Athens Review, Athens, Texas

April 27, 2013

Chilly reception

While the recent cooler weather may have been nice for you, some area growers are suffering

Rich Flowers
The Athens Review

ATHENS — Growers of tender crops such as blueberries and peaches were hit with huge losses by unseasonable cold weather that penetrated deep into Texas this week.

Henderson County Extension Agent Rick Hirsch has been talking to fruit producers and getting devastating reports.

“The loss to blueberries is huge, maybe 50 to 60 percent of the crop,” Hirsch said.

According to the National Weather Service Cooperative Observer at Athens Municipal Airport, the overnight low was 73 degrees on April 18. The thermometer peaked at 86 that afternoon before a cold front dropped the April 19 morning low to 35 degrees. The following day the low was just above freezing at 34 degrees.

Ivan Vaseleniuck, owner Echo Springs Blueberry Farm near Brownsboro, said the cold destroyed more than 50 percent of his early berry crop. Other producers in the area sustained similar losses, he said.

“Everybody got hurt down here, right down to San Antonio,” Vaseleniuck said. “When you lose any more than 35 percent of your crop you’re losing money.”

This is only the second time in his 13 years in the area that he’s suffered losses to his crop.

“The first time, which was four years ago, I didn’t lose 20 percent,” Vaseleniuck said.

Because of the damage, Vaseleniuck has had to cut his staff from five employees to three.

“I’ve got to try to recoup by reducing expenses,” Vaseleniuck said. “I don’t know any other way.”

Vaseleniuck explained that he has three types of blueberries at Echo Springs. The first crop, Climax, is pretty well wiped out. The second, Brightwell, also has damage.

“But I can see good berries in there, too,” Vaseleniuck said.

“You’ve still got to go out and fertilize. You’ve still got to go out and put chemicals on. You’ve got to do what you can to reduce your losses,” he said. “I don’t know what my total losses will be until the end of the year.”

In addition to the fruits that were in bloom, farmers and homeowners had to re-plant a lot of tomatoes and truck crops such as watermelons, Hirsch said. Tommy Morse of Murchison reports that he lost 20 acres of watermelons he’d transplanted from a hothouse.

“We put them out on a Friday and by Monday they were gone,” Morse said. “I’ve been doing it 45 years and I’ve never had them killed this late.”

Morse said he’ll plant some melon seeds and see if they come up, but even if that’s successful he won’t be seeing melons until mid-July.

“Last year, by the fourth of July, I was through with melons,’ Morse said. “This year, I doubt if I’ll have any by the 15th of July.”

Robert Burns, Communication Specialist with the Texas Agrilife Extension regional office in Overton, said East Texas peach growers fared better than their Hill Country counterparts.

“We just didn’t get the hard freeze here like they did in Central Texas,” Burns said.