ROSEBURG, Ore. — One farmer described the snap, crackle and pop he could hear from his house as being similar to a Fourth of July fireworks show.
But in the end there was no beauty to the snowstorm that dropped 8 to 12 inches of heavy, wet snow, depending on the location, during the night of Feb. 24 in southern Lane County and central Douglas County. Instead, the morning light showed devastation to many mature hazelnut orchards. The night time sounds had been branches breaking from almost every tree, if not all of them, and in some cases tree trunks splitting.
The build-up of snow collapsed greenhouses, falling trees and branches flattened sections of fences needed to keep livestock in their pastures, a fallen oak tree crushed a farm pickup and a small barn roof came down on three miniature donkeys that managed to crawl on their knees out from under it unscathed.
Then there were the broken branches and falling trees that took out power lines and structures, leaving rural farms and ranches without power for several days and in some cases over a week.
Long-time residents of the areas said the storm, including another 3 to 4 inches of snow that fell about 12 hours later, was the worst they had experienced in the past 40 to 50 years.
“The first inch or two, your feelings are like when you were a kid and you were excited about having snow to play in,” said Taylor Larson, co-owner of My Brothers’ Farm near Creswell, Ore. The farm has hazelnut orchards and raises bison and hogs. “After it gets to 3 or 4 inches, then you begin to think, What is this going to mean? When it got to over a foot, you’re throwing your hands up and saying, ‘I guess you can’t fight Mother Nature.’
“It was like watching a disaster in slow motion,” he added. “It was pretty until walking into the hazelnut orchard and seeing that it looked like a bomb had gone off.”
Hazelnut growers in the two counties said their mature trees were impacted heavily. Larson said his farm has 32 acres of Willamette and Cassina hazelnut trees and just about every tree suffered limb losses.
Glen Lehne of Roseburg had a 17-acre Ennis orchard with 20- to 30-year-old trees that were damaged.
“Those trees are massively damaged by the snow,” he said. “The neighboring farms have the same damage in their hazelnut orchards. There is a major loss of limbs.”
“We’re looking at probably 50 percent damage or better in some of those orchards,” said Howard Sand who has one of those farms in the Garden Valley area a few miles northwest of Roseburg. “We have 60 acres of damaged trees.
“This is a major revenue impact for us, our primary income,” he said, adding that his farm has gotten out of the orchard fruit and hay businesses and gone primarily with hazelnuts.
The hazelnut growers said the priority now is to get the compromised branches out before the trees come out of dormancy in five to six weeks, depending on the weather. The growers explained it is important when the trees have energy to grow this spring, that the energy be directed at healthy branches and not at the ones that are broken, but still attached to the tree.
“You don’t want their energy wasted on limbs that aren’t viable for production,” Lehne said.
The southwestern Oregon hazelnut owners know the production of their orchards will be down for the next couple of years as the trees recover from their broken limbs being cut out.
Hazelnut orchards younger than 10 years old suffered minimal damage because their branch makeup wasn’t big enough to hold an excessive amount of snowfall.
Orchard growers with fruit trees reported only a few branch losses and those were in much older trees that hadn’t been pruned back in recent years. Trees such as apples, cherries, pears and peaches are already used to heavy loads of ripe fruit so their branches have flexibility.
In addition to the hazelnut damage, Lehne is dealing with vegetable loss. Birds have found their way into his greenhouses and are eating lettuce, kale, broccoli and other green starts because their food sources on the outside are covered by snow. Lehne grows a variety of vegetables that are sold at farmers' markets in Coos Bay and Roseburg, beginning in April. He said there’ll now be gaps in his production of those veggies for the markets later this year.
“The birds are hungry, crafty,” he said. “They’re figuring out ways to get in. They’re stripping down the greens.”
The birds are having an impact, but only after Lehne spent most of the snowfall night and next morning walking through his nine greenhouses with a broom, pushing up on roofing so the snow would slide off. He saved his greenhouses, except for about an 80-foot section that collapsed under the snow.
Lehne and his high school-aged daughters, Ashlynn and Kylie, also knocked snow off a glass greenhouse that his grandfather had built many decades ago. That structure was saved.
“To lose something that a previous generation built for the farm would have been emotionally stressful,” Lehne said.
Evan Kruse of Kruse Farms of Roseburg said his indecision on planting pepper and tomato starts in a greenhouse a couple days before the storm “turned out to be a good indecision.” He explained planting the starts was tentatively scheduled, but when the weather forecast was for 3 to 4 inches of rain he reconsidered. A couple days later, it was snow, not rain, that fell and a day later the greenhouse that would have had those planted starts collapsed.
“I’m feeling lucky,” Kruse admitted. “That’s a couple thousand dollars worth of seed that wasn’t wasted.”
Southwestern Oregon livestock owners were also impacted by the snow. Some ranchers had already turned their cattle or sheep out on pasture, but quickly had to find baled hay for the animals because several inches of snow covered pastures.
“It has been a challenge for some to get feed to their livestock,” said Veril Nelson who has a red Angus operation east of Sutherlin, Ore. “My fear was that the calves would get in under oak trees for cover and then have a branch fall on them. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.”
Sand said he is trying to keep a positive outlook regarding the storm because he knows his father, Lee Sand, who recently died, survived and continued to farm despite the impact of the Columbus Day storm of 1962 and the snow, rain and flooding of 1964.
“Dad made it through those rough times so we can, too,” Howard said. “It’s farming and you just have to deal with the weather.”