FRECON FARMS: AFTER THE FREEZE
First and foremost thank you to all of our loyal customers and friends both in and out of the agricultural community for your concerns and warm thoughts during a very trying week. After a day of rest and warming up we would like to provide and update on our crops and production outlook for the season following this freeze. Please feel free to share this information with your communities and clients. Frecon Farms advocates community education and we feel its important to share and educate when our industry is impacted.
Recap of the week:
As mentioned previously our trees and bushes were in an advanced state of development from the warm winter going into the freezing temperatures making them very vulnerable to cold injury. Temperatures 28F and below will cause damage to fruit buds at this stage of growth. The colder the temperature and longer the duration of the cold the worse the damage will be. Most at risk crops were Apricots, Cherries, Plums and Peaches. At less risk although still very vulnerable to injury were Apples, Pears, and Blueberries. The weather stations called for and delivered temperatures at and below 26F Monday, Tuesday and Saturday night. We recorded the following temperatures in our orchard
Monday: Highest elevation 26F Lowest elevation 24F
Tuesday: Highest elevation 24F Lowest elevation 19F
Saturday: Highest elevation 28F Lowest elevation 26F
To protect our crops we utilized nutrient sprays of potassium 24 hours before each freeze. Additionally hundreds of small fires made of apple wood were burned Monday, Tuesday and Saturday from 12:00am to 8:00am the following morning. These fires were burned in the cherries, apricots, plums, early peach varieties and across the side of the hill to make firewall of warm air and smoke that would create an inversion layer in our valley. Just under 300 man hours were used to prepare and execute this plan. In the attached photo at sunrise, the coldest part of the day you can see the layer of smoke from the fires filling the valley. Rain & Snow: Monday and Saturday brought precipitation with the cold. Water or snow as seen in the attached photo of peach flowers will insulate fruit buds from the cold.
Can human intervention make a difference:
With all things living the margin between life and death is very small. One degree of temperature increase can be the difference between loosing the whole crop or a small percentage. 24F in cherries for 30 mins will kill the entire crop while 26F may only reduce the crop by 20%. Frecon Farms employs over 50 people, most of whom have families and in many instances both husband and wife and in some cases children all work in some capacity for the Frecons. It is our duty as employers to ensure not just the survivability of our crop but of our employees jobs. So we gave it all we had last week.
Results to crops:
24 hours after a freeze event we can begin to assess the damage by sampling and cutting buds. In any variety of fruit 100 samples are taken, living and dead and dead buds are counted and a percentage of damage is calculated. In the attached photos you will see sweet cherry buds where the flowers pistil and ovary bulb is either green or black/brown. A green pistil indicates life while brown/black its is dead. Also attached are plum buds where you can see the flower has been burned by the cold but the pistil is green and healthy. My Dad, Henry Frecon, an industry specialist, and I spent time assessing damage.
Apricots: Severe damage as they were past bloom
Plums: Slight Damage - in full bloom but protected by smoke and fire. We have a viable but reduced crop
Cherries: Some Damage - our cherries were in a mixed stage of bloom. On the two cherry trees outside the fire zone there are no living buds. On the cherry trees inside the fire zone more then 50% survived. We feel we have saved a large percent of the crop
Peaches & Nectarines: - Slight Damage - Peaches require a lot of crop thinning and over set from the beginning. Many of the dead buds would have been removed to thin the crop thus there remains a good crop for us to work with
Blueberries - Minimal Damage
Apples: Minimal Damage - like peaches apples over set a crop and thinning is required for size. Not the way we want to thin but after the freeze there remains a very viable crop.
Pears: - Minimal Damage
What comes next:
Although the cold has passed and the long range forecast looks favorable we still have a long going season ahead. The stone fruit trees were heavily stressed by this cold and are in need of nutrients. We will use this week to foliar apply those nutrients and bring the trees back into health. Typically this time of year we blossom thin removing the excess buds to create fruit with size. That will not happen this year as we work to protect the crop that remains.In the coming weeks buds will flower and turn to immature fruit. Although the cold will have now been months ago it is at this stage when we will see or not see the lingering impact of a freeze. Fruit internally damaged from the cold will drop from the trees. This is the trees natural process of promoting the strong and removing the weak.
This week although hard on everyone at Frecon Farms was inspiring in many ways.
For those who question our young or immigrant workers, I welcome you to our orchard to witness inspiring men who were not asked but offered of their own free will to work their regular day, return at midnight work through a long cold night tending fires and remain the following morning to continue the seasons work that must be done freeze or not.
The human spirit and body is capable greatness when challenged.
A sunrise in an orchard is still beautiful even after seeing it for the third time that week.
Thank you for your time, we’ll see you with fruit this summer!
Steve Frecon & the Frecon Farms Family