Farmers scramble to protect crops from frost on Mother’s Day weekend
Jesse Straight turned up the heat to keep his chicks warm, and Lina Mercer relied on a brooder to accomplish that task.
As a low-altitude, low-pressure area near the North Pole traveled farther south than is typical over the Mother’s Day weekend, farmers throughout the region scrambled do what they could to protect their crops.
The event caused Mid-Atlantic temperatures on May 9 to plunge as low as 34 degrees F and winds to soar as much as 38 miles per hour.
Tyler Thorne, like any good “parent,” worked to protect his produce from getting damaged.
The Bryantown, Md., farmer said he had already had his summer squash that fares better in a warmer environment in tunnel greenhouse and blanketed his open field peppers and tomatoes in a ground cover, or fabric.
“Luckily, it didn’t do too much damage,” Thorne said of the cold.
Some of the squash, cucumber and melon leaves at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Clagett Farm in Upper Marlboro, Md., died from freeze burns even with a row cover, but the produce will “get through it,” vegetable CSA manager Carrie Vaughn said.
“As long as you don’t kill the spot on the plant where it is growing a new leaf, it’ll continue to recover and be fine,” Vaughn said.
In the days after the freezing temperatures, corn growers in Virginia waited to see how much permanent damage was done to their crop and if replanting was warranted.
Dr. Wade Thomason, Virginia Cooperative Extension agronomist said the severity of injury across eastern and central Virginia was affected by several factors including landscape position, soil temperature, moisture and presence of a cover crop. Plants with its growing point still below the soil surface were generally protected, Thomason said and should continue to push out new, healthy leaf tissue.
“The vast majority was V5 or younger so most of the damage is cosmetic and the field will regrow. Those fields that were more mature and also hit hard will have areas that need to be replanted if not whole fields. Thankfully I have seen few of these so far,” Thomason said in an email on May 13.
In a May 11 memo to county Extension agents, Thomason said fields that show damage but begin to recover may lose yield potential but “past history says it’s relatively minor, less than 10 percent.”
Wheat and barley fields appeared to fare even better from from the freeze, Thomason said, but added it may be too soon to say for sure. He said he and others across the state are seeing damage resulting from earlier cold weather.
“It’s showing up as blank kernels in portions of the head so evidently we had a few fields at susceptible stages as cold weather came through over the last month or so,” Thomason said.
To the north in New Jersey’s Chester Township, Kurt Alstede harvested asparagus in advance of the blustery weather that he said was accompanied by snow.
“I’ve been in this business close to 40 years, and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen snow fall in May,” Alstede said. “I’ve never seen asparagus freeze — ever.”
Yet the freeze injured stalks that were six inches shy of the 8-inch harvest size, he said.
The Mid-Atlantic spring got off to an early start, Alstede admitted, but the Mother’s Day weekend freeze was the second to affect the region since mid-April. It’s too early to estimate long-term losses from both cold weather events, Alstede said, but some varieties of apple and peach trees experienced more than others.
Straight agreed that his pastures, which are used for pork and poultry, aren’t as productive as they have been during warmer springs.
Mercer said she has been trying to keep up with the cold by building more brooders.
Lynn Moore said she spent the Mother’s Day weekend actually freezing the 10 acres of strawberries at her 425-acre Larriland Farm in Woodbine, Md.
The cold weather irrigation process, not the ice, helps to preserve the berries, Moore said.
As the water freezes, it releases heat that becomes part of a continual freezing release process until the temperature is warm enough to melt the ice, she said.
Moore said that she enlists a helicopter and pilot to force air down on to her crops when a layer of warm air lingers above the damaging level, but the method only works when a temperature inversion exists and when the weather isn’t windy, she said.
She spent blustery Mother’s Day weekend nights checking to make sure the irrigation sprinklers themselves didn’t freeze, she said.
(Managing Editor Sean Clougherty contributed to this report.)
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