‘They took a se­ri­ous hit’

Berwick potato pro­ducer says it’s too early to tell how bad it will be

Annapolis Valley Register - - NEWS - BY KIRK STARRATT KINGSCOUNTYNEWS.CA Kirk.starratt@kingscountynews.ca

When it comes to the im­pact on crop yield and the fi­nan­cial loss in­volved, only time will tell.

A heavy frost overnight from June 3 to 4 has taken its toll on some crops in the Val­ley. Morse’s Farm Lim­ited owner and op­er­a­tor An­thony Morse said he is wait­ing to see how well his early potato crop bounces back af­ter the plants, which had been flour­ish­ing, had sig­nif­i­cant dam­age.

Ex­am­in­ing his fields on June 4, Morse es­ti­mates the so-called hard frost killed 20 to 25 per cent of the leaves on plants in one lo­ca­tion and as much as 50 per cent in a field at a slightly lower el­e­va­tion. He has about 50 acres of early potatoes planted.

Morse said it was the sever­ity and du­ra­tion of the freeze, which lasted sev­eral hours, that com­pro­mised the cell struc­ture of such a large per­cent­age of the leaves on his potato plants. He said he’s never seen potato plants so far along dam­aged so se­verely by frost at this time of year. The crop had been off to one of the best starts he’s ever seen.

Luck­ily, the un­der­ly­ing por­tion of the plants still ap­pear healthy. Morse said only time would tell how badly the frost would im­pact his oper­a­tion in terms of yield and mon­e­tary loss.

“My fear right now is that they took a se­ri­ous hit,” Morse said. “Ei­ther they’re go­ing to come out of it or they’re not.”

He isn’t con­cerned with his straw­berry crop be­cause they have an ex­ten­sive ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem with lat­er­als and sprin­klers they run to pro­tect the plants. Water from the sprin­klers forms lay­ers of ice over the plants, blos­soms and de­vel­op­ing fruit, in­su­lat­ing them from cold and frost dam­age.

He has a ther­mome­ter that is only a few inches off the ground at a low point in the cor­ner of a straw­berry field that in­di­cated late on June 3 that it was time to take ac­tion to pro­tect the crop.

“I started the pumps at 11 o’clock … (June 3) be­cause it had al­ready got­ten down to al­most freez­ing at field level,” Morse said.

He ran his pumps un­til ap­prox­i­mately 9 a.m. on June 4, when the threat of dam­age had passed. Morse es­ti­mates they could have lost up to three-quar­ters of the straw­berry crop if it hadn’t been for the frost pro­tec­tion.

Un­for­tu­nately, they don’t have an ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem set up in the potato fields. Morse spent most of the night in the fields and no­ticed the plants were sag­ging heav­ily. Nor­mally, even on a cool night, the plants are perky. Morse sus­pects that other potato crops in the Val­ley were likely im­pacted in a sim­i­lar man­ner.

“My fa­ther, who is 95, said to me that the lat­est frost he ever saw was the 10th of June,” Morse said. “This was years and years ago, ei­ther in the for­ties or the fifties.”

Morse said that per­haps the worst-case sce­nario would be in­cur­ring an­other heavy frost within a few days.

‘Deep, se­vere frost’

Greg Web­ster, owner of Web­ster Farms in Cam­bridge, de­scribed it as “a deep, se­vere frost” that was more like one you would see in the fall. He said any­one with­out frost pro­tec­tion on fruit crops would have in­curred dam­age, per­haps se­vere dam­age.

He said they ran pro­tec­tion with their ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem on their straw­berry crop all night from June 3 to 4 and he thinks the fruit is go­ing to be al­right. They had the water on early enough and long enough to do the job. It was the 10th night this spring that they’ve run frost pro­tec­tion and there may be a cou­ple more yet.

“We prob­a­bly had half an inch of ice on the straw­berry field last night,” Web­ster said on June 4.

He said their rasp­ber­ries weren’t far enough along to be at se­ri­ous risk, although they do have a first-year field that was fur­ther along than the others.

“It’s too early to tell be­cause they haven’t bloomed yet but the fruit trusses are stretched and there are buds swelling but noth­ing opened,” Web­ster said.

He said they don’t frost pro­tect the rasp­ber­ries be­cause the fruit trusses are so ten­der that they would break off.

Web­ster said it’s too early to tell if their rhubarb crop has been neg­a­tively im­pacted. They weren’t plan­ning on har­vest­ing it this year but do plan to use it as root stock.

He said a lit­tle freez­ing of the leaves doesn’t seem to hurt it too much.

How­ever, if it gets cold enough to freeze the water in­side the stalk, it seems to take the plant a day or so af­ter it thaws out to re­al­ize it’s not get­ting any en­ergy from the leaf and it starts to col­lapse.

Web­ster said their dry beans were just be­ing planted and aren’t up yet so they should be fine. He is hear­ing re­ports from other farm­ers that soy bean crops have in­curred sig­nif­i­cant dam­ages.

“I’m guess­ing there could even be a lit­tle dam­age in the tree fruit in­dus­try,” Web­ster said. “I only know of one or two pro­duc­ers that have any sort of frost pro­tec­tion for ap­ples.”

Web­ster said the tem­per­a­ture at his weather sta­tion, which is about five feet off the ground in his farm yard, fell to -2.5 C. He sus­pects tem­per­a­tures at ground level in the fields, if they hadn’t wa­tered, would have prob­a­bly been in the vicin­ity of -8C.

“We’ve come through it as good as any­body could I think but I know there’s go­ing to be some farms that have lost a sig­nif­i­cant chunk of their pro­duc­tion,” he said.

Web­ster said hav­ing this heavy a frost this late in the sea­son isn’t to­tally un­ex­pected but it doesn’t hap­pen very of­ten, per­haps once in a decade. He said there wasn’t much frost last spring at all. They might have run frost pro­tec­tion three or four times.

KIRK STARRATT PHO­TOS

Morse’s Farm Lim­ited owner and op­er­a­tor An­thony Morse ex­am­ines dam­age caused to his early potato crop by a heavy frost overnight from June 3 to 4.

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