Fruit farmers fret about freeze

Published 12:00am Thursday, April 19, 2012

It’s been a strange year for area fruit farmers.

Warmer than average temperatures in March caused plants to blossom and bud early. With the weather returning more or less to normal, those buds are susceptible to damage from cold temperatures.
That has farmers worried.
“You are concerned because your whole year is on the line,” said Terry Holloway, owner of Concord Ridge Fruit Farms in Niles. “You trimmed and worked and did all those things necessary to get everything ready, and you can lose it in one night. But that’s the way it goes in this business.”
Holloway lost the majority of the primary buds on his concord grapes to cold weather recently.
He said the grapes have secondary buds that produce about 50 percent of the crop, so all is not lost.
“We hope to get some good crop off of that,” he said.
Steve Lecklider, of Lehman’s Orchard in Niles, said his crops survived with little damage, mainly because it was windy and didn’t stay cold for very long.
“Anytime you have wind, it safens some of the process because you don’t get cold pockets,” he said. “The worst is having the cold settle.”
Lecklider and Holloway  used water to keep crops from freezing. Holloway coated his strawberries with a sheet of ice, protecting buds from freezing. Lecklider sprayed 48-degree well water on his sweet cherries.
“It seemed to work,” Lecklider said.
The frost last week damaged a few varieties of sweet cherry and apple at Tree-Mendus Fruit in Eau Claire, but nothing economically significant, general manager Bill Teichman said.
Teichman said the cold spell didn’t cause any damage as far as he can tell, but he was worried about the forecast.
“I’ll be watching the temperatures closely,” he said.

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