Content ID

44938

Plains HRW wheat greening up early

As a wheat farmer, Jay Cook says it's good to see sprouts emerging from his fields near Garden City, Kansas. He would have preferred, however, to see them shortly after he planted his wheat last October.

"I have a six-foot profile of moisture under the seeded wheat, so I don't think moisture will be a problem. But a poor stand and not enough tillers will limit the yield," says Cook, a member of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers board of directors. Cook surveyed his fields February 16, after the frost has left the ground and wheat has broken dormancy.

That the 2011 wheat crop is emerging from a cold winter's nap this early in the year is a bit of a concern, says Jim Shroyer, agronomy state leader with K-State Research and Extension.

"In many areas of Kansas, wheat has greened up and can no longer be considered dormant," Shroyer says in a report from Kansas Wheat. "Some growth may be taking place, especially where moisture conditions are good and daytime highs have been in the 60s or 70s."

That may make wheat look good for this time of year, but it would be much better if temperatures were colder, he adds. For several reasons, record-high temperatures in winter are not good for wheat.Plants growing at this time of year use valuable soil moisture. Where topsoil is dry, this puts added stress on wheat plants. Even where topsoil moisture is adequate, it would be better used later in the growing season.In addition, plants will have lost some of their winter-hardiness, he said.

This won't be a problem if the weather never turns extremely cold again this winter or if temperatures cool down gradually, so the plants can regain some of their winter-hardiness. If the wheat is green and growing, however, and temperatures suddenly go from unusually warm to extremely cold, either winterkill or spring freeze injury could occur.Warm weather in January and February could spark insect and disease problems earlier than normal.

Army cutworms are sometimes a problem in wheat fields during February and March. Other early-spring insects to watch include winter grain mites and greenbugs, Shroyer points out. Early-season diseases include powdery mildew and tan spot.

"One factor that is not a concern is vernalization," he says. "The vernalization requirement of winter wheat is more of a 'cool' requirement than a 'cold' requirement. Varieties have different vernalization requirements, but so long as there are three to five weeks in which the air temperature is below 48 degrees, that's enough to vernalize any of the current winter wheat varieties commonly grown in Kansas. We've already had that."

Shroyer suggests farmers watch their wheat crops for insects, diseases, and the weather in February and March. The longer temperatures remain above normal, the less winter-hardiness wheat will have and the more susceptible it will be to a sudden temperature drop to the single digits or below.

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