There were 4 inches in Mercer County west of Coldwater. My apple trees were starting to blossom, but at least I got some cute snow flowers. Photo by Brenda Meyer.

Spring freeze and crop concerns

By Matt Reese

We all can reference weather forecasts that have been wrong in the past and Ohio collectively was hoping the forecasts including snow for this week would fall under that category. All hopes that winter was in the rear-view mirror, though, were dashed with the April 21 snowfall around the state. 

Fairfield County’s flowers were in trouble.

Meteorologist Ben Gelber with NBC 4 in Columbus reported 2.2 inches a full month after the first day of spring, noting this is the heaviest late snowfall in the area since April 23 through April 25 of 2005. Further north and west in Ohio got closer to 5 inches in some areas and there was snow accumulation of a couple of inches reported throughout much of southern Ohio as well.

There was plenty of the white stuff overnight in Henry County.

This leaves many questions for Ohio agriculture. One of the biggest concerns is for the exposed blossoms on fruit trees. The snow heading into April 21 served as a great insulator and hopefully offered enough protection for the first night of cold temperatures. With temperatures dipping into the 20s overnight into April 22 and most of the snow melting during the day, fruit growers need to take additional precautions to protect their blooms.

Dandelions even retreated from the cold.

With USDA reporting just 4% of the state’s corn planted, 5% of the soybeans planted and very few of those acres emerged, there is not widespread concern for those crops. Corn, of course, is safe from major frost concerns until the growing point is out of the ground. Even up to V1, corn is able to survive freezing temperatures with minimal impact on yield, according to Ohio State University Extension. Melting snow can be a concern for recently planted corn, though. When dry corn seed absorbs cold water as a result of a cold rain or melting snow, “imbibitional chilling injury” may result, according to Peter Thomison, retired OSU Extension corn specialist.

There were a couple of inches in Delaware County. Photo by Marilyn Masters.

If soybeans have been planted, but have not yet emerged at the time of the freeze, they should be fine. Of greater concern could be emerged soybeans, particularly in low areas of the field. Ohio State University Extension specialist Laura Lindsey suggests assessing any emerged soybean plants for damage at least five days after suspected injury to inspect for regrowth. She said if damage occurred above the cotyledons, the plant will likely recover. If damaged occurred below the cotyledons, the plant will not recover. Look for a discolored hypocotyl (the “crook” of the soybean that first emerges from the ground) which indicates that damage occurred below the cotyledons, she said. 

This view in Darke County is best enjoyed indoors. Photo by Risë Labig.

With winter wheat, plants prior to Feekes 6 are safe from freezing temperatures, Lindsay said. At Feekes 6 growth stage, OSU Extension research has shown only a 5% reduction in wheat yield at a temperature of 20 degrees F for a 15-minute duration and a 50% reduction in wheat yield at a temperature of 12 degrees F for a 15-minute duration.

Calving in the snow, in late April, in Madison County. Photo by Quinton Keeran.

In terms of forages, alfalfa and red clover are of particular concern. Annual forage crops including winter rye and triticale are also susceptible to damage with the low temperatures and limited snow cover, according to Mark Sulc, OSU Extension forage specialist.

“Growers should scout and evaluate their forage stands several days after the cold nights because predicting freeze damage is difficult to impossible. Freeze damage and plant recovery from it are influenced by many factors, including the absolute minimum low air temperature, soil temperature during the freeze event that can moderate near-surface air temperatures in the canopy, field topography, snow cover during cold nights (that provides insulation), age and stage of plant growth, and stand health and vigor as influenced by soil fertility and prior cutting management,” Sulc said in the CORN Newsletter. “The overall vigor of the stand will determine the tolerance to freezing and recovery from freeze injury. Vigorous stands that were not cut in the fall and with good soil pH and fertility will tolerate and recover from freezing the best.”

Trees in bloom are very susceptible to damage from the freezing temperatures.

Here’s hoping for warmer days ahead and minimal damage to Ohio’s crops from what is hopefully the last freeze of the season.

Allen County crop fields on ice. Photo by Ben Bowsher.
Darke County, white fields.
Soil temperatures are still low in NW Ohio. Photo by Ross Schroeder.

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