Deep Freeze Could Devastate Local Fruit Growers - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Deep Freeze Could Devastate Local Fruit Growers

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At Bennett Orchards, there are about 2,500 peach trees, all of which are vulnerable (Source: WBOC) At Bennett Orchards, there are about 2,500 peach trees, all of which are vulnerable (Source: WBOC)
T.S. Smith and Sons in Bridgeville hired a helicopter to fly above the crops overnight. (Source: WBOC) T.S. Smith and Sons in Bridgeville hired a helicopter to fly above the crops overnight. (Source: WBOC)

FRANKFORD, Del. - At the family-owned Bennett Orchards in Frankford, it's pretty unlikely that anyone will be sleeping Tuesday night. Instead the family will likely have their eyes glued to the thermometer, hoping to avoid a "catastrophic loss" of crops. 

"We're looking at losing our entire year's income in a few hours," said Hail Bennett. "In just one cold night." 

The orchard holds approximately 2,500 trees, each capable of producing about 200 peaches. All in all, their farm grows approximately half-a-million peaches in a normal season. This year, that number could be zero if the temperatures drop too low. 

"Not much you can do about it," said Bennett. "That's the worst part about it. Hands are tied in most situations like this. And you just need to stay up all night and think warm thoughts. That's all you can really do." 

Bennett said that the vulnerability was primarily caused by the warm March weather on Delmarva, which caused thousands of peaches to bloom early. Now with the deep freeze anticipated, they could all be destroyed. His brother Henry said that the crucial temperature to watch for is 28 degrees.

"What we're worried about tonight," he said, as he opened up a peach blossom. "Is anything below 28 degrees. If you open this up tomorrow it will turn brown. And it's going to basically kill the blossom which is not going to turn into fruit."

Meanwhile there is the same situation at T.S. Smith and Sons in Bridgeville. The Smith family grows many crops, but it's their peaches and apples that are vulnerable Tuesday night. To try and help, the family hired a pilot to fly a helicopter over the crops all night. This creates a "thermal inversion" that can increase temperatures by a few degrees. 

Matt Smith said the helicopter could save their peach season. 

"If we were to sit at home tonight and do absolutely nothing," he said. "And we lose it, then we've done nothing. if we try and still lose, than at least we can say in the end we did try and save our crop. And that's what it's all about." 

This is not just a problem on Delmarva, but across the region as well. If the freeze does kick in, that could mean higher peach prices this summer.

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