Most Indiana Wheat Should Be in Decent Shape Despite Cold

Cold outbreak raises questions about wheat survival.

Published on: Feb 14, 2007

Higher wheat prices and good margins for double-cropping in appropriate double-cropping areas within Indiana brought more interest back to planting wheat last fall. Acreage numbers actually planted were tempered, however, by unsavory fall weather conditions that included enough rain to make planting wheat difficult in many areas until well past prime planting times for wheat.

A fair amount was planted, however, and how it looked heading into winter varied somewhat depending upon when it was planted. Later-planted wheat didn't tend to get as much growth before growing conditions trailed off. Now farmers with wheat in the field are wondering what the cold snap over the past three weeks might do to their potential crop. Shawn Conley, an Extension agronomist at Purdue University and soybean and wheat specialist, has fielded tons of questions recently regarding the potential for wheat injury.

"Most of the wheat in Indiana had sufficient time to harden off prior to the recent extreme cold weather," he said recently in his Web update newsletter, Cool Beans. "So therefore expected stand and yield loss should be minimal."

Wheat can manage temperatures down to minus five to minus ten degrees F before major problems start to show up, he notes. Work in the past by such Purdue Extension agronomists as Jim Newman indicates that snow cover helps make wheat able to withstand lower air temperatures than it could otherwise. Snow can act as an insulating blanket. Many areas of Indiana, especially in southern Indiana, now have snow layers covering wheat and hay fields.

Conley says he would b most concerned about wheat that was planted shallow. That means the crown is close to the soil surface. What that was planted late and has a poor root system may also be subject to winter heaving.

Expect differences in varieties to show up this spring. Some varieties from commercial companies are more adapted to surviving winter weather than others. During periods of relatively mild winters, as seen in Indiana recently, varieties that normally due better farther south tend to move northward, since their susceptibility to harsh winter weather goes unexposed, and isn't as visible when farmers make seed selection decisions.