New Jersey farmers have been worried about the recent freezing temperatures hurting their crops.
Last week, subfreezing temps over a few nights after unseasonable warmer weather, caused many fruit crops, especially peaches, to bloom early.
There is a general concern when it comes to cold weather, said Peter Furey, executive director of the New Jersey Farm Bureau. The good thing is that the state is very early in the crop growing season.
He said most growers have been reporting that most of these weather-sensitive fruit crops were not exposed. The buds were not breaking open off to be exposed.
Most farmers, especially commercial farmers should be in pretty good shape, Furey said.
If consumers are concerned about their produce, the fruit that could be affected the most are peaches, but the early variety ones said, Furey. They are the most susceptible to the cold.
"Blueberries are further behind so they're in pretty good shape. Apples open up a little bit later so the frontline would be these early variety peaches," Furey said.
But he added that there is a natural thinning that Mother Nature provides. Natural thinning is the removal of flowers, fruits, or young plants to allow adequate space for the remaining plants to grow efficiently.
So if the cold temperature nips the crop, it's not calamitous. We worry if things are further along and we get these temperatures we just got. That would be a serious problem but fortunately, we are not in that circumstance," Furey said.
Most commercial farmers should be OK, but Furey said it's possible private farmers could be having difficulty. Many don't have a lot of acreages, so crops are vulnerable. Changes in elevation and other exposures can happen, and unfortunately, some crops could be lost.
For example, Ronald Thomas owns peach orchards at Sunny Slope Farms in Hopewell Township and says his flowering peaches are frozen and can not produce fruit.
He said there is not much farmers can do to protect their crops. Cloud cover, wind and a constant breeze, elevation where there is a slope to the orchard are all good. Generally, they are at the mercy of Mother Nature.
New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture, Douglas Fisher agrees. He said farmers are incredibly resilient and each crop has a different story.
Spinach tolerates the cold weather very well and strawberries are protected under row covers. In areas across the state, every farm has a different story of how they are adapting to weather conditions.
Fisher said with peaches, if they start to bud too early, some could be lost to the cold. "But on the other hand, it's not the first time this has happened. There will be plenty of fruit. And what it does is, the fruit will be larger due to natural thinning. There will be plenty of peaches," he said.
But Fisher said there are some precautions farmers can take to protect their crops. Some use helicopters to move the air so it doesn't settle and frost on top of the fruit.
He also said the New Jersey Department of Agriculture asked the state Department of Environmental Protection for permission for farmers to protect their crops with controlled open burning or use of special torches through April 5.
These are called "smudge pots." They again, change the air patterns around the fruit trees so there is no frost set.
Fisher said bottom line, the weather is always a concern but farmers will weather through it like always.
Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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