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The Impact of Strong Wind on Crop Development

By Sherri Roberts, PAg, Crops Extension Specialist, Weyburn

June 2020

Has your hair been taking a beating with all this wind? It's been doing a real number on some of our crops. What is the impact of these continuing strong winds on our field crops?

Wind damages soybean seedling.
Wind damaged soybean seedling.

For fields where crop residue is minimized, the wind is lifting up the soil particles and placing them into suspension. These suspended soil particles are then brushing up against plant tissues and abrading and damaging them. This phenomenon is referred to as "sandblasting." Depending on the crop stage, the damage can be minimal or it can be so damaging that reseeding is required.

Studies have shown that crop recovery and final yields depend on the growth stage and soil/plant moisture status when the damage occurred, the particular species and variety as well as the preceding and subsequent weather.

Armbrust did extensive work on sandblasting and his research results are summarized in table 1.

Table 1. Effect of plant age at exposure to wind and sandblast damage on dry weight two weeks after exposure.

Age at Exposure
Grain Sorghum Soybean Winter Wheat
Fall Exposure Spring Exposure
3 67 77 77 89
7 56 73 62 89
14 69 58 46 87
21 87 70 69 85
28 92 77 74 90
Armbrust, D.V. 1984. Wind and Sandblast Injury to Field Crops: Effect of Plant Age Agronomy Journal. Vol. 76, p. 991-993

When the plant seedling has exhausted the energy supply in the seed and become totally dependent on its own to produce photosynthate, any loss of photosynthetic tissue at this time places an additional burden on the plant's energy supply. Energy must be diverted for repair of damaged cells away from plant growth.

Fall-exposed winter wheat heading can be delayed three to seven days and soybean first bloom seven to 14 days. Woodruff (1907) found winter wheat exposed to sandblasting saw an average yield reduction of 46.4 per cent along with a 29.4 per cent reduction in plant material weight as well as a 23.9 per cent reduction in the number of heads. He also found that the total amount of soil striking a plant was more important in depressing these crop production factors than was the length of time between exposures. Plants were shown to have a remarkable recovery ability if given water after severe abrasive injury.

Armbrust also found that additional yield reduction with a maximum heading delay in sorghum and spring exposed winter wheat occurring when plants were exposed 2 to 4 weeks before inflorescence began emerging. First inflorescence or bloom appeared 61, 40, and 111 days after emergence for grain sorghum, soybean, and winter wheat, respectively. It appeared that physical damage at this stage of plant development diverted photosynthate from inflorescence development to repair of abrasive injury, therefore, delaying inflorescence emergence by 9 to 11 days. This delay in maturity may increase the chance of water stress or, in the case of winter wheat, exposure to hot, dry winds which may reduce yields.

For corn producers, sandblasting injury provides a point of entry for the Goss's Wilt bacteria which can attack susceptible varieties of corn at any time during the growing season. If a Goss's Wilt infection occurs when corn seedlings are small, it can have significant impacts on the corn plants development and thus the final yields.

Will Saskatchewan winds abate or are there ways to effectively deal with this sandblasting phenomena?

Shelterbelts have proven to be the best defense against this phenomenon, so before you start or continue to remove them, consider the long-term consequences of this practice.

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