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USA - Fruit farmers assess capricious spring weather damage

After unusually warm weather in the early spring, much of Ohio and Pennsylvania, along with other states, were hit hard by a late snow and several nights near or below freezing in late April. Fruit farmers and orchard owners across the state are seeing the impact, but aren’t sure what the full extent of the damage will be yet.

Since 1 or 2 degrees can sometimes be all it takes from total loss to having a crop, setting up fires and smudge pots around an orchard, along with other interventions, can help minimize crop loss during late freezes. But that only goes so far.

Ken Metrick, of Metrick’s Harvest View Farm and Market, in Butler, Pennsylvania, said his apple trees are about two or three weeks earlier than usual. An ornamental crab apple tree in the Metrick’s yard is usually a popular spot for pictures for the local prom, which is usually the same weekend as Mother’s Day. But this year, it’s already past bloom. “That just goes to show you that the season is about two or three weeks ahead,” Metrick said.

That early blossoming makes the trees vulnerable to the cold weather. “There’s a lot of money hanging on them trees,” Metrick said. “You only get one chance a year. You do the best you can to protect it.” Some of Metrick’s apple varieties took damage, but his farm is at a little bit of an advantage, since it’s high on a hill. The elevation makes a difference with the frost.

Dry weather in March allowed Metrick to get into his fields to work more easily than in some recent, rainier years. He’s still expecting to have an apple crop, and anticipating a good year for the rest of his crops, based on the weather and other factors so far.

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