Threat of ice sheeting to winter wheat

Editor’s note: This article is from the archives of the MSU Crop Advisory Team Alerts. Check the label of any pesticide referenced to ensure your use is included.  

Throughout much of the state, there has been concern over the layer of ice (ice sheeting) that blanketed some of this year’s wheat crop, particularly during early March. Ice sheeting can threaten wheat’s survival by limiting oxygen and, therefore, limiting respiration. It causes the build up of potentially toxic levels of carbon dioxide, ethylene and methanol. Flooding also limits oxygen, so the adverse affect of flooding and ice sheeting can be cumulative.

Despite the significant threat, the resiliency of wheat is often underestimated. This year’s crop probably can survive a few weeks under ice as most fields of wheat went into the winter in good condition. In addition, the crop had the advantage of being in a deep dormancy during early March.

Another factor that can provide relief is old crop residue that interrupts the ice sheet. Also, any fractures or porosity within the ice may allow sufficient gas exchange. For this reason, attempts to mechanically break up the ice sheets can sometimes be helpful.

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 signs of new shoot and root growth emanating from the crown.

By the time this newsletter is published, green-up of wheat will presumably be underway and evidence of winterkill may begin to become apparent. However, a full and reasonably accurate assessment is usually not possible until there is significant new spring growth.

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