Fruit farmers fear future freeze - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Fruit farmers fear future freeze

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FREDERICKSBURG (KWWL) -

This year's mild winter could spell trouble for some fruit farmers.  There are already signs of growth at a few Iowa apple orchards and for area grape growers.  But that's a bit concerning since it's likely a freeze could still hit and cause major damage.

"I don't think our vineyard's too far ahead right now," said Loren Engelbrecht of the Engelbrecht Family Winery in Fredericksburg.

But the mild weather means sap is already dripping out of a few of the winery's vines.  That's not an immediate concern.  As a precaution, though, the winery won't begin pruning the vines in early April as it normally would.  That will prevent the vines from budding too early.

"It's been such a strange year.  There's no reason maybe it'll be strange enough that we don't get a late frost.  We could be that lucky!"  said Engelbrecht.

But Engelbrecht believes that's not likely, and for good reason.  Historically, eastern Iowa doesn't see the last freeze until around May 1.  Engelbrecht knows the damage pruning too early can do.  A hard freeze on Mother's Day two years ago wreaked havoc on his grapes.

"We lost basically our first crop off that flower.  The secondary bud will only give you about a third of a crop, which we got," Engelbrecht said.

So to avoid repeating that fate, he'll hope his patience pays off, so the grapes survive the spring season and make a great wine crop later on.

This is the first year the Engelbrecht Winery is eligible for crop insurance, but it only provides minimal reimbursement for lost grapes.  So if a freeze does threaten the winery after the vines have budded, the winery will use a technique of setting small fires, allowing a layer of smoke to provide a protective barrier for the grapes.

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