The Drought Monitor is mostly unchanged this week. Our area is still abnormally dry. The areas to our north and west are still in drought conditions. However, the areas to our south and southeast are pretty much out of drought. The moisture this past week helped but likely did little to change our soil moisture status. The six to ten-day outlook (Feb. 3 to 7) indicates below normal temperatures and a strong chance of above normal precipitation but remember normal isn’t much. The eight to 14 day outlook (Feb. 5 to 11) indicates a strong chance of below normal temperatures and normal precipitation. If these temperature predictions hold up we are looking at wheat slowly resuming growth.
No one was too thrilled with the slushy freezing rain followed by snow and cold temperatures this past week, however, winter in all its splendor is actually a boon to agriculture here. Here’s how:
• The freezing rain followed by snow insulated and protected the above ground wheat growth from the extreme cold and served as an insulating layer for the root system and growing point located under the soil surface. And as this melts it slowly infiltrates into the soil. Some producers had started to top dress their wheat with nitrogen before this precipitation and are thrilled since as it melts, it will move the nitrogen into the soil for the crop.
• A period of “true” winter has benefits for our area, both short and long-term. And as climate change occurs, overall our winters are becoming milder.
• Many insect pests overwinter in various stages of their life cycle from egg to pupa to adult. Extended cold weather, while not totally eliminating insect pests, serves to decrease numbers. Also having a traditional winter through February and into March also serves to slow their growth and development. This helps wheat and alfalfa to have a head start on these pests. And certain pests can’t overwinter here so they must move in from the south.
• Disease pressure would also be greater, especially for wheat, without a winter. Some diseases such as many rust species can’t survive our winters and so, much like insects, must move in from the south and east. If you compare the disease and insect pressure for similar crops between here and the south and southeast, out pressure is typically much lower.
• During winter, moisture plus the action of freezing and thawing, serve to help break up soil structure from the expansion of water as it freezes. This serves aid in increasing porosity and therefore infiltration.
Finally, there are certainly negatives we are all familiar with winter, especially during cold dry winters for winter wheat and winter kill. And cattle producers are well aware of the problems severe winter weather causes for their herd and especially during calving season.
Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.