Cherry Growers Warned About Cold Damage

By Tom Bacon

WSU weather experts warned Washington sweet cherry growers this weekend that the extreme - and persistent - cold temperatures gripping eastern Washington could harm dormant cherry buds. Using a vast network of remote weather stations, WSU weather scientists warned cherry growers Sunday that some damage is likely, although the extent of the damage won't be obvious until the now dormant buds break into bloom come spring.

Researchers looked at data from two different AgWeatherNet stations in Benton County - Prosser and Benton City - and warned growers they may face problems. The researchers found that about ten percent of Bing cherries, for example, are damaged when temperatures fall to just one degree above zero, but that damage jumps to about 90 percent at around 8 degrees below.

Grape growers in the region were also warned to keep an eye on frigid nighttime temperatures. Merlot grapes, for example, begin to suffer damage at 5 degrees below zero. Some growers, however, shrugged off the WSU weather warning. B-J Thurlby, who is president of Northwest Cherry Growers, said some bud damage is natural, expected and even favorable, since it acts as natural thinning of the fruit. He said temperatures would have to plummet to 10 degrees below zero before growers would have to worry.

The WSU AgWeatherNet is a network of about 50 remote stations, mostly in eastern Washington, mostly set up on farms and orchards, that constantly sniff the air for temperature, humidity, and wind to predict weather patterns that can be crucial to growers.
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