Mild winter yields expectation of early fruit harvest throughout mid-south
By Ryan McGeeney
U of A System Division of Agriculture
March 18, 2016
- Mild winter may produce early fruit
- Fruit growers hoping not to see 2007 replay
- Fruit trees most vulnerable to freeze when blooms open
LITTLE ROCK — Growers and fruit specialists throughout the Mid-South are crossing their fingers, as the mild 2015-2016 winter brings on early blooms and harvests.
Elena Garcia, professor of horticulture for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said the relatively warm, late winter experienced throughout Arkansas and surrounding states means an “earlier bloom, earlier everything” for growers watching for flowering fruits in the coming weeks and months.
“Sometimes, things slow down, depending on the temperatures, but right now, we are expecting early-than-usual harvest for strawberries, grapes and other Arkansas fruit,” Garcia said. “We’re just keeping our fingers crossed that we don’t have a late frost event.”
Garcia said that as fruits begin to bud and flower, they become increasingly vulnerable to frost and cold-weather damage.
“When dormant, fruit buds can withstand temperatures well below zero, depending on the species,” Garcia said. “But as those buds begin to swell and develop, they begin to lose that hardiness. The most vulnerable time is when they’re fully open.”
In 2007, the Mid-South experienced a warm winter, followed by an early spring abruptly interrupted by 18-degree temperatures over the Easter weekend. The frigid blast wrecked havoc throughout the region, decimating fruit harvests across many states.
“From eastern Oklahoma to Kentucky, there was no fruit to speak of anywhere,” Garcia said. “It had been the warmest March on record, and one weekend just wiped out fruit production for the year, basically.”
Barring a cold weather event or other meteorological catastrophe, Arkansas strawberry growers are expecting harvest to begin on or about April 10, about two weeks earlier than typical years.
The slightly early harvest could mean some marketing problems for Arkansas strawberry growers, as they find themselves competing with the tail end of the availability of California strawberries.
“Local growers have the advantage of freshness and location, but they’re going to have to compete on very low prices as California really begins to inundate the market with whatever strawberries they’ve got left,” she said.
Small-scale growers in rural parts of the state who rely on direct-to-consumer sales, including farmers’ markets, may also need to find alternative ways of getting their wares to consumers during the lag time between early harvest and markets’ opening day.
Ron Rainey, extension economist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said growers can help bridge that gap by contacting consumers directly ahead of harvest.
“Most fruit crops are 30 days away once there is a full bloom,” Rainey said. “So they really need to let their customers know to start looking for product based on their bloom counts now.
“Since most farmers’ markets don't open until May, any direct marketing outlet is a good option,” he said. “Agritourism and community supported agriculture (CSA) are other good options, given that fruit harvesting starts prior to extreme heat and humidity. When spring is in the air, customers are ready for experiences.”
Rainey said the expected lag could also be an opportunity for growers to introduce their produce to local schools. Neal Mays, a Benton County extension agent for the Division of Agriculture, said many growers use social media, including Facebook, to let their customers know what produce they have available on a year-round basis.
To learn more about fruit production in Arkansas, contact your county extension office or visit www.uaex.edu.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
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Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service