Farmers, vineyards preparing for drop in temperature

Published: Mar. 8, 2023 at 5:53 PM EST
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ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - After a very warm February temperatures are declining this week. With more hard freezes coming in the next few weeks produce farmers are taking some precautionary measures.

The decrease in temperature can be a problem with some fruits already starting to bud. It’s something that farmers and vineyards are keeping an eye on.

“We don’t do tree production however we do do a lot of berry production, strawberries, blackberries, red raspberries, that kind of stuff. They’re definitely pushing out earlier than usual this year but so far no blooms and that’s when we get into trouble, so hopefully, this cold snap will actually help hold things off a little bit,” said Joe Ulmer, owner of Overlook Farms in Mount Crawford.

While Overlook Farms’ berries have not yet begun to bloom the farm is still taking precautions in case of a freeze.

“Strawberries are our main thing that we try to protect. We have to often times put on a row cover, it’s a fabric, and we cover about three to four acres with that fabric. It’s a lot of work, you can’t just cover it and leave it covered, you have to uncover it during the day,” said Ulmer.

Ulmer said that Overlook Farms is using some new methods this year to prepare for the potential cold.

“We’re trying to grow on white plastic this year instead of black, that hopefully will delay our strawberries about two weeks. We’re doing everything we can to hold those blooms off so we don’t get so much frost on them and so much damage,” he said.

For local vineyards, the cold is not yet a major concern as their grapes have not begun to sprout however the mild winter has moved up their timeline.

“We’re noticing a little bit of sap starting to run. So what that’s telling us is we’re about two weeks early. The vineyard so far is ok we’re not seeing any swelling or things like that so we’re looking probably to the end of April for bud break,” said Saam Bakhtiar, Director of Operations at CrossKeys Vineyards.

CrossKeys Vineyards is in the process of pruning its vines. While this week’s temperatures aren’t an issue the real concern is the possibility of a late frost in late April or early May.

“We have some machines that are set up to deter that frost, wind moving things around. Two to three degrees below freezing can cause the vine a lot of damage. It will basically allow the fruit at the end of the year to be significantly less,” said Bakhtiar.

For farmers mild winters like the one, this year are a relatively good thing because they lead to lower greenhouse heating costs and can increase sales. This was especially true for Overlook Produce which was open in the winter for the first time ever this year and has opened a bakery and deli.

However, there is one downside to the mild winter.

“Warm winters do tend to not kill bugs as much and help with disease. If you get a real good cold winter it tends to help with bugs and disease a little bit better,” said Ulmer.