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Freezing Temps Concern For Crops

Late-season cold snaps frustrate residents who are eager for spring weather, but they have financial implications for local crop producers. Certain crops can be covered and protected from frost bite, but for others it can mean a nerve-wracking overnight watch for farmers as temperatures drop.

Lewis Caston was up several nights in the past week monitoring temperatures at Caston Orchards in Onia, but he won’t know until this week if his efforts to save this year’s peach crop were successful. The orchard is equipped with a sprinkler system so that trees can be watered from a pond. If freezing weather occurs after the bloom, the sprinklers are used to coat the blooms with ice, which adds an insulating layer that can extend protection down to 27 degrees, according to Tyler Caston, the Stone County Extension agent whose family runs the orchard. Later this week, Lewis will be able to open some sample blooms in hopes they will still be green and not black.

With several more nights of freezing weather predicted in the coming days, he also fears running short of water in the pond.

Peaches have always been a tricky crop for Stone County. The Castons bulldozed the original peach orchard of 5,000 trees in the 1980s because it wasn’t situated where they could protect it and they often lost the crop. The new orchard of 3,000 trees started producing in 2010 and has produced at least some fruit each year. Caston estimates last year’s crop was about a fifth of full production.

“By this time we’ve already put a lot into peaches, paying people to prune and fertilize and apply fungicide,” Lewis Caston said, “so if you lose a crop you’ve lost quite a bit of money invested.” The standard practice is to spray fungicide three times while the trees are in bloom.

Blueberries are bloomed out but there’s nothing much the Castons can do to protect them.

Cindy Dennis of Dennis Farms on Highway 5 South said their blueberry blooms hadn’t really opened before the two nights they’ve had temperatures below freezing. One night, however, got down to 26 degrees and they were afraid that temperatures Monday night would again endanger the buds.

Most growers with commercial crops such as strawberries are equipped and prepared to cover them if necessary, Tyler Caston said. He noted that home gardens would have required protection, too, but individual tomato plants and other vegetables are easier to manage, and less expensive to lose.

From the April 11, 2018 issue.

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