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Assessing frost damage in newly planted small grains

Newly planted small grains

PACIFIC SOUTHWEST: Here in the valley, most of the small grains have been planted with only a few acres left to be sown. In the past few years, we’ve had rather mild early winters with low temperatures that don’t reach freezing until the later months of January and February. This year, however, we’ve had a period of what we call “hard freezes,” where the temperature not only reaches below 32 degrees but stays there for long periods of time. It only warms up when the sun is out during the day, and even then, the high may only reach 50 degrees before it goes below freezing again for several hours in the night and early morning.

This prolonged freezing for several days in a row can really damage plants that are not dormant and still have succulent, green tissue, like small grains. We’ve seen more than the usual amount of freeze damage for this time of year, especially in fields with dry topsoil, and growers are starting to worry their stands will be compromised.

This has begun talks of over seeding by air or crop destruction to start over anew. I have cautioned against this and recommend giving the crop some time, usually a week or two, to recover and then assess the total damage. Small grains, while very tender and fragile, can take some abuse to the foliage and still survive, experiencing no reduction in yield. This is due to the growing point being at or below ground level where the soil acts as an insulator. If this growing point, called the basal meristem, is not damaged, the small grain plant can often regrow and any yield loss experienced should cause much less of a financial impact than the cost of reseeding or replanting the entire field.

In some extreme cases, the entire plant does die. If this is widespread in your fields, you may want to consider the options mentioned above.

All photos are the property of Syngenta unless otherwise noted.

Reporting from Hanford, CA

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