Fruit growers from the Pacific Northwest to Northern California continue to recover from the late-season freeze that swept through the region last week. It will probably take weeks to fully realize the effects of the cold weather. However, here’s a summary of what we’ve heard so far.
- Apple grower Don Reinmuth, who farms a 25-acre orchard in the Gleed Valley, about midway between Naches and Yakima, estimates that his damage is at least 50% to 75% of production. Reds were the hardest hit, while Jonagolds and Galas appear to be at least a commercial crop. Bartlett pears were hurt badly, and Boscs are questionable.
- According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Washington Field Office, in the Yakima Valley, atypical weather continued with temperatures much colder than normal. In the lower to mid-Valley, most cherries were beyond full bloom, but not at shuck fall. Apple bloom had been prolonged by cool weather with some apple varieties and locations in full bloom. Most pears had entered bloom stage. Grape growth had been delayed by two to three weeks, but some vines were nearly at budburst. More subfreezing temperatures necessitated frost protection in orchards. There were reports of extensive bud damage in some areas while other areas reported little to no frost damage.
- Moving to Northern California, the USDA-NASS reports that grapes had been leafing out in the warmer weather. “Vineyards and orchards were irrigated due to dry conditions. In some areas grape growers were assessing frost damage that occurred because of unseasonably cold temperatures earlier in the week. Growers used water and wind machines to help curtail damage, but these tactics were not enough in some locations. Damage reports were also received for apples, cherries, nectarines, pears, peaches, plums, and prunes. Losses in the northern areas of the State were most significant. Pears appeared to be hit the hardest. Damage to leaf canopies was widespread in some areas. Elsewhere, stone fruits were sizing normally, though a lighter fruit set has been observed in some locations. Some stone fruit orchards were being thinned. Color break on cherries was noted in Tulare County with harvest expected soon. Spring strawberry harvest moved forward. Boysenberries and blueberries were blooming. Olive buds were forming and bloom had already begun in Tulare County.”
As the industry continues to assess the damage, Tim Smith with Washington State University Extension (and an editorial advisory board member for American/Western Fruit Grower) offers the following words of caution: “I had reporters calling by 8 a.m. Monday morning, hoping to get the inside info about the severity of the damage to the state fruit crop. The damage had occurred about four to six hours before I talked to them. That’s not how we can properly assess crop damage. Getting quick estimates of the worst situations may work with tornadoes, but not with tree fruits. First, the field advisors may take a week or two to do more than a quick visit to the growers, and more accurately determine the crop potential. The various packing/sales organizations will compile these rough estimates and deliver their crop estimates to central industry organizations. Then we will have a rough estimate of loss. Then, when we harvest, we find out how accurate these estimates have been. Generally, they are fairly good. One or two people contacted at random cannot pretend to represent the entire industry. I recommend we wait and see how much damage we had until we have at least looked at the orchards.”