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Midwest Farmers Survey Damage From Cold Snap

Last week's cold snap had farmers making some difficult choices, including harvesting rhubarb and some other crops early to avoid damage from the cold.
Courtesy of Will Lorentzen and Adrian White
Last week's cold snap had farmers making some difficult choices, including harvesting rhubarb and some other crops early to avoid damage from the cold.

As farmers across the Midwest surveyed the damage from last week’s cold snap, some Iowa farmers discovered they lucked out, while others are hoping to offset losses.

Temperatures last week dropped into the 20s on the mornings of April 20 to 22 across Iowa. To prepare for the colder temperatures, Will Lorentzen and Adrian White of Jupiter Ridge Farm near Garber in northeast Iowa harvested 80 pounds of rhubarb early. They called it a "hard pick."

“It was a decision to hedge our bets,” Lorentzen said.

They said they still left some rhubarb out in the cold. White said rhubarb is pretty cold tolerant, but if it gets frost, it’s not as “desirable for sale.”

“Rhubarb has excellent storage capabilities,” White said. “We can take a bunch of it and sell it in a week or two and it’s still a great quality. It would be better quality than if we waited after the frost and then picked it.”

Lorentzen and White expected the rhubarb they left out in the field to be a loss, but there was only a little bit of damage on the outside of stalks, Lorentzen said Thursday.

“I’m still pretty pleased with our decision,” Lorentzen said. “It took a lot of weight off of late night worries. But we lucked out. I believe the frost didn’t settle as hard as it could’ve on our particular patch.” 

Lorentzen said the farm isn’t even at a 10 percent loss and all of their fruit blossoms seem to have made it through the cold.

Meanwhile, Emma Johnson, who co-farms Buffalo Ridge Orchard outside of Central City in eastern Iowa, said Thursday that she expects a 30 to 50 percent loss in her apple crop. She said there will be fewer apples to sell, “but we will take what we can get.” She is planting vegetables to offset those losses.

“We think there’s going to be a little less income in the orchard,” Johnson said. “We can maybe offset that with some storage crops such as potatoes and beets, carrots.”

To survey the buds, Johnson cut across a section of them to look for dead tissue. She said the damage throughout the orchard isn’t as much as she expected, and cold snaps help thin the buds so she doesn’t have to thin the crop herself.

Last Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, Johnson's husband drove a heater through the orchard to keep the ground warm and control the humidity to prevent a massive crop loss.   

Johnson said the threat of a late frost seems to be becoming the new normal.

“A lot of that has to do with the fact that the trees are coming out of dormancy early,” Johnson said. “And that is directly related to the fact that we’re getting warmer winters.”

Copyright 2021 Harvest Public Media

Katie Peikes