Deep freeze could jeopardize farmer’s crops

MORGAN COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) - This week's series of cold nights could pose a major threat to fruit farmers, who depend on a strong harvest to make ends meet.

Mother nature has not been an ally to local growers this year. First, a mild winter increased the risk of fruit trees not receiving enough chill to produce a good yield.

Next, we go unseasonably warm, accelerating the blooming cycle.

Now, many types of fruit may not make it, as old man winter returns to the Tennessee Valley.

“If this kind of weather happens in January or February it’s usually not a problem," says Mike Reeves, the Morgan County Ag Extension Coordinator. “Certain varieties will be hurt worse than others.”

The Reeves' family farm specializes in peaches, and says they begin blooming around this time and will continue to for the next few weeks.

“Some may be more advanced like this one is full bloom. Those little blooms are a lot more susceptible to the cold weather," says Reeves.

He says fully bloomed peach branches may not make it.

“The tighter the bud is, the more temperature it can stand as far as cold weather," he says.

For peaches, there is a saving grace, eventually each branch can only hold 3 full grown peaches. So, if some of the blooms die, it's not dire.

That's not the case for all fruit.

Mike covered his strawberries in preparation for all this arctic air but says, even if he loses some of these, it’s not the end of the world, strawberries will continue to bloom for several more weeks. That’s not the case for blueberries, which means farmers that grow those could have a serious problem on their hands.”

“Blueberries are pretty much at full bloom. They’ll be more vulnerable. Not a lot you can do with blueberries," says Reeves.

The same goes for plums. They also only bloom once a year.

“Really it boils down to how advanced the crop is," he says.

Under normal circumstances, Mike can water his peach trees to protect them from frost, but not in a deep freeze.

"In this situation, there’s not a lot we can do because it will be so cold for so long," says Reeves.

So now, all the Reeves' family can do is wait and see what mother nature has in store.

“How much it affects the actual crop will remain to be seen. We can tell probably on into the day Thursday what kind of damage we got, or more importantly, if there’s a crop left," he says.