a field of winter wheat with frost on the leaves

At What Temperature Do Farm Crops Stop Growing During Winter?

Understanding the temperature thresholds at which agricultural crops cease growth during winter is crucial for farmers. This knowledge is vital for planning and managing crop cycles, particularly in regions with cold winters. Although the UK does not have extremely low winter temperatures, it does experience frost. This article explores the various temperature points at which different types of farm crops stop growing and eventually die in winter.

Temperature Thresholds for Common Crops

Winter Wheat

Winter wheat is exceptionally hardy and can generally withstand very low temperatures, tolerating temperatures down to -15°C especially when insulated by snow cover, before it risks death of the plant. The University of Minnesota Extension highlights this information in their winter-hardy wheat varieties article.

A field of winter wheat sown in October 2023

However, survival at these extreme temperatures can vary based on several factors:

  1. Varietal Differences: Different varieties of winter wheat have varying levels of cold tolerance. Some are bred specifically for resilience in extremely cold climates.
  2. Acclimation: Wheat’s ability to survive low temperatures is influenced by its acclimation process. If the plant has had time to properly harden off before the onset of extreme cold, it’s more likely to survive.
  3. Snow Cover: A snow blanket can provide significant insulation and protection against extreme cold temperatures. In some cases, wheat can survive temperatures as low as -15°C or even lower when adequately covered by snow.
  4. Duration of Cold: The duration of the extreme cold also plays a role. Short periods of such low temperatures might be survivable, but prolonged exposure can be more damaging.
  5. Soil Conditions: Soil moisture and overall health can also affect the plant’s ability to withstand cold. Well-drained, healthy soil may provide better conditions for survival.

It’s important to note that while winter wheat can survive extreme cold, prolonged exposure to temperatures below -15°C, especially without protective snow cover, increases the risk of damage or death to the plant.

Winter Barley

  • Winter barley generally has lower cold tolerance compared to winter wheat. It can typically withstand temperatures down to about -12°C with adequate snow cover. However, it’s more sensitive to freeze-thaw cycles, particularly in spring.
  • The variety of barley plays a crucial role in its cold tolerance, with some cultivars being more resistant to cold stress.
  • Like wheat, adequate snow cover can help protect winter barley from extreme cold temperatures. Without this insulation, the risk of damage increases significantly.
  • The duration of exposure to extreme cold and the condition of the soil also affects the survival of winter barley during winter months.

Winter Oats

  • Winter oats are less cold-tolerant than wheat and barley. They can survive temperatures just above freezing but are prone to damage in prolonged cold spells below 0°C.
  • The ability of winter oats to withstand cold weather depends heavily on the variety and the conditions under which they have been acclimatized.
  • In the absence of protective snow cover, winter oats are more susceptible to damage from low temperatures, especially in prolonged cold periods.
  • The overall health and condition of the soil, including moisture levels, can also impact the cold tolerance of winter oats.

Winter oats are less hardy than wheat and barley. They can grow at temperatures just above freezing but face challenges in prolonged cold spells below 0°C. Their growth rate decreases as the temperature approaches freezing, impacting overall yield and health.

Swedes (Rutabaga)

  • Swedes are robust in cold weather and can grow in temperatures as low as -4°C. However, their growth significantly slows as temperatures approach this lower threshold.
  • The resilience of swedes to cold temperatures can vary based on the cultivar and the specific conditions of their growth, including soil health and moisture.
  • Prolonged exposure to temperatures significantly below -4°C, especially without snow cover, can lead to damage or death of swede plants.
  • The preparation and maintenance of the soil, including ensuring adequate nutrients and structure, are important for the winter survival of swedes.
Swedes are hardy winter vegetables.

Swedes can grow in temperatures as low as -4°C, although their growth rate slows as temperatures approach this threshold. They are hardy vegetables but require protection against prolonged cold spells to prevent damage.

Vegetable Crops

Different vegetable crops have varied tolerance levels. Root vegetables like carrots can often continue to grow in temperatures slightly below freezing, especially if protected with straw. However, most leafy vegetables and less hardy crops will stop growing as temperatures approach 0°C.

For each of these crops, understanding the specific variety, soil conditions, and environmental factors such as snow cover is crucial in predicting and enhancing their survival and growth during the cold winter months.

Factors Influencing Growth/Death in Cold Weather

  • Soil Temperature and Moisture: These are crucial for crop survival in winter. Well-drained soils can prevent damage from frost heave and provide a more stable environment for root systems.
  • Snow Cover: Snow can act as an insulation layer, protecting the crops from severe cold. This is particularly beneficial for crops like winter wheat and barley, which can endure lower temperatures under snow.
  • Microclimates: These local variations in climate can significantly influence crop responses to low temperatures. Sheltered areas or south-facing slopes may offer more favourable conditions for growth.

Farm Practices for Cold Weather Survival

Strategic crop selection, optimal planting times, soil management, pest and disease control, and the use of cover crops and mulching are key strategies for farmers to protect their crops and ensure productivity during the colder months.

Temperature thresholds for crop growth in winter vary depending on the crop type. Understanding these thresholds and implementing appropriate management strategies is key for farmers to protect their crops and ensure productivity during the colder months. By adapting practices to suit specific crop needs and local climatic conditions, farmers can effectively navigate the challenges of winter farming.