Snow is Poor Man’s Fertilizer
Winter has settled in for a long nap. Fortunately for us in the Mid-Atlantic, we typically only deal with this for a couple months each year. I recently heard the town of Ithaca, New York posted on its website to visit Bermuda instead of Ithaca. I don’t want to fall into a defeatist mind set so I will choose to look at our frozen landscape knowing that good things happen to soil with snow cover. I found an article reminding me of the benefits of snow to soil and winter wheat. The article was written by Steve Watson at Kansas State Research Extension based on an interview with crop specialist Jim Shroyer, also from Kansas State Research Extension.
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 is not growing during periods of cold weather, roots will continue to grow if there is moisture.
Soil Protection – Snow cover does a great job of 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.
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 adds. “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.”
This gives us all something to consider as we walk from our trucks to the office or barn while our face and ears burn in the chilling wind. It will only be a few more days of bitter cold, and in the meantime good things are happening in the field.
If you are looking for a warm cup of coffee, pastries and valuable information about trends in agriculture we have the place for you to be on March 5th at 8am. Join us for our 2nd Annual Ag Forum in East New Market for this informative event. Speakers from Perdue Agribusiness, Willard, Garey Ag Solutions, and Allendale, Inc. will each share their insights for trends they are tracking in 2015.