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The Impact of Snow on Your Fields


As humans, we often try to insulate our bodies to protect against the cold snow. For soil, snow actually serves as the insulator, protecting against freezing in the deep layers of the ground. The air captured within accumulating snow provides insulation for the soil below.

According to Michigan State University Extension, two to four inches of snow can raise the soil’s surface temperature by 30 to 35 degrees Fahrenheit. This helps neutralize soil temperature and avoid the damaging impacts of continuous freeze/thaw cycles.

While freezing comes with expected damage to soil and crop systems, the impacts of frozen soil thawing are lesser known to many growers. Without snow, milder temperatures and the sun could warm the soil surface, leading to damage from soil heaving, which can break roots and dry out plant parts (University of Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County).

Neutral temperatures are especially helpful for land with anything planted in it—trees, shrubs, perennials, bulbs and, of course, crops. While many growers just finished harvesting crops from their fields, those growing cover crops or winter wheat will reap the benefits of snow. MSU Extension also shares that wheat requires at least three inches of cover to avoid significant winterkill in cold climates, and four to six inches to provide additional protection.

Beyond the benefits of having something covering your ground in the winter, snow, specifically, provides supplemental support for your soil. As crystallized ice, when the snow melts, it becomes water, providing moisture for the soil. It takes approximately ten inches of snow to supply one inch of water. While only a fraction of the frozen snow becomes direct precipitation, with the extreme drought conditions across much of the country, every drop counts.

Just as snow preserves the temperature of the soil beneath it, the frosty cover also preserves moisture in the ground. Snow helps your soil retain moisture, and nutrients, already existing in the ground. Snowflakes trap dissolved organic nitrogen, nitrate and ammonium in the atmosphere, delivering it free-of-charge to your fields. Rain and snow together provide between 2 and 22 pounds of nitrogen per acre each year (MSU Extension).

At BW Fusion, we’re advocates for supporting the natural biology and biodiversity of the soil. Inches and inches of snow may not be your idea of a winter wonderland, but snow is a great, natural protector and provider for your soil.