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Midwest Growers Survey Damage After Cold Snap

April 25, 1986

HOLLAND, Ohio (AP) _ Bob MacQueen made the rounds of his 200-acre apple orchard on Thursday and saw firsthand the effects of the record-breaking freeze this week that destroyed much of the region’s fruit crop.

″The heart’s killed. It’s dead,″ MacQueen said, putting his loss at $250,000 to $300,000. ″This was a real record. In ’56 was the last time it was that severe.″

Throughout the Ohio Valley, temperatures in the teens and 20s Tuesday night and Wednesday frustrated even the most ambitious efforts by growers to save apple, pear, peach, grape and cherry crops.

Richard Funt of the Ohio Extension Service said Wednesday that the damage statewide could reach $20 million to $25 million. Officials in Michigan, Kentucky, West Virginia and Indiana were still counting the losses there.

MacQueen estimated that the freeze killed half the buds on his trees, but other farmers fared worse.

Some central and southern Ohio growers lost 90 percent of their fruit crops, despite the use of smudge pots and helicopters to try to raise temperatures, said Jim Utzinger, horticulturist for the Ohio Cooperative Extension Service.

″They can only gain about three or four degrees,″ he said. ″But the temperature went to 23, and we generally think the cutoff point’s 26 or 27.″

As far as the price of apples is concerned, the smaller crop in the Midwest this year will likely be offset by a larger crop from Washington, the largest apple-producing state, said Blake Gerber, executive director of the Ohio Fruit Growers Society.

In five southwestern Michigan counties, Red Delicious apples were ″pretty well cleaned out,″ said Mike Thomas, a district horticultural agent with the Michigan State University Cooperative Extension Service. ″Tuesday night cooked our goose in some places.″

Later-blooming varieties of apples such as MacIntoshes ″still have good potential,″ he said, adding that most of the cherry, grape and peach crop in the state survived.

In eastern Kentucky, temperatures dipped to as low as 16 degrees Wednesday morning, said John Strang, extension horticulturist at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

″We don’t expect any crop in areas like that,″ he said, but added that he could not estimate the amount of damage in the region.

In West Virginia, Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass said he expected the damage to be spotty.

″West Virginia kind of dodged the bullet on this one with only isolated damage,″ Douglass said. ″There was no major damage, thanks to a little bit of wind and cloud cover and the fact the soil was moist and the low temperatures didn’t materialize over widespread areas.″

Ninety percent of central Indiana’s apple and peach crop was damaged, but crops elsewhere in the state suffered less damage, said Jim Barbor, a Marion County Extension Service agent.

″It may not be as bad as it was about 20 years ago when we just about lost the complete crop,″ said Richard Hayden, a fruit expert at Purdue University. That year, ″We had some apples for pies, but no commercial crop. It will take a couple of days before we know the extent of damage, but I anticipate it will be major.″

In Ohio, Lake Erie growers were spared the worst of the cold because of warmer breezes off the lake, where the water temperature is 45 degrees.

MacQueen’s orchard, in a suburb of Toledo, is about seven miles from Lake Erie, but too far to benefit from the warmer temperatures, he said. C.J. Jadwisiak of Port Clinton, on Lake Erie, said wind off the lake kept the temperature in his orchard at 29 degrees Wednesday morning.

MacQueen said he and his son, Jeff, abandoned the idea of renting a helicopter to hover above the trees and circulate the warmer air toward the ground.

″The clouds hold heat in, and we knew it was a clear night and there was no warm air up there,″ MacQueen said. ″There was nothing you could do. It was just too cold.″

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