Fruit Growers Take Stock of New Crop

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Fruit growers in Stone County still don’t know the damage extent, but unseasonably hard overnight freezes in February and April took a toll on a crop that won’t see bumper yields this year.

In the overnight hours of April 20, temperatures fell into the 20s across about half the state, triggering the second historic freeze event in 2021.

While many horticulture producers were able to prepare by covering berries and other bush plants, peach and muscadine growers weren’t able to muster such defenses.

Stone County Extension Agent Tyler Caston said “last freeze” dates can vary widely across the county but can generally be considered as April 8-20.
“So that last one was about as late as it gets but it was tough,” Caston said.

The first event, which occurred the week of February 14, happened when many of the state’s fruit crops were still in their winter dormancy.

Amanda McWhirt, extension horticultural crop specialist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said the second event caught many of the state’s fruit crops at a particularly vulnerable stage of development.

“After the February event we observed some losses to peaches, blueberry and blackberry crops across the state,” McWhirt said.

Unfortunately, crops whose floral buds survived the February freeze were then blooming or setting small fruit during our more recent freeze event.”

Robert Caston, a local grower with about 80 acres of fruit crops and groves said in addition to the freezes that hail on three separate occasions damaged fruit.

“I think we’ll have a short crop with the blackberries, but we may have a fair crop with apples and blueberries,” Caston said.

Tyler Caston said the damage occured when temperatures dipped below 28 degrees and frost covered fruit blooms. The damage to strawberries begins around 30 degrees, he said.

“If you still have blooms, you’re okay,” he said. “If there’s still fruit on there you can cut into the fruit and if it’s green, it’s okay. If it’s brown, it’s dead.”

Read the full story in the May 12, 2021 issue.

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