Local Nursery and Crop Producers Feel Affects of Recent Hard Freeze

April 23, 2007
Dwayne Page

Mother nature dealt DeKalb County nursery and crop producers a big blow earlier this month with a hard freeze that may affect them for months to come.

Danny Pirtle of Pirtle Nursery says this freeze was one of the worst on record for this late in the year and it may take a while to assess the impact of the damage. \" This kind of cold caught everybody totally off guard. A lot of the older plants are damaged but they will probably come out of it. We have no past records to base the history on to see what happens but all the nurserymen, as a general rule, feel like the older plants will come out of it but the young tender seedlings and liners, a lot of those are probably gone. This time of year our plants are too far advanced to tolerate the freezing temperatures. The true story will tell when we start having 85 and 90 degree days. They will either bounce out of it or they will get worse.\"

DeKalb County Farm Service Agency Director Donny Green says damage assessments are being compiled by the FSA county committee. \"Well we're just beginning to see some of the affects of the freeze damage that we had. Our committee identified that we had four nights of hard freezing between April 6th and April 10th. We knew that we had some immediate damage because we saw the affects on wheat. We even had one farmer who had about 500 acres of corn that was up about three inches and we saw the immediate affects on that, but what we're seeing now, a couple of weeks later, is the devastating affects that it's had on the nursery crop. In the beginning we even thought that was going to be restricted to basically the smaller seedlings, but what we're seeing now is a lot of the three and five year old stock, that's higher in value, has suffered a lot of damage, mostly because the sap had already started up in the plant during the last couple of weeks in March, when we had those temperatures that were 80 to 85 degrees. The sap had started up and then we had this freeze that hit beginning April 6th. and what it did was freeze the liquid material inside the bark of the plant that sends the nutrients up and down the plant and it froze and busted the bark on it. What we're seeing now is damage mostly in the extremities of the trees and limbs. As the bark is busted, it becomes sort of like an open wound for parasites and diseases into the nursery plant and it's going to be a compounding problem as the crop year goes on.\"

\"Nursery is not like your row crops with corn and soybeans. You're talking about a plant value per plant and we're talking about very high dollar amounts of loss. It's very significant and it's probably more significant than the hail damage we saw back in 2003 because the hail damage was confined to a path across the county and this is very widespread. It's a regional type loss.\"

Green says many farmers have crop insurance and those who don't may quality for assistance.\" A lot of our farmers here in DeKalb County and surrounding counties have crop insurance on their field grown and container nursery. Loss adjusters will be going out to make appraisals, but I haven't heard of anyone who has had an actual appraisal completed yet. If you didn't have crop insurance, either the crop was uninsurable or you chose not to insure it. Our state office has told us at this time, that we are to inform producers of those crops to go ahead and come in and file a notice of loss with us, basically letting us know that you have a crop that's not insured or that's not insurable, that received damage, and we're documenting that now and trying to get some numbers in place in the event that there is a disaster program. I want to emphasize that we don't have any assurance that there will be a disaster program, but in the past we've had these programs and filing timely notices of loss for all the crops that are damaged is important and that's why these people who don't have crop insurance need to come in and let us know that. If you have crop insurance you need to contact your loss adjuster and let them come out and do the appraisal. We cannot take notices of losses for crops that are covered by crop insurance.\"

\"The Governor has declared all 95 counties in Tennessee disaster counties. What that means is that farmers may get low interest loans through the Farm Service Agency Offices. They are called Emergency Loans. They are lower than the normal market rate interest rates. I think it's three and three quarters percent. A lot of our farmers right now, with the situation they are in, feel like borrowing more money is not what they need. They're needing financial assistance in the form of grants and compensations for their losses. We don't have that at this time, but certainly what the Governor has done puts that in motion, sending it on up the line to Washington so that maybe we can get some money appropriated.\"

Green says it appears the wheat, corn, and hay crops have taken the hardest hits in addition to the nurseries. \"Our county committee met the second week in April and we reviewed what loss information we had. The most significant is probably going to be our wheat crops and we don't have a lot of that in DeKalb County, but we have probably 800 to 1200 acres of wheat that was planted and was already up in what they call the booting stage. That was pretty much wiped out. From the wheat producers we talked to in DeKalb County we're going to be fortunate if it's even salvageable to be harvested as wheat hay. That's a secondary use that sometimes can be used.\"

\"Probably the next crop that was affected the most dramatically is the nursery crop, both the container grown and the field grown, that were not in controlled climates. If they were outside as we typically see containers in nursery yards here in DeKalb County and Warren County, then they pretty much got impacted.\"

\"We had about 500 acres of corn that was out and we don't know the extreme affects that it's going to have on our hay and pasture crops, although we can be assured that hay yields are going to be significantly down for the spring cutting because the stop in growth development. We may see some people have to extend their feeding period of hay to supplement the loss of pasture growth that we had because of this.\"

\"We went in last fall into a very dry situation and the fall hay cuttings were basically nothing. We were already short. We pretty much, for the last few years, have had to depend on our spring cuttings of hay to carry us through the year and starting out like this has stunted the hay growth dramatically and will cause a problem for our first cutting of hay. If the weather pattern continues into the summer and fall like we have had in the last few years, hay shortages are going to be critical this year.\"

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