Green Wheat in February Pretty, But Not Good

Green Wheat in February Pretty, But Not Good

Moisture use, loss of winter hardiness could spell trouble for the 2011 crop, says extension agronomist from Kansas Wheat.

Wheat is breaking dormancy across Kansas and after the snowfalls of the last month replenished moisture, that means a rapid greening of fields.

But that's not entirely good news.

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. "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.

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