Potential sudden cold could hurt growing winter crops

Test fields at the Estonian Crop Research Institute just outside of Jõgeva. January 2020.
Test fields at the Estonian Crop Research Institute just outside of Jõgeva. January 2020. Source: Olev Kenk/ERR

Fields of winter crops are growing as though it were spring. While the plants are currently healthy and in good shape, the situation could change very quickly if winter remains snowless but it should suddenly get cold.

Järva County farmer Raido Allsaar told ETV news broadcast "Aktuaalne kaamera" that looking at his fields, you would think it were early April and it was time to start spring work in the field. He is pleased about the way his winter rye and winter rapeseed fields look, as the growing crops are healthy and beautiful.

"We haven't really had much of a winter, but thankfully [the crops] have endured this quantity of water quite well, and now we just have to hope that this rain will let up at some point and that it doesn't ruin actual spring now either," Allsaar said.

"I've noticed that we have had very windy weather over the past two months, and should the cold come together with wind, then it can do quite a lot of damage," he added.

Researchers at the Estonian Crop Research Institute just outside of Jõgeva are keeping a close eye on how winter wheat, rapeseed and turnip rape are growing. Breeding fields are as green as they are in early spring, and while it makes for a lovely sight, it is also cause for concern.

"If it gets very cold now, then the cold can kill the leaves," explained Reine Koppel, a winter wheat breeder at the Crop Research Institute. "If the node remains, the plant will survive; the node is located in the soil. But if snow falls before it gets cold, then the snow acts like a warm blanket that protects the plants from the cold."

The catch, Koppel added, is that if snow falls on warm ground, that could also lead to Fusarium wilt, a wilt fungal disease that could affect crops.

Lea Narits, a leguminous vegetable and oil crop breeder at the institute, said that as things currently stand, Estonia is looking at a very good harvest, however winter is still only halfway over. Spring, she added, is what can have the most devastating effects on oil crops.

"When you have overnight freezing temperatures and daytime melt, the soil shifts, and that tears up  crops' roots," Narits explained. "It may also be the case that one day your field looks very beautiful, and three days later your plants are dead. Spring still lies ahead."


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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