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How is our Spring progressing?

Scott H.

As I was looking over photos from last May, I saw that my winter wheat was forming a significant number of heads on 26-May-2017. Comparing that with the progress of this year's grains, it had me wondering if our Spring might really be "late".  I was looking for a quick answer, so I went to this Growing Degree Day tracker.  The Michigan State University site begins their data collection in late February; perhaps that start date was driven by the snow cover?  Growing Degree Days (GDD) is a measure commonly used to make predictions in the progress of plant and insect growth, you might also see it called Heat Days.  In addition to the MSU site, North Dakota Agriculture Weather Network has well written guides for crops of the Plains that I find useful.

In my Internet investigation I looked at threshold temperatures, the temperature point needed for plant development to occur. Essentially, a threshold temperature is determined for each type of plant, for example, winter wheat has a threshold temperature of 32° F. I collected various threshold temperatures in degrees F (don't mix with °C!):

degrees F  crop
32° barley
47.5° beets
50° corn
32° peas
50° soybean
44° sunflowers
32° wheat


Whenever the average temperature is greater than the threshold temperature, plants get Growing Degree Day "points".  So, if today's average temperature was 52° F, your plants earn points worth 20 Degree Days (52°- 32° = 20). Each day, the "points" accumulate and the plants progress along their developmental curve. For example, wheat needs to accumulate 3000 Degree Days for grain maturity as shown in this table from Montana State University GDD Extension Service guide:

Hard Red Wheat GDD development table from Montana State University

So to answer my intitial question is Spring behind this year, I need to compare 2018 to 2017.  As you can see in the graph below, we accumulated very little GDD exposure until 10-April in 2018 (blue dots), while that same "Spring Point" happened around 22-March in 2017 (red dots).

GDD 2018 vs 2017 in May YTD, 32F baseline for wheat-barley

The right hand axis shows the "gap" I've calculated between 2018 and 2017 in terms of days, shown as the gray dots on the graph. As of today, it looks like we're running 12 days behind last year which means plant growth is delayed.


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