During mid-February in many areas of the United States, children could be heard laughing and playing outside, but instead of sledding down hills and building snowmen, they were playing baseball. Cherry trees and dogwoods were beginning to bud, and the grass would soon need to be mowed.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has decreed this winter (December 2016–February 2017) as the sixth warmest on record. While the conditions have been warm and dry in the Midwest, California and the western part of the U.S. have experienced a very wet winter that has resulted in widespread flooding, a mixed blessing for an area that has been under drought conditions for several years.
What does this wild weather mean for growers?
Early warm weather can increase pressure from various sources:
- Diseases that may survive the season if the ground does not freeze
- Insects that can find a ready food source in early emerging crops
- Early weed growth that could mean an increase in weed population, decreasing the ability of the crop to establish itself
- Cool, wet soil that can hinder seed germination and increase the probability of mold
- Soil compaction caused by machinery being used on wet soils during early planting can decrease nutrient availability and reduce drainage and the ability for adequate rooting
- Possibilities of late-season freezes that can damage new planting and early growth
What should growers do in early warm weather conditions?
Increasing the organic matter and availability of nutrients can help decrease the effects of soil compaction and help the soil bounce back more quickly. Healthier soil will provide a solid foundation for improved plant health, enabling the crop to better resist damage from frost and disease. Frequent scouting and prompt field testing will allow the grower to more effectively manage weed, insect and disease pressure and prevent any issues from becoming widespread.