Snowed in for survival: Quantifying the risk of winter damage tooverwintering field crops in northern temperate latitudes
Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 2014; 197:65–75
Vico G, Hurry V, Weih M

Autumn-sown field crops have important agronomic advantages (e.g., reduction of soil erosion and nutrient leaching, maximizing the use of spring moisture) and have the potential to be highly productive eventhough adverse winter conditions can negatively affect crop viability and yield. In the face of the unpredictable weather patterns and the expected shifts in climate in the near future, there is an imperative to develop methods to quantify both the risk of winter damage and how it is affected by altered climatic conditions and crop variety. We propose a set of indices to characterize synthetically the risk of crop damage stemming from cold spells, extended periods at low temperature, frequent occurrence of freeze-thaw cycles, and prolonged snow cover. An existing model of crop hardening and dehardening is further developed to account in full for the variability of lethal threshold temperature among individual plants. This model is coupled to a simple yet realistic description of crop-sensed temperature, so that required inputs are limited to crop-specific responses to low temperature and standard meteorogical data (average daily temperature and snow depth). This framework is applied to winter wheat under the current climatic conditions for central and southern Sweden. The roles of variety-specific hardening ability, temperature, and snow are assessed separately, thus obtaining indications of the potential impacts of variety selection and future predicted changes in temperature and snow cover in the region. Variety-specific hardening ability and response to exposure to low temperature may drastically alter the extent of winter damage. The most prevalent damaging mechanism depends on the climatic regime, with crops in colder areas benefiting from extended snow cover. A tradeoff between temperature (and hence latitude) and snow emerges, with locations at intermediate latitudes subjected to the highest risk of crop damage from exposure to low temperature and frequent freeze–thaw cycles. The same locations are also characterized by the highest inter-annual variability in the extent of winter damage – a fact that has potential implications for yield reliability.

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