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Frost bites cherries, apples in parts of Washington


Capital Press

PASCO, Wash. -- A spring freeze has nipped early cherry varieties and some apples in South Central Washington, but damage is localized, sources say.

The week of March 18 brought low temperatures in the teens in orchards near Pasco. Growers, particularly those with no wind or irrigation protection, suffered losses in cold spots, said Denny Hayden, a Pasco grower.

"What complicated things was that we were just getting irrigation water and didn't have it the first few nights of the cold streak," Hayden said. "There's definitely spots with damage."

Irrigation forms ice under trees and releases heat to keep buds from freezing.

Many Bing cherries came through with no damage but damage to early Chelan north and south of Pasco ranged from little to 90 percent, said Tim Welsh, horticulturist and varieties manager for Columbia Fruit Packers Inc., Wenatchee.

Some cherry buds were killed by cold Jan. 19 following a relatively warm period, he said.

There was also minor damage to apples and some damage east and south of Mattawa, Welsh said.

David Douglas, president of Douglas Fruit Co., Pasco, said damage occurred in colder spots, edges of orchards and lower parts of trees. Pollination weather was poor for apricots, he said.

Cherry pollination has been questionable with warm weather drying out pollen and accelerating bloom faster than bees can handle, Hayden said.

There wasn't a lot of inversion, warm temperatures above cooler ground ones, for wind machines to pull warm air down, he said.

"Crop loss is variable ranch to ranch and it's too early to predict where we're at crop-wise," Hayden said.

Wine grapes were too dormant to have suffered any damage and tree fruit in The Dalles and Hood River, Ore., is behind the Tri-Cities in development and not hurt, he said.

Localized damage extends from the Tri-Cities to Benton City and into the mid-Yakima Valley, he said.

"We will see some crop reduction, but it's no panic. You can still have a crop with 10 percent," Hayden said. "We're along for the ride. It makes you humble every year."

B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers and the Washington State Fruit Commission in Yakima, said a full crop is still possible. He called damage minimal. May has been cold the last four to five years, he noted, adding that a warm May is needed for a June cherry harvest.

There has been no bud damage from Wenatchee north and temperatures in North Central Washington are 10 days ahead of normal, said Tim Smith, Washington State University Extension tree fruit specialist in Wenatchee.

Red Delicious apples appear headed for early bloom in Wenatchee with the earliest ever being an April 14 full bloom in 2004, Smith said.

Temperatures warmed sooner in March than the last few years, pushing bud development along and lengthening the frost season, he said.

Frost season should be over by the end of April in the south, Douglas said. Smith said it can go into mid-May in the higher elevations of the north.


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