Massive crop damage around the South

Record-low freezing temperatures around the South over this past weekend had a devastating impact on crops that could result in damages in the hundreds of millions of dollars and higher prices for produce in the coming months.

From the Cullman County Times (Alabama):

Spradlin lost 100 percent of his peach crop over the weekend - 2,500 trees in all. He also lost most of his vegetable, blueberry, blackberry and apple crops as a result of subfreezing temperatures Friday and Saturday night.

From the Peachtree Corners Weekly (Georgia):

"The apple and peach crops in North Georgia are wiped out," says [Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy] Irvin. "And middle to south Georgia may have 50 percent or less of the peach crop left."


"County agents in the blueberry area are saying that much of the current crop is damaged, some with an 80 to 90 percent loss," Irvin says.

The article says the pecan crop was also affected, but the extent of the damage is not yet known.

The Greensboro News-Record (North Carolina) reports extensive damage to blueberry and strawberry crops:

It's unclear how widespread the damage was. Keith Baldwin with N.C. A&T's Cooperative Extension program said he had anecdotal reports but could not yet estimate what percentage of area crops had been damaged.


"I think I got completely wiped out," said Ken Fagg, owner of U-Pick Blueberry Farm on North Church Street. "I told my wife I don't believe we have enough to make a cobbler out of them."

The news was much the same at Ma and Pa's Strawberries in Oak Ridge.

"I've got a lot of damage, a whole lot," owner Frank Yost said. "I had some plants seeded in a remade bed with cloth all around them, and I lost all of them."

From the Gainesville Times (Georgia):

State officials say it could be days or weeks before they know the full effect of the weekend freeze that damaged tender fruit crops throughout the state. But Jimmy Echols knows that none of Jaemor's 15,000 to 20,000 bushels of peaches will be produced. He's keeping his fingers crossed that some of the late-season apple crop may make it. But the greatest fear is more serious damage to the trees. Echols' business, Jaemor Farms, is a family operation.

KATV in Little Rock Arkansas reports:

John Post says the Post Familie Vineyards of Altus in Franklin County expects to lose 100% of this year's bunch-grape crop because of the freeze.

The state's wheat crop also likely suffered damage, but the extension service says it's too early to assess the full effect.

The Daily Record in Dunn, North Carolina says that damage to the corn crop ranges from 10% to 20% in some areas to total loss in others. Strawberry crops were damaged, but did better than expected. Not so for apples:

The weekend's freezing weather appears to have destroyed this year's apple harvest in Henderson County, one of the largest apple-growing counties in the Southeast.

Experts said growers throughout the mountain county reported a dire outlook for this year's harvest after temperatures dropped into the teens on Friday and Saturday nights. One local grower said it's the worst damage in more than 50 years, and he would be surprised if any of his crop survives.

"I just can't believe there is anything that will come through with it being so cold for three nights," said Joseph Stepp, owner of Stepp Orchard in Edneyville.

Growers in Henderson County account for more than 85 percent of the apples grown in North Carolina, which ranks seventh nationally, said Marvin Owings Jr., a fruit tree specialist with the Cooperative Extension Service.

Last year, apple growers in the county produced just shy of a full crop with 3.3 million bushels, generating more than $22.8 million in gross returns, Mr. Owings said.

There were similar reports from apple orchards in East Tennessee. According to the Knoxville News Sentinel:

"It pretty well got most everything," said Bill Kilpatrick, owner of the Apple Barn in Pigeon Forge. Kilpatrick has about 3,700 apple trees at the 30-year-old Pigeon Forge landmark.


Kilpatrick ... said what made the cold temperatures so damaging is that they were sustained for several hours as opposed to other freezes that might have lasted an hour or two.

"I'd say we are pretty well done in," he said. He did note, though, that some varieties have secondary buds and growers will just have to wait and see if they come out.

He said the Apple Barn would get apples for cider this year from other growers, but he noted the cold was so widespread across the East that it may hurt the supply of apples.

The Roanoke Times in Virginia reports:

Peaches, cherries and plums were hit particularly hard by the three days of frost, with some farmers already reporting total losses of each crop this year. Some varieties of apples also suffered, as did many grapevines that were already showing shoots -- although many agricultural experts say it's too early to determine the extent of the damages.

The Jackson Sun in Tennessee reports on area corn crops:

Gibson County corn farmers could lose more than $10 million in harvests if this past weekend's frost killed just 30 percent of the county's estimated 60,000 acres planted. Madison County corn farmers could lose more than $2 million if they lose 30 percent of their estimated 15,000 acres planted.

County extension agents and farmers are waiting anxiously for Thursday when they can begin determining the exact amount of crop damage caused by this weekend's historically low temperatures, said Philip Shelby, University of Tennessee county extension director and agriculture agent for Gibson County.

"It (a crop) could be anywhere from totally lost to a percentage," Shelby said.

Crop damage is not confined to the South. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Missouri wheat crop may be largely lost, and the Wisconsin Ag Connection reports:

The Easter weekend freeze dealt the wheat crop a severe blow. Temperatures dropped into the teens in northern and central Kansas and the low 20s in southern Kansas. Lows fell to the mid 20s into north central Oklahoma. More than half the wheat crop was in the joint stage in Kansas and some of the crop in the affected region of Oklahoma was in the boot stage. Crop losses could be substantial in that important area of the hard red winter wheat region.

With fruit trees and other annual crops, experts say the damage resulted from unusually warm weather in February and March that caused them to bud out early just before the record-low freezing temperatures hit, wiping out the blossoms and small fruit. In other cases, farmers growing produce such as corn and tomatoes planted early to get a head start on the growing season, a gamble that did not pay off. The freeze had a mixed effect on strawberry crops, because many strawberry farms have irrigation systems that can be run continuously during freezes to protect the plants.

The damage could reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Government officials around the South are already talking about declaring a disaster and seeking federal aid. Regardless of the final assessment regarding the extent of the damage, we can probably expect local produce to be scarce and more expensive this year, and small family run farms could be looking at major economic losses.