What is in this article?:
- Too early to tell freeze damage
- Some crops could be severely damaged
- Replanting may be one option
Leonard Lauriault is a forage agronomist at NMSU's Agricultural Science Center at Tucumcari, slightly northwest of Clovis. He reported that soil temperatures only dropped to 24 degrees Fahrenheit in his area, where there was some insulating snow cover. He thinks alfalfa in most of the state is less susceptible to cold than in some other areas because the winters tend to be dry and the soil tends to be more alkaline and high in potassium.
Rick Arnold, a weed science expert and superintendent of the Agricultural Science Center at Farmington in the far northwest corner of the state, predicts the alfalfa and winter wheat grown there will be fine but the fate of winter canola is less certain. Their region is more used to extreme cold than many other parts of the state, though, so the varieties farmers choose are probably better suited to survive extreme cold.
Arnold's colleague Kevin Lombard is a horticulture specialist at the Farmington science center. He reported all of the grape vines he checked after the storm had at least survived. A later random check of his vines suggested minimal damage; he was finding a lot of green cambium. He said a hard freeze in late spring is typically more of a threat to grapes than mid-winter cold. And he echoed what most other experts have said, that it is too early to assess much of the potential damage to established plants, including grapes and fruit trees. "I'll know more this spring when bud break occurs," he said.
Shengrui Yao is a fruit specialist based at the Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcalde, north of Santa Fe near the Rio Grande. She reported that the peach flower buds both there, where the temperature dropped to -11.3 degrees Fahrenheit, and at the Agricultural Science Center at Los Lunas south of Albuquerque, were badly damaged by the freeze. The evidence includes the brown/black color of the buds she discovered when she cut them open. She said apricots were also damaged, but not as badly as peaches and that "flower bud survival of sweet cherries and tart cherries is much better than peaches." Apple buds seem to have escaped damage from this storm. Yao recommends that growers check their flower buds before pruning or do the pruning late when the season starts.
Yao is also involved in research on berries and reported the freeze probably caused some cane damage to blackberries.
Will the intense early February cold spell help reduce the populations of insect pests? Tess Grasswitz, an integrated pest management specialist based at the Agricultural Science Center at Los Lunas, said, "It's anybody's guess. What tends to knock them back the most is not one or two short periods of intense cold, but cycles of cold alternating with significant warming. They become active during the latter periods and start to metabolize stored fat. If that happens often enough, then they have fewer reserves to get them through any subsequent cold snaps."
Is there good news? It seems clear that things could have been worse. And the timing of the storm was obviously beneficial to some of the state's crops, such as chili peppers and cotton, which have not yet been planted.
For expert guidance on local crop issues, check with the NMSU Cooperative Extension Service office in your county. For a list of offices and for contact information, go to http://aces.nmsu.edu/county/