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Ag producers, researchers assess ice and snow damage

The snow certainly added to the mountain snowpack and will provide more water for irrigators next summer, but ice and extended cold may have damaged some crops.
Eric Mortenson

Capital Press

Published on January 18, 2017 12:14PM

Snow and ice coats the cliff walls Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge east of Portland, Ore. Growers are digging out from severe winter weather and checking for damage in a variety of crops.

Don Ryan/Associated Press

Snow and ice coats the cliff walls Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge east of Portland, Ore. Growers are digging out from severe winter weather and checking for damage in a variety of crops.

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With snow turning to rain in Western Oregon, producers are digging out and checking for damage in a variety of crops.

Some hazelnut orchards in the Eugene area sustained heavy limb breakage and even toppled trees during an ice storm in December, but the snow and ice of January was more widespread and may have affected a broader range of crops.

Bernadine Strik, an Oregon State University horticulture professor and berry crop specialist, said June-bearing strawberries should be fine, especially if protected by a snow cover. However, continual cropping varieties such as Albion may have sustained some damage if farm temperatures dropped below 20 degrees and lacked a snow cover.

Trailing blackberries vary in cold hardiness, Strik said by email. Marions are less hardy than Columbia Star or Black Diamond, for example.

“The good news is that it got cold when plants were fully dormant and it stayed cold — that’s better than fluctuating temperatures,” Strik said. “I think most growers of Marion should be OK, especially if temperatures stayed above the low teens (Fahrenheit). Farms where it got colder may see some damage.”

Raspberries and late-season fresh-market blackberries should be fine, and blueberry varieties are cold hardy when fully dormant, she said.

Strik said growers can’t assess damage now, as it takes time for cold-damaged tissue to express itself. She recommended sampling canes, buds or strawberry crowns in late winter, prior to bud break, by slicing open the tissue and looking for oxidized or brown and black material.

In the Columbia River Gorge, producers saw heavy snow and then were hit by an ice storm that arrived on the afternoon of Jan. 17. The storm quickly forced the closure of Interstate 84, which parallels the river, from Troutdale, a suburb on Portland’s east side, to Hood River, a stretch of about 50 miles.

The front hit Portland as rain but turned to black ice on the freeway farther east as moisture met the cold air that funnels down the gorge in winter.

In The Dalles, 85 miles east of Portland, OSU Extension small grains specialist Brian Tuck said “So far, so good” on ag damage but was keeping an eye on the ice storm approaching Hood River.

Luckily, a good snow cover was in place to protect the Columbia basin’s winter wheat crop, Tuck said. Snow acts like a blanket and insulates the young wheat plants, planted last fall, during extended periods of cold, he said.

At Surface Nursery outside Gresham, Ore., the first ice storm in December broke some tree branches but caused minimal damage overall. The bigger problem came with the subsequent extended cold in January, owner Graham Anderson said. “Our harvest was brought to a standstill by 4 inches of frost in the ground covered by 4 inches of snow,” he said. In addition, icy road conditions prevented employees from getting to work, he said.

The nursery grows shade and flowering trees and pulls them from the ground this time of year for a shipping season that normally starts Feb. 1, Anderson said by email.

“We are eager to thaw out and resume harvesting trees,” he said. “We will certainly be behind schedule due to winter weather delays and shortage of labor.”

In Southern Oregon, environmental science professor Gregory Jones said there may be some vineyard damage in the coldest areas and to selected varieties in the Rogue and Applegate regions.

“Nothing from the northern Umpqua south and throughout the Rogue,” Jones reported by email. “We have been cold and snowy since Christmas, but no ice or major damage from the snow.”


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