YAKIMA – After battling a cold snap that may have caused much crop damage across the Yakima Valley, growers are welcoming a much warmer forecast this week.
Tree fruit growers the past two weeks spent long nights running overhead sprinklers, wind machines and smudge pots in an effort to keep orchards warm.
High temperatures remained below 50 degrees, keeping bees from pollinating the apples, apricots, peaches, pears and cherries already in bloom in many areas.
The cold also slowed asparagus production, damaged spears and kept workers from fields.
The damage has yet to be assessed but growers are hopeful that a warm trend ahead may turn it around.
“The nice thing is it looks like it’s going to get warm during the day – 50s and 60s – and that means the bees will go out and work,” said Tim Kovis, director of communications and events for the Washington State Tree Fruit Association. “That was the problem last week and the week before.”
Sunday was expected to reach 62 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
An arctic jet stream hung above the area the past two weeks instead of moving north, bringing snow, rain, hail and freezing temperatures across the region.
Tree fruit growers have battled spring freezes before, but it had been decades since anything like this, Kovis said.
Bees were inactive and blooms weren’t getting pollinated.
Bees did appear more active earlier this week, but it’s too soon to tell whether they were pollinating fruit trees or dandelions, Kovis said.
“And we won’t know for a couple of weeks,” he said.
Busy bees this weekend could mean much pollination that leads to fruit production, Kovis said.
Marcelo Imperial Jr. at Imperial’s Garden near Wapato, said the freeze had some but little impact on his family’s asparagus crop.
Much of it was still in their 14 greenhouses, he said.
“So we haven’t put too much stuff on the ground floor yet,” he said. “We’re still getting stuff from our greenhouses, and we’re just waiting for the appropriate time to get them into the ground.”
Asparagus are resilient, but freezing temperatures can delay production and cause market problems, said farmer Gary Larson, also a board member of the Washington Asparagus Commission.
Frost and ice can harm spears that are sprouted too much, but that doesn’t stop the plant from producing, he said.
“Fortunately, it doesn’t hurt them, it just hurts the spears that are up,” Larson said. “But the plant keeps sending spears up.”
However, growers did lose many pounds of asparagus the past two weeks, he said.
On Thursday, workers cut 51 boxes of asparagus spears from 250 acres, equating to only 4 pound per acre, on his farms near Pasco.
“That doesn’t pencil out, but what you want to do is get people out, get people moving because this weekend is going to pay dividends,” he said.
Larson said he’s kept workers busy cleaning fields and cutting what little is ready in an effort to retain them.
He expects this weekend to foster a rush to asparagus fields.
“With this 70 degree weather coming this weekend, we could see asparagus fields exploding,” Larson said.
But a late crop pits local grower up against foreign markets that typically come on later.
Saturating the market means lower prices for everyone.
“Everybody hurts,” Larson said.
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