December 8, 2021

Area farmers worry lower temperatures destroyed some produce

Photo by Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

Joanna Cornell, a partner at Grisamore Farms in Locke, cuts into an apple blossom Thursday following several days of hard freezes.

“It’s a little hard to see right now,” said Joanna Cornell as she looked across the cherry orchard at Grisamore Farms in Locke, where she’s a partner. But the cherries are in bloom, and at their most vulnerable.

She pulled a knife out of her pocket late last week and cut a cluster of cherry blossoms from a tree. She sliced into the blossom and pointed out the black dot at its core.

“That one is definitely dead,” she said. “That’s OK, they need to be thinned. But if they’re all dead, then we’re in trouble.”

A recent cold snap that covered Cortland and Tompkins counties in frost — and snow — has left farmers worried that some crops may not have survived or were greatly diminished.

A couple of hundred yards away in the apple orchard at Grisamore Farms, the picture isn’t quite so dire. The apple varieties all blossom later in the spring, and at different times. On Thursday, only the Ida reds were flowering.

Cornell cut into another bunch of blossoms. The core of the first was a bright green, alive and healthy. The next one was brown.

“It’s all brown in there,” she said. “It should be all green.”

The freeze, while it slowed down corn and other vegetable crops, wouldn’t be quite so hard on the annuals as it would be the perennials — the fruit trees. “We’re lucky they’re not in full, full bloom,” Cornell said. “The same with the strawberries.”

The National Weather Service at Binghamton reported a record low of 24 degrees on May 9 — a record for both that day and for the entire month of May. The previous coldest May 9 was 27 degrees in 1966. The coldest nights ever were 25 degrees on May 1, 1978, May 10, 1966 and May 17, 1956.

At Underhill Farm in Dryden, formerly Farmer’s Choice, owner Rick Ryan said he thinks most of the blueberry crop survived.

“The temperatures that they can withstand are about 23-25 degrees,” he said. Anything below that and the crop is heavily damaged. “There was some concern and I’m sure we have gotten some damage.”

However, he said as the season goes on and the plants begin to blossom, there will be even more of a chance of damage should another cold snap hit.

“The most critical stage is when they’re in full bloom, he said. “That is when any frost would devastate crops.”

The crop was pruned very heavily this year and that may have helped, and the rain has been good as well. He said the blueberries should be ready for picking come the middle of July.

“It’s been a particularly cold April, May,” said Janice Degni, a field crop specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension. The cold has caused some crops like hay and alfalfa to grow at a slower pace.

As for corn, which is just starting to get planted, it can get frosted early after it emerges and then recover.

“Soybeans can tolerate a light frost if it’s just germinated,” she said. “It just depends on the crop and its growth habits. Usually a farmer doesn’t lose everything because they flower at different times for different varieties.”

Managing Editor Todd R. McAdam contributed to this report.