College News

Ag Instructor Vic Martin: How Annual Crops Cope With Weather

Great Bend Tribune
Published June 5, 2022

The drought monitor report as of Tuesday, May 31, indicated an improvement of conditions. The part of our area that was in extreme drought improved to severe and the severe drought improved to moderate drought. There wasn’t much improvement for the western third of the state. The rains from this past week aren’t reflected in this report. It will take well-above normal precipitation to improve things and prevent a worsening of drought conditions. The six to ten-day outlook (June 7 to 11) indicates a 40 to 60 chance of below normal temperatures and a 33 to 40% chance of above-normal precipitation. The eight to fourteen-day outlook (June 9 to 15) indicates a 33 to 50% chance of below-normal temperatures and near-normal precipitation. The temperatures and precipitation will help our spring-planted crops and should decrease evaporative loss due to heat. The forecast for the month of June is for equal chances of above or below normal temperatures with normal to slighty above-normal precipitation. 

The weather has certainly taken center stage not just around here but across the globe with extreme weather events. We hear much about the need to cope but what about plants. Although this concerns our common crop plants, it applies to many native plants as well.

  • Our primary agricultural crops here are annuals. They complete their life cycle in one growing season. They are further divided into winter annuals (wheat and canola) and summer annuals (corn, soybeans, etc.) and you can look at them as cool and warm-season plants.
  • Our crop plants don’t understand they are here for us. Their goal in life, the goal of all life, is to produce more life. For plants that are seed production. They will do everything they can to produce as much seed as possible under given conditions to perpetuate the species. Since they can move, how do they do their best to produce seed?
  • Plants respond to three weather/climate factors – temperature, sunlight, and moisture. How they respond depends on the type of plant.
  • Temperature – to germinate, summer annuals need a minimum soil temperature which varies by the species. Winter annuals germinating in the late summer/early fall don’t face this challenge. Second, within limits, plants grow faster the warmer the temperature. Their growth stage, especially for corn and grain sorghum, is tied to the accumulation of heat. Other crops are less sensitive but are still heat-dependent. Winter wheat won’t flower until exposed to a period of cold to prevent flowering too early.
  • Sunlight – flowering is also strongly dependent on day length. Winter wheat not only needs cold but increasing daylength to key changes to permit flowering so it won’t flower too early as does winter canola. A crop like soybeans planted here, not in the southern U.S. is keyed to flower through decreasing daylength, as nights become longer. This permits them to produce viable seed before the danger of a frost. The level of sensitivity depends on the crop variety/hybrid and its area of origin (i.e. temperate vs. more tropical climates.
  • Finally, moisture – plants in order to produce some seed can do a variety of things including aborting seeds and/or flowers.

Naturally, there is much more but hopefully, this provides an idea.