Concern Over Freezing Crops

By: Stephen McLamb, Bureau Chief
By: Stephen McLamb, Bureau Chief

Loudon, Loudon County (WVLT) - Imagine a summer in East Tennessee without fresh apples, pears, peaches, berries, and grapes at roadside stands and markets everywhere.

There's a serious concern that that could be a reality.

The warm weather has been really welcome for most people ready for spring. It's really helped everything to begin growing including most of the fruit crop.

The problem is the expected cold could kill it all.

The recent warm weather has really gotten the vines of area grape producers like the Tennessee Valley Winery growing into the spring season.

"We're about a week or ten days ahead of schedule, usually they don't come out until about April 15th," explains Tom Reed, Vice President at Tennesse Valley Winery.

But with impending cold weather coming back, it could have more than a chilling effect on the area's grape crop.

"If it's going to be down in the low 20's, it's really going to pretty much destroy the grape crop in Tennessee this year," Reed says.

The cold is expected to affect more than just the grape crop. Area strawberry producers are covering or irrigating water on top of them to put an ice shield on them to keep them protected, to a point.

"Once it gets on down there to like 24, one report was 21, just throw that out the window. It doesn't help," says Loudon County Extension Service Agent John Goddard.

Nearly all the areas fruit crop is at risk from the cold, especially peaches.

"Everybody in the state right now that has a vineyard is freaking out pretty much," says Goddard.

"Twenty five degrees for thirty minutes then we could have a 90 percent kill," adds Reed.

Grape growers like Tom Reed say they'll be doing everything they can over the next few days to protect their crops.

"There's wind machines, smudge pots, overhead irrigation that works down to about 26 degrees but once it gets down below that, nothing really helps protect them," says Reed.

As Reed and others keep their fingers crossed, they know a major freeze could affect more than just this year. "It sets back the vineyard at least two years, sometimes three to five years."

Goddard says if there is a silver lining to it all it could help thin the apple crop which will help grow bigger apples.

Now many people have the habit of putting out their green bean seeds on Good Friday.

Goddard says you may want to hold back on that planting for about a week until this cold spell is gone.


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