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Frosty weather takes toll on crops

Cherry commission estimates 5-10 percent loss in HR valley

You’ve probably heard it: that hearty, rhythmic thwop-thwop-thwop that rouses you from your early morning dreams. Or you may have noticed a brownish-dull haze hanging in the skies.

Frost fans have been whirring this week and last, fighting early morning frosts that threaten the blossoms for this year’s harvest. Alongside the spinning blades lies another weapon of the land-warriors; the smudge pot.

Blossoms are tender and frost damage can reduce fruit yield. Orchardists depend upon an array of tools and interventions to defend their tender, flowering wards. Local residents don’t often realize the extent of the battle underway in the farms throughout the Hood River valley.

In an effort to keep blossoms warm enough to set fruit, farmers use the smudge pots to burn diesel fuel along tree rows.

While old-fashioned pots do pose air quality concerns for farmers and valley residents, some orchardists are now moving to natural gas systems when finances allow, taking advantage of cleaner burning fuel.

Doubling Hood River farmer worries this season, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, the last two weeks in Hood River were mostly dry but ended with rain showers on April 28. Those rains, combined with current warming temperatures, are posing some risk of increased fire blight.

D’Anjou pears, Red Delicious apples, Bing cherries and Pinot noir grapes were predominantly into late bloom or post bloom stages during the weather events, with early cherries probably taking the hardest hit. Official damage estimates should be issued by May 10.

According to an early estimate, Oregon Sweet Cherry Commission Administrator Dana Branson said overall cherry loss so far in Hood River is about 5 to 10 percent. If the weather holds steady, that will stay at within normal ranges for annual frost losses, and remain relatively insignificant.

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