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Budding Early

Despite warmth, frost a concern for area fruit growers

April 25, 2010
By MICHAEL ANICH, The Leader-Herald

JOHNSTOWN - Unseasonably warm weather earlier this spring didn't affect the business of fruit growers in the region, but the possible danger of a severe hard frost on future produce lingers until the end of May.

Cornell Cooperative Extension issued an advisory to apple and other growers April 9 expressing concern just after unseasonably warm weather hit early this spring. Temperatures in early April hit the 70s and 80s - about 20 degrees higher than normal.

New York state's fruit growers reported that the unusually warm weather pushed out buds on their trees two to three weeks early. The concern now has been a hard frost could kill the buds and wipe out crops.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan

Todd Rogers, owner of Rogers Family Orchard in Johnstown, operates a tractor while wearing protective gear as he sprays the apple trees for insects and scabs on Thursday.

"I know the apple growers are concerned," Fulton County Farm Bureau spokesman Lee Hollenbeck said. "Some of them are irrigating at night."

Hollenbeck, a hay farmer and former Broadalbin town supervisor, said "everything's come kind of early." That would include blooming of the numerous cherry trees on his property. He said he's concerned because you never know what the weather will serve up, recalling several inches of snow the area received 30 years ago in late May.

"Mother Nature ... We just kind of have to go with it," Hollenbeck said.

Jim Hoffman, owner of Sand Flats Orchard in Fonda, said the growing season is "a little ahead of normal" and there is no problem "as long as we don't get into full bloom."

He said the apple trees are in a "tight cluster" mode at this point and the hope is to not get into a more-advanced "pink" stage and then be hit by a frost.

"As long as we don't get into too terrible of warm weather in the next week," he said, his trees will be fine.

Hoffman said some colder weather actually wouldn't be bad in coming weeks to slow the blooming process.

New York's fruit crop was worth $305 million last year, with apples accounting for $224 million, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The Farmer's Market in Gloversville is set to open next Saturday, and nothing unusual as far as farmers' participation in that has been reported, market board member Vincent DeSantis said.

Crystal Stewart, horticulture and agriculture educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Fulton and Montgomery Counties, said her initial concern in April has passed.

She said none of those early bloom-killing frost worries came to fruition.

"So far, no [problems]," Stewart said. "We escaped that little window when there was some issues with fruit."

But even with flower beds growing and opening, and it being too early to tell if there's a concern about fruit of any kind and tomatoes, the potential is still there for overall problems. The last frost could come by the end of May, she said.

"Right now, we're really focusing our concern on late blight," Stewart said.

According to an extension news release, many gardeners in the Northeast were denied their homegrown tomatoes when late blight- the same disease that triggered the Irish potato famine - wiped out their plants last year. The release said hytophthora infestans, the fungus-like pathogen that causes late blight in tomatoes, potatoes and other tomato-family plants, requires living plant tissue to survive over winter in the Northeast.

The release states that the bad news is potato tubers are living plant tissue, so any late blight-infested potato tubers that survived in soil, a compost pile or root cellar could harbor the pathogen and give it an early start again this season.

Stewart said some plants are "far ahead' in their growth, but the earlier warm weather "hasn't had any negative effects yet" on the area agriculture business.

New York Farm Bureau spokesman Peter Gregg also said the warm weather in late winter and early spring hasn't been too much of a problem yet.

"So far, not really," Gregg said. "Certainly, things are early. So far, so good."

He said that if the area is plunged into a deep freeze in the next few weeks -with temperatures in the 20s at night - there could be a problem with fruit and their blossoms.

A local grower - Todd Rogers, owner of Rogers Family Orchards on County Highway 131 in Johnstown - said his orchards haven't been damaged. But, he said the growing season no doubt has come early.

"So far, it's been great," Rogers said. "It's about three weeks early."

He said the warmer weather coming early hasn't affected the 400 new apple trees and 1,200 older trees at Rogers Family Orchards.

The Cornell Cooperative Extension advisory issued earlier this spring included temperatures that growers need to keep an eye on. At the buds' current tight cluster-early pink stage, if the temperature dips to 27 degrees, about 10 percent of the crop can be lost. A 21-degree reading could wipe out 90 percent, the extension said. The odds get worse as buds blossom and become less able to fight off cold temperatures.

New York farmers haven't been the only ones affected by warmer-than-normal weather. Some apple and cherry growers in Michigan say trees there blossomed about three weeks earlier than normal, The Associated Press reported.

Klaus Busch, a New York Farm Bureau field adviser for the Capital District, said the warm weather has affected industries such as the maple syrup and bee and honey industry, but not fruit growers as much. He said he's heard that only peaches could be vulnerable this spring.

"I haven't heard much," Busch said.

Michael Anich can be reached at johnstown@leaderherald.com.

 
 

 

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