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Illinois crops stand up to frigid winter

Illinois crops stand up to frigid winter

Fruit trees in Winter

Winter hit Illinois in a big way this year, but it apparently didn’t lay a glove on farmers.

Tree fruit — especially peaches — and winter wheat can be vulnerable to extreme cold, and the mercury dipped under zero in many areas. Yet the lack of a preceding warm spell and the presence of snow may have saved the day for growers.

In Illinois, peach growers experience major losses every six to 10 years, on average. But that generally occurs when an early warm spell is followed by frigid temperatures. Such an event happened in the extreme in 2007, when record highs in March were followed by record lows in April. Orchardists in the state lost the entire peach crop.

There was no semblance of that this year, said Elizabeth Wahle, a University of Illinois horticulture specialist.

“We definitely can cut some buds and see some that some have been killed. But we’re not finding a lot,” she said. “So far, it looks good. We weren’t far enough along in the season.”

Flamm Orchards in Cobden is one of the largest peach producers in the state. The cold weather that hit there — in deep southern Illinois — failed to cause any major damage. Owner Jeff Flamm said the temperature got down to about zero and merely damaged a few buds.

“It all depends on where you’re at in the season,” he said. “I’ve seen peaches in full bloom around this time, but we’re not even close to that this year. We haven’t really had any warm temperatures to speak of this winter. What gets you in trouble is when it’s 60 degrees then single digits in a three-day span.”

Rarely, winter wheat can suffer winter kill. But that apparently hasn’t happened this year.

“The snow provided a lot of insulation and protected the wheat,” said Matt Wehmeyer of the Mascoutah-based seed company AgriMAXX Wheat. “A lot of the region had adequate snowfall to protect the wheat.”

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Nat Williams is Southern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.

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