Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Problem With Wheat

The wheat crop never gets a break.  If the weather doesn't kill it, the farmers' minds will make sure the weather kills it.
Farmers all have a self defense mechanism which re-inforces the instinct to not count the bushels until they are in the bin.  With the wheat crop this mechanism goes into overdrive.  When you plant a crop in October and harvest it in August there is too much time to worry about what can go wrong.
Every winter I get asked many times about the impact of the weather on the crop.  There can be too much snow, not enough snow, too cold, too warm, too wet or too dry.  Every time, every year I give the same answer.  RELAX, the wheat will be fine. It doesn't matter because the wheat plant does not watch the weather forecast like we do.  The wheat plant does not care.  The only exception to this rule is severe icing, which strangles the plant, and that is a rare event in these parts.
This year the concern is the lack of snow and temperature fluctuations.  A typical question is "Isn't this weather hard on the wheat?"
The answer is absolutely not.  The wheat plant goes dormant in December and stays that way until March.  Winter wheat can stand temperatures from -9 to -25 degrees at the crown of the plant and still survive easily.  The crown is the home of the growing point.
Where is the crown?  If you plant at 1.5 inches deep, the crown will be 1 inch deep.  I know there have been a few frosty mornings, but there is no way the soil temperature came close to -9 at the 1 inch depth.
It takes a week of -10 to -15 degrees to drive soil temps to the dangerous level if there is no snow.  If there is snow it will never get that cold at the crown. 
"But won't the freezing and thawing pull the plant out of the ground?"  No.  The amount of freeze thaw action has been very minor.  A wheat plant anchored in the ground is not susceptible to heaving injury. 
So the next time you start to worry about the wheat crop, remember one thing.  The wheat crop is not worrying about you.

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