Free Daily Headlines

Community News

Set your text size: A A A

Growers brace for frost damage

Apple trees in the Tracy Grove community were in full bloom. Apple trees in the Tracy Grove community were in full bloom.

EDNEYVILLE — Growers are bracing for potential crop damage tonight with a predicted low of 31 and the possibility of colder pockets in orchards, berry fields and vineyards.

“It’ll be what it’s going to be,” said Jerred Nix, who grows apples in the Bearwallow community. “Nothing you can do about it. A lot of what we’ve got right now is in full bloom. You won’t know until it happens.”
Nix said on Friday morning he had not yet seen any damage from the windstorm overnight and the early  morning hours. Winds are expected to remain heavy tonight, which could reduce the risk of frost damage.
“I wouldn’t mind a little bit of wind but I don’t want 50 miles an hour,” Nix said. “If it’s just a little bit, it’ll keep the frost from settling.”
A lot would be too much.
“I was talking to somebody up on the mountain yesterday and he said a couple of years ago he had 29 degrees and a hard wind and it killed his whole crop, just the windchill of it,” Nix said.
The National Weather Service called for a low of 31 overnight tonight with wind gusts up to 26 mph. After a high of 61 on Saturday under sunny skies, rain and possible thunderstorms are forecast for Easter Sunday.
Farmers know that a forecast in the low 30s can mean a wide range on either side, because of elevation, which direction a slope faces and other variables.
“It can go from 28 to 40,” Nix said.
There’s a lot at stake, because after basking in warm weather in recent weeks the apple trees are in full bloom.
“It’s a heavy bloom this year,” Nix said. “Everybody’s got a real heavy bloom this year. There’s just a few varieties that are kind of spotty.”

Possible wind damage

Terry Kelley, the agricultural extension director, hopes the apple growers will escape widespread damage.
“It’s going be kind of iffy,” he said. “I think last night I saw they were talking about 33, which if it’s 33 in Hendersonville it could be 28 on Sugarloaf Mountain. We’ll probably get some spots lower than that. It depends on how long too. If it just dips down and pops up, I don’t see a catastrophic event here. If they were calling for 25 or something like that it would be really bad. We had some events similar to this last year that probably caused a little more damage than we thought they did. It’s one of those things where we’ll have to evaluate and see after it’s over what kind of damage we did get.
“One of the things that’s going to play not with apples so much this weekend is it’s going to be windy … whipping them around.”
Strawberry growers generally cover their plants when a frost or freeze is forecast. There’s little apple, berry or grape growers can do.
“I think we do have a really big bloom right now,” he said. “It only takes about 10 percent (of buds) to set fruit to have a full crop. It’s rare when we don’t have enough blooms.”
A more common problem is poor pollination. Rain, overcast days, cool weather and windy conditions all impede the work of bees.
“If we don’t get a good pollination we don’t get a good crop,” Kelley said.
The warmer drier weather that came after weeks of heavy rain helped vegetable and field crop growers get ready for planting.
“It’s really been a blessing that farmers got some drying conditions because we been a little bit behind most of the spring getting the ground ready and everything. At least we’ve had several days of dry weather” so grower can plow the ground and put down plastic ahead of setting plants. “It was a welcome sight to see them get out and do some things. I think we’re a little concerned we didn’t have much of a winter and may be battling some pests.”
Growers, nurserymen and other farmers with labor intensive crops got some good news when the Trump administration on March 26 reversed a pause in all visas from Mexico to allow the seasonal farm-worker program to continue for the 2020 season. Farm laborers on the H-2A visas, which some Henderson County farmers use, totaled 257,667 nationally last year, compared with 48,336 in 2005, the New York Times reported. The State Department said that waive in-person interviews for H-2A visas, which would allow more workers in for the peak harvest.
“That’s critical to the industry,” Kelley said. “I think that and also growers have the potential to benefit from the CARES Act as well, providing for some loans that are very important to small businesses.”
While plowing a tomato field or spraying, pruning and picking apples tend to keep farmhands apart, workers are much closer together once the packing starts.

“I don’t think we’re quite there yet but it’s not going to be that far away for some of our crops, particularly vegetables,” he said. “Those outdoor activities are certainly a lot more safe than those when you get into packing.”

Even if the apple trees survive the weekend’s cold and wind, growers know they won't clear springtime threats until early May. The Easter freeze of 2007 and a killing frost in mid-April of 2012 are still fresh memories in the apple country.
“We’ve got another month” to watch the forecast, Nix said.