Snowstorm protects Missouri farmland

Monday, February 7, 2011 | 7:09 p.m. CST; updated 9:50 p.m. CST, Monday, February 7, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY — While last week's heavy snowfall proved devastating for many, for Missouri's agricultural community it turned out to be a savior, particularly in areas where temperatures dipped into the negatives.

The storm that deposited 17.7 inches of snow in Columbia created a layer of insulation for both lawns and fields, preventing any severe damage to low-lying dormant plants, according to Tommy Sallee, an agricultural statistician with the Missouri Agricultural Statistics Service. The thick covering of snow provided ample insulation to farmland, protecting low-lying winter crops and fields from the bitter temperatures experienced throughout the state.

Missouri's large winter wheat crop was among those saved by the snow, Sallee said. "Farmers actually look for snow to cover their winter wheat because it actually protects the wheat from colder temperatures."

Sallee described the snow's effect on the wheat as forming a "kind of a tent around it, and then if it gets well below zero or the wind's blowing, the wheat is actually protected by the snow."

Martin Kaps, a Missouri State Fruit Experiment Station research professor, echoed Sallee's opinion of the snow's ability to protect low-lying crops, calling snow a "good insulator." According to Kaps, "if you had a deep snow, you would get an insulation of the branches that were snow covered."

The only concerns Kaps had about the icy conditions would be the possible damage inflicted to the buds of peach trees and grape vines, as "this type of damage is more internal."

Kaps said the potential for injury could begin at temperatures of minus 5, especially when crops remain uncovered.

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