Tennessee farmers protect spring crops from freezing temperatures
Published 3:10 pm Friday, March 31, 2023
Tennessee farmers are doing what it takes to protect their spring crops from the recent dramatic swings in temperatures. With highs in the 80s to overnight lows near freezing, sensitive crops like strawberries need extra support. From frost blankets to overhead irrigation, Tennessee farmers are taking action to defend the blooming fruit – even when it takes all night.
If you drove past Jimmy and Karen McCulley’s Amazin’ Acres in White County during the last cold spell, you might have seen the field covered in a layer of ice. The McCulleys and a team of five helpers skipped sleep to ensure their strawberries were protected from damaging temperatures. “It was a long night for us,” Karen McCulley said. “We kept watch on all our sprinklers and pumps to make sure there was a continuous water supply. By morning, I was covered in ice myself. Many of our plants still have yellow blooms which means we were able to save our crop. We hope to have strawberries ready for picking by April 20.”
Associate Professor and Extension Specialist in the Plant Sciences Department for the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture Dr. Natalie Bumgarner explains the principle behind freezing to keep plants safe. “A frequent method to protect crops from frost or freeze damage is overhead irrigation,” Dr. Bumgarner said. “The basic principle is that irrigation systems apply water to the crop throughout the low temperature event. That liquid water continually freezes which releases heat to maintain plant temperatures near 32 degrees. When growers put this principle into practice, it makes the design and operation of the irrigation system vital to success of the method.”
Smith-Perry Berries in Hamilton County used another method to protect their berries – frost covers. “The temperatures got down to 22 degrees at ground level on the farm,” Will Perry said. “Some of our plants had only one cover and others had two covers. The single cover kept temperatures at 27 degrees and the double cover at 36 degrees. The row covers have been our safety blanket.”
Strawberry season is right around the corner and across Tennessee you can find delicious berries at a farm near you. Whether you are looking for pick-your-own, pre-picked, a strawberry festival, or farmers market, you can use Pick Tennessee Products to find local fruits and more at picktnproducts.org or on our mobile app.