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Without a sufficient cold period, winter wheat will remain in the vegetative growth stages

EAST LANSING, MI. — Although Fall 2022 weather was great for harvest, planting soft red or white winter wheat, and cover crops, the very dry soil conditions meant that seeds did not germinate as quickly as normal and most wheat fields remain very short, with fewer tillers than normal or desirable.Now, with the generally warmer December and January, one question is whether the winter has been cold enough for wheat to go through its winter dormancy and vernalization period. Vernalization is a physiological process that wheat plants must undergo in order to reach reproductive growth stages sufficient to produce seed. Vernalization requires a six to eight week period of temperature below 48º F. Without a sufficient cold period, winter wheat will remain in the vegetative growth stages and never produce seed. That is one reason I always seeded farm demonstration plot alleys with wheat for parking and tents of field days as it remained short more like a lawn than a crop.Can some late planted wheat still emerge this spring? Winter wheat does not have to be emerged for vernalization to occur. Once seed has germinated, even though it has not emerged, vernalization can still occur. Of course, the seeds could also die from rot or being eaten by birds.February is forecast to be colder, with more normal and seasonal temperatures, so the status of winter wheat should not be of great concern until late February and early March. Certainly, farmers should not be applying nitrogen to wheat on frozen ground at this time and risk runoff. Farmers with questions about wheat can contact Dennis Pennington at or 269-832-0497, partly as he is not scheduled to speak at the February 7 MSU Agronomy Day in Dundee.One benefit of Covid-19 was the use of computers and webinars to do meetings. The 2023 MSU field crop webinar series means farmers can participate in select educational topics via their home office computer. The MSU series will be live presentations offered on Monday evenings from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. beginning February 6 and ending March 27, 2023. The schedule includes crop fertility on February 6, healthy soils, tillage and compaction on February 13, agronomic considerations for the 2023 growing season on February 20, technology and field data on February 27, buying and renting farmland on March 6, integrated wildlife management in field crops on March 13, weed control on March 20 and field crop diseases on March 27.All sessions feature two speakers and questions can be typed or called in. Each session earns one pesticide recertification credit or one continuing education credit for certified crop advisers. The cost is $5 per session or $20 for the entire eight topic series. For information, contact the St. Joseph County Extension office at 269-467-5511.The 2012 USDA plant hardiness zone map is the standard by which gardeners and homeowner plant growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location. The map is produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and is available on their website at Or people can simply google plant hardiness zone map or all garden seed companies have this in their catalogs.Monroe County, by virtue of its proximity to Lake Erie, has three of the six hardiness zones for all of Michigan, zones 5b, 6a and 6b, essentially microclimates of zones 5 and 6. Hardiness zones are based on the average annual extreme minimum temperatures during a 30-year period in the past, not the absolute lowest temperature that has ever occurred. Microclimates can be small “heat islands” such as caused by concrete or blacktop, or cool areas caused by small hills, shade from trees or woods, streams or small lakes. The prevailing winds coming off Lake Erie can also affect a microclimate near shore.People who are unsure of what plants to buy can simply use zone 5 as a default zone, as the lower number means a slightly colder average temperature than a higher number such as zone 6. The USDA does have state specific hardiness zone maps, as well as ones for Alaska, Hawaii and the lower 48 states.