While you may be enjoying the recent respite from winter, New Jersey fruit farmers are on pins and needles.

Growers of apples and peaches in the state are concerned that the springlike weather will send a signal to their fruit trees to start budding prematurely. And as Dave Robinson, the State Climatologist at Rutgers University, reminds us, "there is still a lot of cold air to the north. And that can sneak down here."

Robinson says early budding from the warm weather will make the fruit trees very vulnerable to a mid or late March, or even early April, cold spell.

And it could nip those fruit trees "in the bud."

Ben Cassella, field representative of the New Jersey Farm Bureau, says fruit farmers just have to hope that if there is any budding, it is not stifled in March by a cold snap.

"Obviously, if it stayed warm from now on, everything would be fine and stuff would be early. But we are still very early. It is late winter, still, and if they were start budding too soon, we are still looking at the potential for some pretty cold weather in March. Last year, we had a freeze in April."

For apple and peach trees, typically the latter part of March and into April is when different varieties bloom.

What can fruit farmers do to counter the threat? Not a lot.

Casella says if the trees start into the bloom phase, "and there is a threat of a freeze — granted, as long as it is one night or so — they could go back to the burning or the so-called smudge pot. They try and use some things for protection when they are in bloom. But unfortunately, you cross that bridge when you get to it. But there is not much that you can do now but wait and kind of see how everything plays out.

"You often hear about farmers at the mercy of mother nature. This is a perfect example."

Joe Cutter is the afternoon news anchor on New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at Joe. Cutter@townsquaremedia.com

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