Freeze warning leaves growers scrambling

Frozen strawberry plant

March 29, 2011 10:13:40 AM PDT
Farmers around central Carolina were paying close attention to the thermometer Tuesday morning.This time of year is crucial for strawberries and if the temperature drops a degree too low, the crop could be ruined.

In Raleigh at Page Farms on Mount Herman Road, most of the blooms Danny Page checked on late Tuesday morning seemed to have survived the overnight frost, which is good news because strawberry season makes up the bulk of his business for the entire year.

Like hundreds of other strawberry farmers across the state, Page says he spent the entire night spraying water on his crops to form a layer of ice protection.

"We started last night around 10 p.m. throwing water to build the ice to protect the blooms," Page said. "When we're talking about cold weather (our livelihood is) riding on just a few nights and just one mistake can really cost you. This is probably 85 percent of our money."

Other farmers use row covers to insulate the plants, but the goal is to maintain the temperature.

"We throw water to build ice and as long as you keep building ice it will stay at 32 degrees all during the night," Page said. "About every hour and a half we walk around the fields check the sprinkler make sure they're turning and there's none stopped up or anything."

Earlier in the morning at Lyon Strawberry Farm in Creedmoor, farmer Mark Lyon was spraying down his peach trees to protect the tender buds from damage by the cold.

Lyon said he wasn't as concerned about his strawberries, because they were covered by a synthetic material and protected from the frigid temperatures.

However in Guilford County Monday night, farmer James Kenan was very concerned about his berries. He was also up all night trying to protect his six and a half acre, $60,000 investment.

"If I want to eat the rest of the year and make any money at all, we have to monitor them," he said. "I knew I wasn't going to have any sleep."

Kenan has a temperature alarm that wakes him up when the air cools to 35 degrees. That usually means the ground is a few degrees cooler.

"Van gives you a temperature from five feet up," Kenan said. "At ground level, it's probably 3 or 4 degrees cooler than that."

And 33 degrees is as cold as the new strawberry blooms can take.

Kenan says if his strawberries make it through, the crop should be ripe in about a month.

In the meantime, Lyon says he doesn't think prices will rise on local strawberries because of the cold blast.

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