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Much of SW Idaho’s fruit crop decimated by January cold snap

A cold snap that brought temperatures as low as 23 degrees below zero has reduced the region’s fruit and grape crop. Apple and almond trees do best.
Sean Ellis

Capital Press

Published on September 13, 2017 11:02AM

Apple trees near Caldwell, Idaho. Apple and almond trees were among the few types of trees that did well despite the deep freeze last January in southwestern Idaho. Other fruits and grapes were hit hard.

Sean Ellis/Capital Press File

Apple trees near Caldwell, Idaho. Apple and almond trees were among the few types of trees that did well despite the deep freeze last January in southwestern Idaho. Other fruits and grapes were hit hard.

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CALDWELL, Idaho — Much of Idaho’s fruit crop will be severely reduced this year because of a January cold snap that took a harsh toll on trees and vines.

The damage was so severe that the annual fruit field day at the University of Idaho’s agricultural experiment station in Parma was canceled due to a lack of fruit.

“It was real bad,” said vineyard owner Tom Elias, who is also a research assistant at the Parma station. “We’ll come back but this year was pretty bad for everybody.”

Most of Idaho’s fruit and wine and table grapes are grown in southwestern Idaho, where the cold damage was centered. Temperatures dropped as low as 23 degrees below zero in several areas, Elias said.

He said about 85 percent of his wine grape crop in Marsing was ruined.

Peaches and nectarines were also hit hard, and the Parma station’s fruit orchard lost all of its persimmon trees, Elias said.

The cold took a big toll on Symms Fruit Ranch, which is in the Sunny Slope area near Caldwell.

The company lost a lot of cherry and peach trees, said co-owner Dar Symms.

“We’re in the process of replacing a lot of orchards,” he said.

Chad Henggeler, field manager at Henggeler Packing Co. in Fruitland, said the company will lose about one-third of its normal fruit production due to the cold.

He said the company’s orchards between Payette and Fruitland in Payette County had about 60 percent of normal production while its orchards in Canyon County had closer to 70 percent of normal production.

“We definitely had some damage,” Henggeler said. “We didn’t lose any trees but it was hard on them. It probably took a little bit out of their lifespan.”

Growers said apples seemed to be the fruit least harmed by the cold.

“The only thing that seems to be doing well are apples,” Elias said.

Gregg Alger, owner of Huston Vineyards in Caldwell, normally harvests about 120 tons of wine grapes.

“This year, I think I’m getting somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 tons, if I’m really fortunate,” he said. “The roots are OK and I didn’t lose any plants but the reality is, there’s not an ounce of fruit on them and there won’t be until next year.”

Growers said this year’s cold-related damage was worse than the losses caused by a sudden November 2014 cold snap that significantly reduced the 2015 fruit crop in southwestern Idaho.

“It was way worse than the 2014 event,” Elias said.

A silver lining to this year’s cold event is the Parma research station’s almond trees survived 23 degrees below zero, Elias said.

Parma researchers have recently fielded a lot of inquiries from growers in other states asking if almonds can handle the region’s cold weather.

“Boy, they did this year,” Elias said. “That’s a great sign for those people who are thinking of growing almonds here.”



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