Frosty spring nights damage fruit crops

Cherries were hard hit; effects on other tree fruits have yet to be determined.

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MILTON-FREEWATER — Frosty nights in March and April have put the hurt on the area’s cherry crops.

The crop from the Milton-Freewater area faces a minimum reduction of 30 percent, and possibly up to 60 percent, due to freezes that struck last month, said Clive Kaiser, Oregon State University extension agent.

The freezing temperatures came on two nights in March and two nights in April and hit the crops when they were at their most vulnerable, he said.

“It took place during the flowering and one hit during the fruit set, which is the sensitive times,” Kaiser said.

Losses were not uniform with some cultivators being hit worse than others.

Justin Brunson, general manager for Blue Mountain Growers, agreed with Kaiser’s evaluation that damage was hit and miss, with some farmers experiencing a total crop loss while others escaped with little or no damage.

Brunson said he had just attended a meeting of the Northwest Cherry Growers Association Wednesday and from what he had heard, the frost damage was widespread in Washington state as well.

However, the economic impact will not be uniform.

“Those growers who do have cherries to market are going to prevail and do very well,” he said.

Along with cherries, prune, plum, apricot and apple crops are also going to be affected, although how badly has not been determined, Kaiser said.

Some of the more cold-sensitive apple varieties, such as the Pink Lady, have been affected by the low temperatures while others escaped harm.

Last year the value of all fruit crops grown in the Milton-Freewater area totaled $45 million to the farmers and brought in another $40 million to processors for a total of about $85 million.

Wine grapes, however, appear to have escaped damage, said Duane Wollmuth of the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance.

Wollmuth said frost damage to local vineyards appears to have been very minor. Vines were just starting to bud when the low temperatures hit and growers were prepared with countermeasures, such as fans to prevent freezing.

Low temperatures recorded by weather stations spotted throughout fruit orchards in the Milton-Freewater area showed lows of 27.6 degrees on March 8, 27.8 degrees on March 19 and 26.2 degrees on March 24, Kaiser said. Freezing nights also occurred in April when temperatures dropped to 31 degrees on April 16 and 30.9 degrees on April 17.

In contrast, May has been a much warmer than normal month. Temperatures have averaged about 10 degrees above normal as of Wednesday with a high of 93 recorded on April 10, according to the National Weather Service.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

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