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Warm spell could mark another disaster for fruit trees

Robert Perkins stands under one of his red reliance peach trees at Autumn View Farm in Pittsfield

By David Brooks

The recent record and near-record high temperatures have the region’s fruit-growers on edge, fearful that a return to cold temperatures might bring a repeat of last year’s disaster, when the peach crop was destroyed.

“I’m almost 70 years old and I’ve been farming since I was old enough to start, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Robert Perkins of Autumn View Farm in Pittsfield.

Fruit trees go through a process called hardening in the fall as temperatures drop, then they slowly wake up as temperatures rise in early spring. Commercial fruit trees can deal with wintertime warm spells such as the traditional “January thaw,” but last winter was so warm that trees overreacted. They produced buds in February that were vulnerable to a severe cold snap in March, which harmed apple trees and killed virtually all peach buds in northern New England.

It’s unclear how much budding has started due to the recent crazy weather – Concord beat the high temperature record for at least two days, while more than 100 cities on the East Coast set all-time highs for any day in February – and how much damage a future cold snap might do.

“It’s how warm it was, how cold it gets, and how fast it happens,” said George Hamilton, an educator with UNH Cooperative Extension.

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Date: 
Wednesday, March 8, 2017