WOOSTER, Ohio -- Ohio's unseasonably mild winter could cause problems for the wheat crop once it breaks dormancy, especially if the season seesaws from snowy to warmer conditions during green-up.
Pierce Paul, an Ohio State University plant pathologist with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, said that standing water in fields, either from rains or freezing and thawing of snow, could impact plant health.
"Standing water in fields is less of a problem during winter because the plant is still dormant. There is little or no metabolic activity, so the need to take up nutrients is not much of an issue," said Paul, who also holds an Ohio State University Extension appointment. "But once it starts warming up and dormancy is broken, it becomes an issue because the oxygen supply to the plant is greatly reduced."
Standing water in fields during green-up also favors root and stem rots, said Paul.
"As it starts warming up with moist fields and standing water, pathogens like Pythium can cause stand disease problems," he said. "We'll keep an eye on this as the season progresses."
Heaving could also be an issue when the wheat crop breaks dormancy. Heaving occurs when the soil goes through cycles of freezing and thawing, pushing the crowns and roots to the soil surface. The result is water stress and eventual plant death.
"The deceptive thing that happens with heaving is that fields can look good even after greening up, but then those plants that are heaved start regressing in growth. They turn yellow and die off," said Paul.
Wheat normally begins to break dormancy anywhere from late February in southern Ohio to mid-March for northern varieties. Paul said that the possibility exists for plants to begin green-up sooner than that if current weather conditions continue, especially if warmer temperatures occur both during the day and night.