Spring cold snap not peachy for farmers

/ Source: msnbc.com

The later-than-usual winter storm that smacked much of the eastern United States over the weekend is threatening to wipe out harvests of peaches, strawberries and other popular fruit crops, growers said Monday.

The storms that hit Easter week dropped impressive snowfalls in the Great Lakes region — Marquette, Mich., had gotten 49 inches of snow since Tuesday — and sent temperatures plummeting far below danger levels as far south as Texas and Georgia. And little help is on the horizon.

A new storm system making its way into the Pacific Northwest was expected to drop 3 to 5 more inches of snow Tuesday across the Upper Midwest, NBC WeatherPlus meteorologists forecast. Snow was also expected to continue in the Northeast, with 4 to 8 more inches in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and northeastern New York.

New freeze watches were in effect for Tuesday morning for parts of the mid-Mississippi Valley, the Ohio River Valley, the Tennessee Valley and the mid-Atlantic.

‘Really brown mush’
The biggest impact of the wintry weather was being felt by fruit growers in the South and the Midwest.

Peach growers in Missouri “had hundreds of trees damaged and broken apart,” said Jan Wooten of Sunshine Valley Farm in Rogersville. She said as much as 95 percent of the region’s crop could be lost.

Peaches usually don’t bloom until around April 10, Wooten told NBC affiliate KYTV of Springfield, but because of the freezing weather, “this year, we were in bloom in the middle of March, and that’s just never happened before.”

So when the freezing weather arrived, the blossoms were left unprotected. “I’m afraid we’re just going to see really brown mush,” Wooten said.

In South Carolina, where temperatures dipped into the mid- to upper 20s for the third straight night Sunday, farmers said much of the state’s $35 million peach crop — the second-largest in the nation — was in grave danger, NBC affiliate WYFF-TV of Greenville reported.

Warmer-than-usual weather in late March meant many peach blossoms were already in the early stage of development there, as well, allowing the cold temperatures to literally nip them in bud.

At Gramling Farms in Gramling, S.C., owner Henry Gramling said his peach crop was “demolished, destroyed and a total loss.” Strawberries made it through the cold weather and he will start planting vegetables and other fresh produce soon, he said, but “every peach is destroyed.”

Likewise, Bruce Johnson, a peach farmer with BBB Properties in Inman, S.C., said his crop was a “total loss” — the worst in at least 40 years. Nothing can be done to save it, he said, and his only recourse is to absorb the loss and try again next year.

The story was the same across the South, where strawberries and blueberries are also in critical condition, NBC’s Janet Shamlian reported from Nashville, Tenn.

“You can see how dark this one is,” strawberry farmer Mike Bradley said as he showed off a wilted bud in Cottontown, Tenn. “That won’t make a berry.”

The cold weather will likely mean sharply higher fruit prices, said Bradley’s wife, Cathy, who added, “This is the most severe temperature event we’ve had this close to harvest.”

Baseball on ice
The late freeze wiped out more than just everyone’s favorite fruits, however.

After failing to open their season for three straight days after Cleveland was blanketed in snow, the Cleveland Indians gave up Monday and said they were picking up and moving to Milwaukee for the week, NBC affiliate WEWS-TV reported. The Indians will open a three-game “home” series Tuesday against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Miller Park because Jacobs Park in Cleveland was unsafe and uncomfortable.

The Indians’ weekend season-opening series against the Seattle Mariners was a total loss. There was no immediate word on when that series will be played, because the Mariners have no more trips to Cleveland this season.

Games were also frozen out over the weekend in New York, Chicago and Detroit. In Pittsburgh, the Pirates managed to get in a game at Heinz Field, but only thanks to 300 gallons of hot chocolate that were brought in from neighboring PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, NBC affiliate WPXI-TV reported.

In fact, Just about the only happy campers this weekend were skiers.

Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Plattsburgh, N.Y., got a late gift of 30 inches of new snow in the last three days, salvaging what had been a desultory ski season, NBC affiliate WPTZ-TV reported.

Warm conditions this winter left much of the resort dry and sandy, and management began laying off workers in January, resort officials said. But so much snow has fallen since Friday that the resort has made it all the way to its average seasonal average.

As hundreds of snow-starved skiers flocked to the resort over the weekend, officials told WPTZ that they even have an outside chance of breaking even.