How have fruit crops in the southeast fared following the last frost event?

Mother Nature has been flexing her muscles these past weeks of winter. Southern food crop growers know this all too well and have repeatedly been put to the test of frost protection. In the latest wave of extreme weather, researchers at Clemson University report that South Carolina peaches and other fruit crops appear to have survived the recent cold spell – but only time will tell.

Temperatures fell as low as 19°F in the orchards early on March 13. Clemson Cooperative Extension Service fruit and vegetable sales agent Andy Rollins said the peach crop was pink until the full bloom stage when freezing temperatures hit. Rollins and other Clemson Extension agents spent the entire weekend working with growers to help protect their crops.

“Farmers have spent the last week preparing for the frost event,” says Rollins. “The winds arrived earlier than expected with temperatures near freezing at 5 p.m. Saturday.”

Wind turbines were used in some orchards. “We started around 11:30 p.m. Saturday while others started earlier at 10 p.m.,” Rollins says. “As soon as the sun went down, the temperatures dropped. The flowers in those orchards where windmills were used look better than those unprotected, but the temperatures were so low that we don’t know how much damage was done.

Rollins will examine the crops in his area to assess the damage, but the peaches appear to be doing well.

Strawberry and blueberry crops in the coastal region also felt the cold wind. Clemson Extension horticultural officer Rob Last said temperatures dropped to 23°F with winds of 15 to 20 miles per hour.

The gusts of wind may have done more damage than the cold. Zack Snipes, assistant crew chief for Clemson Extension’s horticulture program, said wind gusts were reaching 50 miles per hour in some places, ripping row covers off strawberries, as well as plastic in fields and greenhouses.

“Overall, I think the strawberry harvest went well where people used and kept the row covers,” he says. “Blueberries have been hit hard. The bunny eyes were in full bloom, and the corymb had many berries on it. I expect losses of 50% or more in highbush and more in rabbiteye varieties.

Damage assessments are still ongoing.

To learn more about how apples and peaches fared upstate, visit news.clemson.edu.



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