For anyone who makes a living in agriculture, predictions of unseasonable cold are a concern. But to tree-fruit farmers, whose livelihood hangs on every branch in the form of delicate blossoms, the risk of freezing weather is especially unsettling this time of year.
In Henderson County, memories of last year’s Easter weekend freeze are still very much alive. A string of bitter days stripped the blooms from trees on thousands of acres, contributing to a total crop loss of $15 million, countywide.
Over the next few days, a major spring storm that’s battering the plains will reach Western North Carolina in the form of wind, rain and significant cold. Temperatures on Monday and Tuesday night are expected to dip into the low 30s.
Deja vu all over again? Not exactly, says Adam Pryor, President of Blue Ridge Apple Growers. “Anytime you’ve got potentially freezing temperatures with a crop, it’s a concern,” says Pryor. “Frost can still damage them, but I don’t think it’s going to be nearly the severity of last year.”
Currently, Henderson County’s apple trees have a stroke in their favor: The more typical, cool spring weather the region has seen during the past few weeks has held their blossoms back.
“Our trees are at a more normal state,” says Pryor, compared to last year when warm days forced them into bloom a week ahead of time. “You can see the pink of the blooms but they haven’t opened yet.”
Pryor, who considers himself “lucky,” lost 60 percent of his apple crop last year; other growers in the region lost more than 80 percent of their normal harvest to the Easter freeze.
“It’s funny,” he says. “A lot of people think that going to Las Vegas or over to Cherokee is gambling. That’s not gambling. This is gambling. There’s a lot of risk in agriculture.”
— Kent Priestley, contributing editor