Mar 30, 2017Alabama fruit crop braves cold temperatures
Exceptionally low temperatures in mid-March were worrisome for peach, blueberry and strawberry producers.
With portions of North Alabama sinking into the low 20s and Central and South Alabama slipping below 30 degrees, producers and Alabama Extension agents feared for the future of spring berry and fruit crops.
“The earliest blooming varieties, which had passed petal fall and had exposed fruit, were most affected by the freezing temperatures,” Gray said. “Thankfully many varieties are still in early bloom, or have yet to bloom and have minimal to no damage.”
Peach growers with orchards in Chilton County’s higher elevations are reporting most of their damage on varieties past petal fall with exposed fruit. Although varieties at full-bloom had substantial damage, varieties at early bloom and tight bud stages appear in good shape.
Since peach trees produce so many blooms and fruit, Gray said peach growers typically need only about 10 percent of the blooms to make a crop. He is hopeful growers received a beneficial “thinning” on all but those earliest blooming varieties.
Though outward signs appear positive, Gray said growers won’t know the full extent of damage until the crop further develops.
Cullman County Extension Coordinator Tony Glover said the blueberries at the Cullman Research Station look better than expected.
“Many cultivars did not have many open blooms,” Glover said. “Even those partially open did not appear dead when cut open. Any that were fully open may have been lost.”
Mike Reeves, Morgan County Extension coordinator, said blueberry growers are still working to assess damages to the crop. Reeves said North Alabama growers are optimistic after the freeze. Even after temperatures dipped below 20 degrees, growers are hoping to have berries for sale barring any other cold events.
Reeves said strawberries under row covers in the coldest areas lost open blooms, while warmer areas had no damage. Gray said Chilton County strawberry growers were also able protect their crops with row covers.
— Katie Nichols, Auburn University
Source: Alabama Cooperative Extension