Temperatures in New Hampshire reached record lows last Thursday, causing significant damage to apple and blueberry crops in the Monadnock Region and beyond.
In some apple orchards across the state, crop losses were higher than 50 percent, University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension specialist Jeremy Delisle said Monday.
He said this is the most damaging freeze that he has seen in his 18-year career, noting the cold weather hit when many plants were blooming and vulnerable.
“The fact that we were at such a susceptible stage of crop development made this more of an impactful event,” Delisle said, adding statewide damage estimates are still being tallied but could exceed $1 million.
“A lot of the fruit has been damaged, but we do expect an apple crop,” he said. “Blueberries also took a hit, but definitely there are some viable fruit buds developing out there.”
Simon Renault, general manager of Scott Farm Orchard in Dummerston, Vt., said Monday the farm’s 18 acres of apples were decimated.
“We lost pretty much 100 percent of our crop,” he said. “We’ve spoken to our neighbors who have been in the business for 70 years, and they said there’s never been such a hard freeze at such a late date.”
Sarah Jamison, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Gray, Maine, said a cold and dry air mass out of Canada sent temperatures plummeting into the 20s throughout a large portion of New Hampshire early this past Thursday.
A low of 25 degrees was recorded in Concord, tying the record for the coldest May 18 at that location since record-keeping began in that city in 1868.
“The median date for the last spring freeze is usually around May 11,” Jamison said. “This was an unusually late freeze, and this was a hard freeze — the distinction being that a frost is when the temperature hovers around freezing and a hard freeze is when it’s below freezing for several hours.”
The National Weather Service put out a warning before the freeze, Renault said, but it is difficult for most mid-sized apple farms to do much to prevent or mitigate damage.
“We could have giant wind turbines or overhead irrigation, but that would be cost prohibitive,” said Renault, whose farm supplies a number of grocery stores, including the Monadnock Food Co-op in Keene.
He said the freeze destroyed the small fruitlets that are the initial stage of the apple. It also damaged grapevines and pawpaw fruit.
Renault said he’s hopeful the farm stand can still do good business this year, perhaps selling products from other farms.
In Walpole, Alyson’s Orchard, which has 50 acres of fruit-bearing trees, also saw some damage, said Homer Dunn, the orchard manager. But he said Monday the loss was still being estimated and didn’t want to speculate on its extent.
Other crops affected by the freeze included strawberries, grains and vegetables.
In Keene, Bill Jarrell is owner of Green Wagon Farm, a small-scale, produce and cut flower farm on Court Street.
Jarrell, who has about 20 acres in agricultural production, said he lost about half of his cherry tomato plants and 20 percent of his strawberries.
“It is trying, but for things that are out of our control, we just do the best we can to deal with them,” he said.
Carl Majewski, the UNH Extension representative for Cheshire County, was surveying damage to grain crops on Monday.
“Cold injury could affect development of wheat, barley and oats,” he said. “Part of the plant is not able to develop, and they may not be able to flower, and yields could be lower.”
He said tomatoes are susceptible to freeze damage if not covered, and that some home gardeners may have found this out the hard way.
“They are not tolerant at all,” he said of tomatoes. “Anyone with tomatoes out without protection, those plants are probably gone.”
Rick Green, who covers the Statehouse in Concord for The Sentinel, owns Green Acres Blueberry Farm in New Hampton, a U-pick operation that had minor freeze damage.
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