Pennsylvania Grains: Winterkill and Low Temperatures

    Conditions this winter could be contributing to more potential for winter injury in some of our more tender crops.

    Of our grain crops, winter barley could be most impacted.  Winterkill tends to be worse when temperatures drop below 0 F with minimal snow cover.  We have had several nights in January with temperatures below 0 and often only a light snow cover.  A Cornell study found that winterkill in barley increased with delayed planting and no P fertilization in the fall.  Winterkill can also vary among varieties.

    Winterhardiness is also related to late winter and early spring conditions.  Alternating freezing and thawing conditions can cause heaving and plant mortality.  Plants that are stressed over the winter can succumb to root rots in early spring.

    Often it’s difficult to tell much about winterkill in the middle of the winter, the best time to scout fields for the full effect is just after greenup in the spring.

    Winter wheat usually has enough winter hardiness to tolerate our winter temperatures.  Late planted, shallow seeded, low fertility sites might be at the most risk. Several of our cover crop species could be at risk for winterkill as well.  Those to keep an eye on later this winter would be Crimson Clover and some of the annual ryegrass varieties.

    Plan now to scout in late winter and monitor some of these crops for winterkill and then make changes in your cropping plans for spring if necessary.

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