (October to November) of growth that allow plant to acclimate and vernalize, is the ideal situation (relates back to an optimum seeding date of the first couple weeks of September). Read more about cold acclimation and vernalization here: http://cropchatter.com/winter-wheat-survival-impacted-by-fall-management-decisions-the-weather/. Another key weather factor is open field conditions with little or no snow cover until freeze-up as this allows soil temperatures to gradually decline to freezing levels.

If your winter wheat crop and the fall weather met the above conditions, your crop is likely well-positioned to survive Manitoba’s winter.

Third step: record any weather stresses over the winter months. In the fall, winter wheat producers can take all the necessary steps to set their crop up to survive winter with minimal winterkill or injury. However, it is often the winter/early spring weather in Manitoba that can impact winter survival.  Producers should take notes of cold snaps (how long they lasted, when did they occur) and the snow cover during those events to gauge potential impact to their winter wheat crop.

Regardless of the amount of cold acclimation, we typically need to receive good snow cover to protect the crop from the sustained cold temperatures normally seen in January and February in Manitoba. The ideal situation would be a minimum of 4 inches of trapped snow cover through December to early March to buffer soil temperature changes and provide protection to the crown tissue.

To assist with recording any soil temperature stresses, there is real-time monitoring of soil temperatures in the four winter wheat fields across Manitoba (see http://cropchatter.com/monitoring-real-time-soil-temperatures-in-manitoba-winter-wheat-fields/). The data will also be made available in the near future to the Winter Cereal Survival Model website at https://www.wheatworkers.ca/wcsm.php which can provide additional information on potential injury due to cold soil temperatures.

Submitted by:  Pam de Rocquigny, Provincial Cereal Crops Specialist, Manitoba Agriculture

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