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story.lead_photo.caption Grimes Golden apples hang in a tree in a 2017 file photo at Vanzant Fruit Farms in Lowell. - Photo by J.T. Wampler

Arkansas fruit growers, already dealing with damage caused by frigid air last week, are bracing for another round this weekend.

This time of year fruit crops are in bloom, and damage to flowers can stunt fruit production.

The National Weather Service is predicting a Sunday night low temperature in Northwest Arkansas of 29 degrees.

"If it really happens, that's going to be a soul crusher," said Guy Ames, a Washington County fruit producer.

There's little that orchard operators can do about a hard freeze.

Ryan Neal, Benton County extension agent for the University of Arkansas System's Division of Agriculture, uses a watering system to protect his blueberries from freezing weather. By keeping an icy layer on the plants, they stay at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, which prevents damage. The technique does not work when the wind is blowing. Because Neal expected stiff winds this past Friday, he did not turn it on and lost about a half-acre of early blooming blueberries. The rest were "still asleep" and unaffected, he said.

Neal said he awoke last Friday to a 24-degree temperature and no wind, and National Weather Service data for Fayetteville predicted a temperature dip to 25 degrees the next morning.

The weather forecast for this weekend ranges from damaging thunderstorms to another freeze.

Rising temperatures this week are helping with the bloom. If cooler air strikes again "we're going to be hurting," Ames said.

Ames, 66, of Ames Orchard and Nursery in Fayetteville, grows disease-resistant fruits including pawpaws, heirloom apples, grapes and Asian pears. Most of his peach and Korean Giant pear crops were ruined last week.

"There's not much I could have done anyway," he said. "When it gets down to 24 [degrees] ... it's hard to protect."

Ames said he lost an estimated $4,500 worth of Asian pears. That's "not much for a big fruit grower, but it hurts me," he said.

His "pretty dependable" pawpaws that grow wild here also took a hit, Ames said. His apples, which have yet to bloom, survived the cold snap unscathed. Other orchards had it worse, he said, depending on where they are in the Ozarks.

David Cox of Johnson County said the damage on his 120-acre property near Clarksville was isolated to lower areas more susceptible to cold.

"The ones on the upper ground did better," said Cox, of Coxberry Farm & Nursery.

Cox said he has about 30 acres on Redlick Mountain planted with berries, apples and peaches. While his strawberries were safe under a row cover, he said, a peach variety in the lower hills was damaged.

Cox said he plans to use the row cover again this weekend, but said there's not much else he can do for his apple and peach trees.

"I'm hoping it doesn't get too bad," he said.

Stephen Vanzant, of Lowell, said last week's cold snap "hammered us."

Vanzant, 59, of Vanzant Fruit Farms, grows mostly peaches and apples on his land in Washington County along with some grapes and berries. Located 5 miles north of Springdale, Vanzant depends on peaches to attract customers before the fall apple season. But last week's frost took a bite out of his plans.

"It got 80 to 90 percent of my peaches," along with some young Fuji apples and grapes, Vanzant said. The sixth-generation farmer said he hasn't taken a hit like this since 2007.

To compensate, Vanzant plans to buy peaches from other parts of the state. He's worried this weekend's weather "could hurt the rest of these apples."

"I can't imagine anyone not having damage," said John Aselage, of A&A Orchards. Located in Carroll County, his peach and apricot crops were hit the hardest. Still Aselage is optimistic he can recover for farmers markets in Fayetteville and Bentonville.

"I'm pretty happy now with what I got," he said.

But if the cold weekend forecast is correct, "that's not going to be good for anybody," Aselage said. "Everything could change."

Business on 04/12/2018

Print Headline: Cold air to again threaten orchards

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