Hard frost caused widespread fruit and berry damage

Published: May. 23, 2023 at 5:31 PM EDT|Updated: May. 23, 2023 at 6:13 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

NORWICH, Vt. (WCAX) - Farmers around the region are accessing damage from last week’s hard frost. The temperatures in the 20s last Thursday hit at exactly the time to decimate many budding fruit and berry crops.

There is an old saying attributed to Mark Twain, “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes...” However, when it comes to farming, you have to take the good with the bad.

“We ended up bottoming out here in the orchard at 21 degrees,” said Norah Lake with Sweetland Farm in Norwich.

They grow about 2.5 acres of fruit on their land. They prepared for the cold snap by hauling in a sprinkler system to help insulate the trees. But Lake says even that protection wasn’t enough. The brown middle of the blossoms shows the damage. The farm lost upwards of 95% of its apple, plum, and pear crops. “It’s a little disheartening. We had been really excited that this was probably going to be our best fruit crop yet,” she said.

There are a few pictures from the farm on the morning of the frost. A scene repeated at farms across the region. “Orchards have experienced frost before but this definitely is unique,” said Casey Darrow with Green Mountain Orchards, who grows apples and blueberries on more than 100 acres in Putney. While he’s hopeful some of his berries survived the cold, he has yet to find an apple tree that hasn’t been damaged. “Will any of those damaged fruitlets stay on the trees and at least be there for cider or cooking apples?” Fortunately, Darrow does have crop insurance for the apples.

Vermont Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts is encouraging farmers across the region to document their losses. “They should report those to the United State Department of Agriculture and the Farm Services Agency, or FSA,” he said. Tebbets calls it a once-in-several-decades weather event. “It’s also a New Hampshire event, a New York event, Quebec as well -- Connecticut. This was a widespread hard frost that we haven’t seen in a very very long time.”

Farmers say pick-your-own farms will likely be limited this fall and prices for the tasty fruit are likely to increase.

The good news at the Sweetland Farm in Norwich is that protective covering rigged up over their 100 different varieties of veggie crops protected the plants for their CSA. “My heart really goes out to farms in the area that are targeted entirely at an apple crop,” Lake said. “We have an incredibly dedicated customer base.”

Many farmers say crop insurance often doesn’t make sense because they are so diversified, but they add it’s also exactly what will help them weather this storm.

Related Story:

Commercial and home growers brace for hard frost