March 25, 2014
Alabama farmers are preparing for an overnight freeze which could harm peach trees and strawberry plants. The Birmingham National Weather Service is predicting lows in the upper 20s on Wednesday morning.
Alabama farmers are taking precautions to protect strawberry and peach crops from the potential freeze forecasters are predicting for Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
Cullman County farmer Jeremy Calvert grows an acre of strawberries and has a five acre peach orchard. He covered his strawberries with plastic on Saturday, March 22, to insulate the blooming plants from the cold.
“We have some green berries on the plants, but I don’t expect any problems now that the strawberries are covered,” Calvert said. “Peaches could be different. Our trees are still blooming, but growers farther south may have small peaches already, which won’t stand the cold. A lot of Alabama farmers will be up all night tonight watching the weather and doing what they can to protect their crops.”
While covering strawberries is additional work for farmers, the greatest concern is damage to early-maturing varieties of peach trees. While most growers believe losses will be minimal, the impact would be greater if temperatures dip too low for too long. To protect peach trees, farmers may use mist sprinklers and drip irrigation to keep the ground wet, wind machines to circulate air and burn brush piles upwind of orchards.
Chilton County Research and Extension Center Director Jim Pitts said a similar cold snap occurred last year around this same time, and few losses were reported.
“Right now, the forecasted wind would be enough to prevent a freeze,” Pitts said. “If the wind calms, there’s a greater chance of damage. Some growers will have wind machines going early Wednesday morning to protect their trees.”
Pitts said some peach tree blossoms fell over the weekend because of the warm temperatures, and those will be more susceptible to damage if the freeze occurs.
The Birmingham National Weather Service is forecasting a widespread freeze across central Alabama, with lows reaching the upper 20s early Wednesday morning. Temperatures are expected to rise above freezing shortly after sunrise.