Much-anticipated snow this winter will bring many benefits to the struggling wheat crop, said Jim Shroyer, K-State Research and Extension crop production specialist. In many ways, snow will be even more beneficial than rain.
The benefits he outlined include:
- Moisture. Obviously, snow brings much-needed moisture to wheat fields. The general rule is 10 inches of snow equals 1 inch of rain, although this varies, depending on how fluffy or heavy the snow is. One of the benefits of getting moisture in the form of snow is that nearly all the moisture will move down into the soil and remain there for quite some time. Since the weather is cold, or at least cool, after a snow, very little of it will evaporate immediately.
- Root development. Moisture from snow will help increase root growth of wheat. Even if the top growth is dormant and isn’t growing during periods of cold weather, roots will continue to grow if there is moisture.
- Soil protection. Snow cover does a great job in keeping the soil from blowing. As long as the ground is protected by snow, soil particles on the surface can’t be picked up by high winds, thus preventing wind erosion for a time.
- Soil temperatures. Snow has an insulating effect on the soil, keeping very cold air temperatures from reducing soil temperatures and protecting the crown of the wheat plant from cold injury. Snow also keeps soils warmer during the winter by adding moisture to the soil. It takes much longer for wet soils to get cold than dry soils.
The best way for a grower to improve the chances of having snow cover is to maintain standing residue on the field, Shroyer added.
“Standing residue is especially effective in capturing and keeping snow, especially when it’s windy. That’s another reason that keeping residue on the soil is important,” he said.