Ice-sheeting and water ponding can damage wheat

Some tips for estimating winter injury to wheat from flooding and ice-sheeting.

While the prospect of wheat survival is a winter-long point of conversation, conclusions are almost always premature for two reasons. First, winter injury most often occurs between late February and early April; secondly, the best evidence of survival (root growth) is not readily seen until early April.

That being said, currently the prospects are good for the majority of Michigan’s wheat thanks to early fall planting and a fairly easy winter. However, there may be some disappointments as water tended to flood and cause ice-sheets in some isolated fields during the past four weeks.

Flooding and ice sheeting can threaten wheat’s survival by limiting respiration and allowing a build-up of toxic gases. The ill effects of flooding and ice-sheeting are similar, and therefore their effects can be cumulative.

As with other causes of winter injury, there is no easy way to accurately predict the extent of crop damage. However, it is possible to gain an indication by collecting whole plant samples from suspected damaged areas. After being indoors for several days, healthy plants should exhibit evidence of new shoot growth and, more importantly, new root growth emanating from the crown.

Otherwise, one could wait until mid-April and dig up suspect plants to look for new roots. These roots are distinctly white in contrast to the old roots. Another method, though less conclusive, is to simply make longitudinal cross-sections of the crown. If the interior tissue is discolored, damage has likely occurred.

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