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Wheat winterkill worries with wavering weather

April 6, 2016

This winter, wheat growing regions experienced inconsistent temperatures and sporadic snow cover. This prompted Syngenta and university extension agronomists to closely monitor the development of winter wheat crops as spring quickly approaches.

Limited snow cover this past winter increases the possibility of winterkill and poor wheat stands this spring. Wheat growers are encouraged to identify winterkill damage and to then employ appropriate follow-up actions. Experts note that it is often difficult to distinguish between the damage from winterkill and damage from other potential problems, including snow mold, barley yellow dwarf virus, salt damage, frost injury or even Pythium.

To manage the effects of winterkill, growers must evaluate the degree of winterkill injury in their wheat and adjust next steps accordingly. Symptoms to observe include:

  • Plants with one or more dead leaves
  • Patches of dead plants in the field
  • Tiller development without accompanying root system growth
  • Wilting, yellow and dying of some leaves after spring green-up

Growers are urged to wait until plants break dormancy and fields begin to green up before finalizing any replanting decisions.

If you happen to have winter wheat, Syngenta agronomists recommend growers test for winterkill as soon as possible after a cold snap. This can be done within the comforts of their own home. To perform the Crown Viability Test, they recommend that growers:

  • Sample 20 to 50 wheat plants and clean them of soil and debris
  • Clip the top off of the plants to about an 1/8-inch
  • Clip the roots to about 1 inch
  • Place in a plastic bag and refrigerate overnight
  • Remove the plant from the refrigerator and monitor over the next 7 to 10 days. If the top shows growth, it survived – if not, it likely experienced winterkill

While peaks and valleys in temperatures and weather conditions can be concerning to wheat growers, patience and careful observation are essential. Before taking drastic action to address suspected winterkill this season, Syngenta cautions growers to carefully gauge the percentage of damage done (injury threshold); strategically select winter hardy varieties going into next season; and pick proper seeding dates based on region and weather conditions to maximize yield and quality potential. Syngenta also encourages growers to take a proactive management approach with their winter and spring wheat crops to capitalize on the profit potential these crops bring to their farms.

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Photos are either the property of Syngenta or used under agreement.