Frost Puts Fear in Farmers

5/18/2013 7:00 AM
By Kent Fellenbaum Special to Lancaster Farming

Damage May Take Time to Show Up

LANCASTER, Pa. — An unusual, late-season frost appears to have damaged some produce and crops Tuesday morning, though it is still too soon to determine the extent of the damage.

“A lot of commercial growers spent a sleepless night,” said Jeff Graybill, an Extension agronomy educator based in Lancaster County.

While Millersville University’s Weather Information Center recorded a low of 34 degrees, many areas in Lancaster County saw temperatures below freezing, including Colerain, Manheim, Manor and Pequea townships, and Lititz and East Petersburg boroughs, according to the Wednesday edition of the Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era newspaper.

Graybill said the frost damage was worse in low-lying areas that normally get colder.

“One Amishman (near Milton Grove) had temps in the mid-20s,” he said.

The farmer lost his tomato plants and some early sweet corn.

“I think if they had it covered, they were OK,” said Jeff Stoltzfus, an adult ag educator for the Eastern Lancaster County School District.

Many produce farmers that Stoltzfus works with use row covers and black plastic mulch to protect young plants from cold weather. Some also use high tunnels.

Depending on how far along they were, melons and first plantings of sweet corn were especially vulnerable, as were pumpkins, peppers and strawberries, which are just beginning to mature.

Tomatoes can be replanted, and growers might lose only one to two weeks, according to Stoltzfus.

Tuesday’s frost also posed a threat to field crops, such as corn, wheat and tobacco. Pollinating wheat heads are exposed right now, making them all the more susceptible.

Stoltzfus said the cool spring has helped farmers by delaying the planting schedule. He noted that had it been a warm spring as it was a year ago, having a frost this late would have done more damage. A frost in mid-May occurs roughly twice in a decade.

As far as the immediate impact, “You have to wait a couple days to see,” Stoltzfus said.

Graybill agreed. “It’s possible we may have damage that we won’t know for several weeks,” he said.

For more details on how to check for frost injuries in field crops, see Leon Ressler’s Now Is the Time column on Page A8.

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