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Women in Ag: Fear the Frost

An unseasonably warm February has many farmers fearing a frost that is expected this weekend in North Carolina.

The warm weather has many crops blooming early.  Strawberries are flowering two to three weeks ahead of a typical year.  Apples, peaches, and other tree crops are flowering. Even wheat in some parts of the state has already sprouted, meaning the grains have formed. All could be destroyed by freezing temperatures. 

Farmers have tools to protect some of these crops. Many fruit tree producers have large frost fans in their orchards. The fans mix warm upper air with colder air below, raising the temperature around the trees enough to prevent damage. This is critical because every flower has the potential to produce a fruit. 

Some fruit tree farmers use the same method strawberry famers employ to protect their crops. As temperatures approach freezing, farmers turn on overhead irrigation. The water covers plants and turns to ice, releasing heat as it freezes. This insulates the flower, protecting it from freezing temperatures. Farmers have to pull an all-nighter, monitoring temperatures and the irrigation equipment to make sure the nozzles don’t freeze or clog. As long as the plants get enough water, the flowers will not be damaged.

Strawberries under ice

The first time I saw a field covered in ice, it was hard to believe the crop would escape unharmed. That spring, I picked strawberries out of the same field I thought would surely be lost to the cold temperatures.

Strawberry farmers can also use row covers to protect their crops. The plastic covers are pulled over the plants, then they are removed when temperatures rise above freezing.

Last year, a late frost damaged crops across the state. Here’s hoping our farmers don’t have much damage this weekend.

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