Cold weather affecting area fruit growers

Recent cold temperatures have affected farmers throughout the Shenandoah Valley. According to Mark Sutphin, an extension agent specializing in agriculture, natural resources and horticulture, last week was especially bad.

“Throughout the Shenandoah Valley, we did experience temperatures the mornings of April 6 and April 10 that were cold enough to cause damage to the fruit buds on peaches, apricots, cherries, and apples,” he stated in an email.

According to Sutphin, loss did occur, but the percentage breakdown of the affected crops is not yet known.

Tom Davenport, owner of Hollin Farms in Delaplane, said he lost most of his blueberries and all of his sweet cherries. However, with other fruits, like apples and peaches, a large percentage of flowering buds on a tree is not necessary.

Sutphin noted, “Fortunately, for apples and peaches, we only need about 10 percent of the blooms on a tree to set and develop to produce a full crop,

“Certainly it is less than an ideal situation, but it remains a waiting game to fully assess and determine the amount of crop loss,” he said.

However, farmers are not out of the woods yet, as the average “frost-free date” is still some time away.

“Unfortunately, the average frost free date is considered to be mid-May, so we are still a month away and can experience more freeze/frost events that have the potential to cause further damage and loss,” said Sutphin.

Several wine grape growers in the area have said that they have been fortunate so far and that their grapes were not vulnerable enough at their current stage to sustain damage from the freezes. However, damage could still occur should cold temperatures persist.

“Everybody is a little bit worried,” said Cheryl Mortland, owner of Fox Meadow Winery in Linden. “It’s difficult in that you can’t really tell what damage was done until another three to four weeks when things start growing. Nothing here has started growing yet, and at this point we are hoping for the best. We don’t think we have any damage yet because spring comes much slower up on the mountain.”

However, farmers do have ways to combat the freezes. One method is to use smudge pots, which are large pots filled with fuel that are ignited and placed in fields to try to bring up the field’s temperature to prevent frost. Another method is to place large fans in the fields, as wind impedes the formation of frost.

Some area grape growers do not operate on a scale large enough to make these methods practical, but they also buy from other growers to compensate for unforeseeable issues like frost or blight.

Phil Newcome, co-owner of Valerie Hill Vineyard and Winery in Stephen’s City, said,  “Most of the growers we buy the fruit from do have the fans and the smudge pots. That’s their livelihood and they can’t afford to lose that fruit.”

Contact staff writer Nathan Budryk at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or nbudryk@nvdaily.com

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