BURLINGTON, NC – A month and a half of unseasonably warm weather, followed by a light snow fall, then freezing temperatures. The fickle North Carolina weather has caused everything from minor annoyances for people, to canceled flights, unforgiving allergies and dying fruit crops.
Peach farmer Steve Smith tried to remain optimistic about his crops. When the weather took a turn in early March, bringing cold temperatures and snow, he took a proactive approach: pouring water on his peach crops and allowing them to freeze.
“It’s the physics of water freezing and going back to 32 degrees,” said Smith, owner of Buttermilk Creek Farms in Burlington.
The process managed to save Smith’s crops 6 times in 2017. But, a March 14th freeze will prove too much and the process won’t be effective.
“The overhead irrigation works as long as the wind speed is below 10 mph and the temperature is above 25,” Smith explained. “The problem is if we put water on the trees and the wind blows it will break down the trees.”
On Tuesday night heading in Wednesday morning, the temperatures will drop to around 20 degrees on average in the Triad and winds will gust over 30mph at times.
Smith said, “We’re going to lose the entire crop of peaches for sure and we’re going to lose the crop of blueberries tonight.”
Although he’s losing a substantial amount of fruit, Smith said he’s not too worried. He’s had successful peach crops for eight out of the last 10 years.
“If you get peaches three out of five years, you’re doing well and we’ve been really fortunate and blessed in the last few years that we’ve had perfect crops year after year. (I’m) really more concerned about our customers being disappointed
And Smith is worried about his fellow fruit growers.
“Strawberry farmers have a huge investment in an acre of strawberries. I’m worried about them tonight because this wind could be a real problem for them.”
Strawberry farmer, Roy Cook, owner of High Rock Farm in Browns Summit, tried covering four-and-a-half acres of his crop, as bitter cold air moved into the Triad. His strawberries were blooming ahead of schedule and now some of the budding flowers will die.
"We're saving as many as we can but losing some at the same time," said Cook.
With strawberries, peaches and blueberries being affected by the cold temperatures and brutal wind, Smith said fruit prices could be higher in the summer.