03/17/17 — Crops hurt as cold snap hits the county

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Crops hurt as cold snap hits the county

By Steve Herring
Published in News on March 17, 2017 10:31 AM

Strawberry and other fruit crop growers could soon be paying the price for unseasonably mild weather that fooled crops into blooming weeks early only to give way over the past week to subfreezing temperatures.

Friday morning's low was expected to be in the law 20 before temperatures begin to moderate over the weekend and into next week.

But even if the crops survive unscathed, farmers have another month to get through before the final frost of the season that normally happens around April 15.

The concern is particularly strong among strawberry growers, said Jessica Strickland, Wayne County Extension agent and horticulturist.

According to the 2012 agricultural census, Wayne County ranked 13th in the state in strawberry production.

There are 14 to 15 acres of strawberries in the county.

According to the 2012 agricultural census the vale of the annual strawberry crop was $29.4 million, she said.

"With the warm temperatures we had, and then it turning cold it was just a bad setup as far as it encouraged everything to grow earlier this year," Mrs. Strickland said.

As of Thursday afternoon there have been no reports of damages. Rather it has been wait and see, she said.

Temperatures have been at a critical point and below, she said. Wednesday and Thursday nights when temperatures fell into the low 20s were two "tough nights," she said.

"They are still trying to get through this weekend," Mrs. Strickland. "It is possible there could be some damage, but it is really waiting to get through it all to see then what damage might have occurred."

Field crop agent Tyler Whaley could not be reached for comment on what impact the cold snap might have on crops such as wheat.

"I know we have a grower who does strawberries and peaches," Mrs. Strickland said. "There is a lot of concern, too, with peaches. Blueberries would be another one that we are concerned about."

Some farmers are using row covers, such as on strawberries, where the plants are completely covered to provide insulation.

The concern with strawberries is that some have blossomed while others already have small fruit, she said.

Mrs. Strickland said she knows of at least one grower who is using irrigation sprinklers for peaches and strawberries in an attempt to insulate them.

"The temperatures have been at that point where they can cause damage," she said. "When they use sprinklers they have had the challenge to when we have had days that it was cold and windy on top of it, the wind will cause ice on the sprinklers. They will have to knock off ice to keep the sprinklers going at night."

That means long nights and little sleep for farm workers, she said.

Covering a crop in ice to protect it does seem counter intuitive, she said.

"What it does is kind of insulate the plant, the blossoms and fruit adding heat back into it," Mrs. Strickland said.

However, the temperatures must be closely monitored -- not just air temperature, but the temperature of the blossom as well, she said.

The temperature at the plant level could be different from the air temperature, she said.

When the temperatures falls to just above freezing usually is when the sprinklers are used, Mrs. Strickland said.

The sprinklers must remain running to ensure a continuous layer of ice on the plants to keep the heat in until the temperatures rises enough that the sprinklers can be stopped, she said.

"If they stop it at any time that it is still freezing then it is going to do the opposite, pulling that heat back out," she said.