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Ice covers peach buds at Isom’s Orchard in Athens on Saturday. Water was applied to the trees in hopes the ice would keep the temp-erature of the fruit from dipping below 32 degrees, saving the crop.
Daily photo by Emily Saunders
Ice covers peach buds at Isom’s Orchard in Athens on Saturday. Water was applied to the trees in hopes the ice would keep the temp-erature of the fruit from dipping below 32 degrees, saving the crop.

Easter on ice: Record cold damages crops

By Holly Hollman · 340-2445

Record-breaking cold may be an inconvenience for ladies who bought short-sleeved Easter outfits with matching sandals, but it’s havoc on farmers.

Saturday morning’s temperature dipped to 25 degrees, breaking a 27-degree record for that day set in 1950. The all-time record for the coldest day in April is 24 degrees, set on April 1, 1923.

Meteorologist Dave Nadler with the National Weather Service in Huntsville said the area was likely to experience another record-breaking cold Sunday morning. Nadler said North Alabama will contend with subfreezing temperatures through Monday morning.

“I’ll be glad when global warming gets here,” said Wes Isom of Isom’s Orchard in Athens. “I don’t care what Al Gore says.”

Isom referred to the former vice president’s crusade to halt global warming, captured in the movie “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Isom and his workers spent Friday night and Saturday morning trying to save their 65-acre peach crop. Workers used overhead sprinklers to coat the peaches in ice. The ice releases heat and maintains the fruit’s temperature at 32 degrees.

Despite those efforts, Isom isn’t optimistic.

“The peach crop doesn’t look good,” Isom said. “Due to the warmer temperatures we had earlier, the crop was far advanced. It’ll be a few more days before we know for sure if it’s all gone.”

Statewide, Alabama’s peach crop has an estimated value of $3.5 million.

Isom said his 35 acres of apples took “a pretty good blow” as well, but may fare better than the peaches. The peach trees already had fruit about the size of a nickel.

The farm’s first planting of sweet corn is flat on the ground, Isom said, but the second planting is shorter and looks OK.

Grapes may bloom again, Isom said, saving that crop.

Wheat crop ruined

For Hillsboro farmer Brian Glenn, the freeze has likely ruined 700 acres of wheat.

“The best-case scenario is that it is severely damaged,” Glenn said. “The wheat was far enough along that it’s flowering, and I just don’t see the wheat making it. I’ve never dealt with anything of this magnitude with my crops.”

Glenn has insurance coverage but doesn’t know if insurers will declare his crop a total loss or require him to harvest what remains.

Glenn, who is chairman of the Alabama Farmers Federation’s state wheat and feed grains committee, said he already contracted with ConAgra to provide grain. Pre-selling and contracting before harvesting is called a forward contract.

“My other fear is how to handle that,” Glenn said. “A lot of other farmers probably have done similar forward contracts and are in the same situation.”

Statewide, farmers planted 130,000 acres of wheat, a 30 percent increase from last year.

Glenn said if the wheat is a loss, the only option for farmers is to plant corn behind it.

“But that’s if you can get the seed,” Glenn said. “The corn seed supply is tight and will get tighter if there’s more demand for it after this cold snap.”

Glenn already has planted corn and said that crop may recover.

“The corn is browning and laying over, but it may make it,” he said.

Freeze warning

The National Weather Service issued a freeze warning through 9 a.m. Sunday. Gardeners should take precautions with their plants. Cover potted plants that normally remain outdoors, or bring them inside.

Those with outdoor pets should provide them with protection.

Nadler said temperatures should start to moderate Tuesday and “get closer to normal.” The seven-day forecast shows a high of 64 on Tuesday and up to 74 degrees on Friday.

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