Eastern Iowa apple crop still at risk of freeze - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Eastern Iowa apple crop still at risk of freeze

Apple blossoms are susceptible to damage anywhere at or below 32 degrees Apple blossoms are susceptible to damage anywhere at or below 32 degrees

With eastern Iowa's growing season three to four weeks ahead of schedule, experts say, flowering fruit trees are still in a danger zone for a damaging frost or freeze.

Wednesday, Iowa State University Extension horticulture field specialist Patrick O'Malley said flowering fruit trees, such as apples, plums, sour cherries, peaches and apricots, are susceptible to devastating damage at the "critical temperature" of 28 degrees.

There's a "fairly strong possibility," he said, that eastern Iowa could still see a frost, which occurs at 32 degrees, or a freeze at 28 degrees yet this year.

For Dubuque County apple, pear and nectarine grower Dick Czipar, a damaged crop would mean a damaged milestone. This is his 50th season of growing apples.

"This orchard originally started with my grandfather, back in 1938," he said Wednesday, standing in his 10-acre orchard.

This season is also meaningful because he's passing on the family business to his son and daughter-in-law, Steve and Shella Czipar.

"We're very excited about taking it over," Shella Czipar said in the orchard. "I'm hoping and praying that we have good weather and we have a great crop."

In the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City area, O'Malley said, basically every fruit tree is flowering with the exception of a few apple varieties.

Trees with buds can withstand colder weather better, but once there are color in the buds, O'Malley said, they become sensitive to that 28 degrees.

"They're all at risk," he said, "but as long as we stay warm enough," the fruit crop is in the clear.

An orchard that experiences temperatures as low as 25 degrees for three to four hours, O'Malley said, would wipe out at least 90 percent of the crop.

"That would be devastating," Shella Czipar said. "That's what we have to hope for now is just keep the weather the way it is."

The National Weather Service shows a favorable forecast for fruit trees, with the next eight to 10 days above that 32 degree frost threshold.

Another way to look at this situation, O'Malley said, is to, "enjoy this." The magnolia tree blossoms are out and unaffected by frost. Fruit trees are lovely and in bloom.

"Our first spray was three weeks earlier than we've ever sprayed before," Dick Czipar said. "I don't know what this is going to mean with Mother Nature and she's going to give us between now and the time the apples start to form."

If the weather remains warm, the Czipars and other fruit growers may be looking at a good, early crop.

"Our goal is to get done picking by World Series time," Dick Czipar said. "If Mother Nature allows us, we're going to have a very fine crop."

Still, these fruit crops are not really out of a danger zone until May.

National Weather Service data from the site at Dubuque's Lock and Dam 11 shows there was a 90 percent chance for a freeze still on March 26. By April 5, the likelihood of seeing 28 degrees this season drops to 50 percent, and by April 14, there's only a 10 percent chance left of a freeze.

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