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Tuesday, May 28, 2024
A frosty welcome to spring blooms: Fruit growers hoping April chill won’t hurt NOTL crop
A peach bloom from MacSween Farms looks healthy despite overnight temperatures around zero April 25 and 26. RICHARD WRIGHT

So far it looks like typical cold snap for this time of year didn’t cause serious damage

The dreaded April frost came last week but Niagara-on-the-Lake stone fruit and grape growers are confident all is not lost.

“We don’t think we have much damage,” said Scott MacSween, owner of NOTL’s MacSween Farms, which produces fruits such as apricots, cherries and nectaries.  “It was touch and go but we still expect a full crop.”

Area farmers woke up to frost on Thursday, April 25 and feared the worst. The following day, overnight temperatures hovered right around zero, though frost was evident in some areas of NOTL on Friday morning.

An early bloom two weeks ago set the stage for concern. The normal time for stone fruits to flower is the end of April or early May.

However, a mild January helped kickstart fruit trees into blooming early, putting them at risk being killed by sustained overnight sub-zero temperatures, which are all too common at this time of the year.

MacSween was in close contact with a number of other stone fruit farmers in NOTL over the course of the two days and reports they too believe it could have been a lot worse.

“I am optimistic,” he said.

“If it would have been minus 3 (on April 26), I would have been confident to say that we lost around 50 per cent. But we weren’t at minus 3. It was zero.”

Confidence aside, the big sigh of relief won’t come for another week or so, MacSween said.

Stone fruit farmers typically overproduce by about 70 per cent of their fruit and prune off damaged or dead foliage starting in June.

So, even if 30 to 40 per cent of the crop was damaged or killed by this week’s temperatures, it would still be considered a good crop.

‘We are OK,’ say grape growers

Much of the same cold-weather concern was felt by grape growers in NOTL. However, in the aftermath they too are confident the below-zero temperatures experienced will have little or no effect on production this year.

Debbie Zimmerman, Grape Growers of Ontario CEO, said proactive measures were taken to mitigate any damage to vines.

“We measure temperatures all the time and we sent a notice out on Tuesday (April 23) that this was going to happen. So they were prepared for this. Growers were running wind machines most of the night. We are OK,” she said.

Earlier this year, Okanagan stone fruit farmers and grape growers in British Columbia were faced with similar challenges following a frigid January that killed off the spring blooms and damaged vines.

Growers there were predicting that the result would mean a loss of up to 90 per cent of their crop.

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