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Early Spring Frost Hits West Slope Apricots Hard

Alex E. Proimos
Creative Commons/Flickr

Springtime is a stressful period for farmers – especially in Western Colorado's North Fork Valley. A spring frost can wipe out an entire crop in an instant as was the case for one apricot farmer last week.

Farmer Jeff Schwartz knows a thing or two about cold weather this time of year. Each spring he and his crew at Delicious Orchards fight off cold temperatures to protect their fruit. Only this April, brought an especially brutal system.

“I think this storm was unique, it was cloudy, it was really wet and it was a big storm, and it was just really cold,” says Schwartz.

The recent April 9th storm dropped snow in much of Colorado and brought temperatures down to just 19 degrees at Schwartz’s Paonia orchard. The storm wiped out his entire apricot crop.

“I think we lost approximately 7-thousand pounds of apricots.”

“I think this is one of the most stressful times of the year,” says Amaya Atucha who is a Fruit Crop Specialist for Colorado State University.

“Even if you have done all of the correct management and you have done excellent work, it doesn’t depend on you whether you have a cold event or not just because of the weather, so it’s absolutely a very stressful period.”

Springtime is when fruit crops wake up, and move from dormancy to growth. The recipe for disaster Atucha says, when warm weather triggers full bloom...and, then a cold snap happens. She says climate change is making these wide fluctuations in weather more common.

But farmers like Jeff Schwartz adapt to the weather changes...and, learn to live with inconsistency.

“We get successful apricot fruit; we had a great crop last year and really in this area, traditionally they say, every five years you’ll get an apricot crop, that’s how sketchy they are because of the weather.”

He adds the North Fork Valley is likely one of the riskiest places to grow fruit because of these spring freezes but, the practice has survived. Fruit growing has been going on the area for more than a century and only time will tell whether that could shift with climate change.

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