Assessing Freeze Damage to Winter and Spring Wheat Using a Crown Viability Test

US map showing cold temps across the country in January 2024.

Cold temperatures across the western U.S. during the January 2024 Arctic Blast. Credit:

In January of this year, the Jet-Stream took an extreme southern dip allowing cold, dense arctic air to move down and impact the lower 48 states. This phenomenon broke nearly 2,500 daily minimum records according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

While our region didn’t get as cold as some parts of the midwest, WSU AgWeatherNet stations across the HWY 2 corridor recorded temperatures as low as -12.6℉ in Waterville, -14.5℉ in Hartline, and -13.6℉ in Davenport (not including any windchill)! Factor this with inadequate snow cover in many areas, thus leaving wheat exposed to these harsh conditions, and many producers are worried and asking whether they will have to re-seed wheat come spring.

One way to determine if your wheat survived is to perform a crown viability test. The WSU Extension publication FS369E “Assessing Freeze Damage to Winter and Spring Wheat Using a Crown Viability Test” explains how to perform the test. It is available as a free download.

A general rule of thumb for replanting a portion or an entire field is if the total number of plants is 50% or less than what is considered normal. Choosing to inter-seed spring wheat to fill in stand losses may pose several challenges. Direct damage to existing plants can occur. Also, if getting into the field is delayed (due to poor field conditions), one must consider that spring wheat matures later than winter wheat, which may impact harvest.

Dale Whaley professional headshot.

For questions or comments, contact Dale Whaley via email at or phone at 509-745-8531.