Unstable weather patterns take toll on winter wheat

Unpredictable weather may have negative effects on Kansas winter wheat, while open field conditions, gradually falling soil temperatures and a minimal snow cover can all be beneficial to the crop's survival. 

Winter hardness, the process of preparing the young wheat plant for the cold temperatures, is imperative to the survival of the crop. During the first month or so after planting, seedlings need to store up energy through a minimum of four to five leaves and one or two tillers before the onset of winter. The winter wheat will resist the cold so long as temperatures at the crown remain below freezing, but risk dying if temperatures are in the single digits for a prolonged amount of time.

Plants going into winter without a significant root system risk the chance of being poorly developed; this could be from a variety of causes from dry soil to very low pH or insect damage. Winterkill is possible at the crown level if temperatures fall into single digits without at least an inch of snow cover, as the snow cover insulates the plants from the cold. Winterkill can be identified by early green up of plants in early spring, and wheat can suffer from cold and dry soil.

The Hessian fly can also kill winter wheat plants, despite the fact that they are more likely to do so in the spring. The larvae or pupae of the Hessian fly can be identified on the dead tillers of plants. 

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