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N.S. fruit grower says February's cold snap destroyed peach, plum, nectarine crops

Some stone fruit crops, including peaches, nectarines and plums, have been lost after a cold snap in February, says an industry spokesperson. (Arlington Orchards/Facebook - image credit)
Some stone fruit crops, including peaches, nectarines and plums, have been lost after a cold snap in February, says an industry spokesperson. (Arlington Orchards/Facebook - image credit)

The Nova Scotia Fruit Growers' Association says some stone fruit crops may be a total loss this year after an extreme cold snap damaged trees in February.

Emily Lutz, the association's executive director, said peach, plum and nectarine trees were severely damaged when temperatures dropped to  –25 C after what had been an unseasonably mild winter.

"We are seeing trees that are pushing blossoms that look perfectly healthy, but then when you run your hand along the branch, the blossoms are literally just falling off," Lutz told CBC Radio's Maritime Noon on Thursday.

"So in some cases it is looking to be a total loss."

Lutz said it's unclear if trees will have to be taken up and replaced.

Some trees won't survive

She said she has heard that some full blocks of nectarine and peach trees may need to be removed, but she remains hopeful.

"Some of them are coming back to life. They're hardy perennial plants. They're a full tree, some of them, so they are pretty tough," she said.

"This might be a bad crop year for them, but hopefully a lot of them will pull through."

Lutz said she is worried the cold snap could have "year-over-year impacts on the tree itself and on the crops going forward."

In March, the province announced it would spend $15 million to help fruit growers recover from the cold snap. Lutz said details about the funding are still being worked out but it is expected to help with any tree losses and future problems.

"One of the things that happens when you lose an established vine or a fruit tree, you don't just plant it again and get a crop the next year. You have to develop an orchard over time and it can take three to five years before you really see a return, a full crop off that," she said.

"So when you actually have damage to the plants themselves that's really troubling and that's the big impact to the farmers."

Lutz said stone fruits make up less than five per cent of the total tree fruit orchard industry in Nova Scotia, but it's still a significant source of income for farmers who rely on tourism.

"People look forward every summer to having those nectarines and those peaches that are local and seeing them at farm stands. So certainly for the folks that rely on that stream of income, they're disappointed," she said.

"But I think farmers … they're resilient. This is not unusual that farmers are dealing with a difficult event during a growing season."

Luckily, Lutz said, the majority of Nova Scotia's fruit tree industry is apples, and those trees survived the cold snap.

But what about grapes

Vineyards in the Annapolis Valley are also feeling the impact of the cold snap.

Steve Ells, the president of the Grape Growers Association of Nova Scotia, is predicting that 50-60 per cent of hybrid buds will be lost this year.

And virtually all viable vinifera buds, which produce grapes for high-end wines, were lost during the cold snap, he said.

Ells said this means some vines will need to be removed.

"The older vines that have been through these harsh winters many, many times — we're going to see some of them that are going to have to come out," he told Maritime Noon.

"They're just not going to come back at a good enough percentage to be economically viable."

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