Sunday, April 15, 2007

Cold Snap Might Nip Fruit Trees In The Bud

Growers in the Northeast and Midwest worry.

By Genaro C. Armas Of The Associated Press

| Bob Lawless had a sunny outlook for his peach crop early this week as delightful weather pushed some of his trees nearly to blossom. Then the cold snap hit.

On Friday, Lawless and other farmers across the Midwest and Northeast were fretting over their fruits.

''Peaches -- I'm a little more skeptical,'' said Lawless, manager of the horticulture production unit at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown. ''They've been hurt a little bit at this point.''

Temperatures had soared into the 70s across the Midwest and mid-Atlantic before a cold front ushered in the chill.

Freezing nighttime temperatures were expected through the weekend in Doylestown and across much of the Midwest, mid-Atlantic and Northeast. That's trouble for fruit trees, especially those in the delicate blossom stage, when the treasured fruit begins to form.

For now, Lawless said he will hope for the best. ''It's a little too soon to tell,'' he said.

The cold already has damaged grapevines at James Arthur Vineyards near Raymond, Neb., where many buds nearing bloom have turned black and gray.

''It may knock us down in half, it may knock us down a quarter -- I just don't know,'' field manager Josh Rockemann said.

Apple growers face similar worries in places like central Virginia, where some trees are two weeks ahead of schedule, said Jim Cranney, a vice president of the U.S. Apple Association of Vienna, Va.

But Cranney said he didn't think the impact will be nearly as severe as a devastating California freeze earlier this year that caused an estimated $280 million in citrus losses.

The cold snap comes on the heels of relatively unusual weather in the East, which saw warm temperatures in early January before relatively more seasonable conditions set in for the next six weeks. It was warmer than usual for the last couple of weeks before the latest plunge.

In Michigan, warm weather earlier this week caused apple trees to develop ''by leaps and bounds,'' said Denise Yockey, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee. While the cold snap was a concern, she said growers of cherries, apricots and peaches, which blossom earlier in the season, were more worried.

Those crops were the main concern for Kay Hollabaugh, an owner of Hollabaugh Bros. Inc. Fruit Farms & Market in Biglerville, Clearfield County, which has 75 acres of stone fruit trees.

Hollabaugh said that's too much ground for frost- and cold-protection methods that smaller farmers might use, such as running wind machines or burning tires to create warmth.

The 75-degree temperatures earlier this week in central Pennsylvania ''pushed things very quickly'' to blossom for plums, apricots and some peaches, she said.

Her advice to backyard growers: Don't plant anything until the first full moon in May.

''If they have some things out, they need to get things covered,'' she said, ''and join me in prayers.''

Associated Press writer Oskar Garcia in Omaha, Neb., contributed to this report.

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