HENDERSON CO., NC (WSPA) – A freeze could cause some trouble for local farmers. An agent with Clemson University’s Cooperative Extension said all fruit crops are susceptible to the cold.
“All of our fruit crops are susceptible to cold injury, so we’re very concerned about what could happen tonight,” said Andy Rollins, Agent with Clemson University’s Cooperative Extension.
“Last year on April 22nd, we had a freeze that actually did some more damage, especially to blueberries and muscadines and some other things,” Rollins said. “We also had a freeze April 3rd last year that took out a lot of our peach crops, so this is the year that we’re particularly concerned and wanting to have a crop because of the loses that we experienced last year.”
Right now, if you go to Rainbow Ridge Orchards in Henderson County, you will see things blooming and growing, but when the temperature drops, there are fears.
“We’ve had a few nights on the peaches that were sketchy and had to run the froze dragon,” said Jason Blackwell, Manager at Rainbow Ridge Orchards. “Apples, this is our first real scary night,” he said.
Blackwell said they were scared about the potential frost. He said if they lose any trees to frost, they’ll take years to replace.
“It’s not like a tomato or a pepper plant, where if frost kills, even flowers in the yard, frost kills them, you can replant. These trees take–on an apple tree on average seven years. Peach tree, four years to put it in the ground and once they’re killed, you’re done for the year,” Blackwell said.
“So it’s a concern and, our peaches in particular, once the blooms have come off and the peaches are exposed, they’re at a more susceptible state,” Rollins said. “So a deeper cold can have a much larger impact, and so that’s why I’m thankful for being able to do some trials here to see if we can do something especially in the future, to have some things that will help ensure that we have a crop.”
“Because there’s so much money and time invested in this, and there’s farmers livelihoods, that having some more security would be a great thing on making sure that we can have a crop,” said Rollins.
On Tuesday afternoon, Rollins tested a new solution on a few peach trees which could be a game changer.
“It’s a product that’s patented by Washington State University. It’s a type of cellulose nanocrystal. So cellulose is a component of all living plants. It’s one of the basic components of the the plant,” Rollins said.
“So it’s a very, very small particle of cellulose and it’s made up into a solution and then you actually spray it on the tree,” he said. “Based on the research that they’ve done, we should be able to get 10 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit protection with this material. “
“So what that would mean is if that is true, and holds true here, I’ve been in the Upstate for 15 years, so almost every year if we have had this product to use on a crop, we wouldn’t have lost a single crop in 15 years,” Rollins said.
In the meantime, the farm is using a frost dragon machine to blow hot air on about 20 acres, and a windmill that will circulate air on roughly 10 acres, according to Blackwell.
“It starts anytime the temperate falls below 35 degrees and no wind. If the winds blowing, ain’t got to run,” Blackwell said.
Rollins said three to four degrees makes a difference in farming.
“It’s normally just a few degrees that makes the difference, and so it’s a game changer,” Rollins said.
“It all depends on, like Jason said, if the wind dies down all the way, that’s when our potential for frost and for getting more damage occurs. If the wind continues to blow like it is now, I don’t expect there to be hardly any loses, and really that’s what I’m hoping for,” Rollins said.
Blackwell is remaining hopeful and keeping an eye on the temperature.
“With the frost, it’s never good. Light frost may be okay. Heavy frost can be a disaster,” Blackwell said. I hope the weatherman misses it by three or four degrees,” he said.
In regards to the trial for the new solution, Rollins said he already put it out at a farm in South Carolina.
“We’ve already tested this one time, but it was an artificial testing, it wasn’t an in the field testing,” Rollins said.
“So this is a follow-up to that. One of the professors at Clemson have already shown that it does work. but this is the first field trial of the product in our state,” Rollins said.