041420-Fruit Freeze1-CPT (copy)

Christopher Tomlinson

A frosted peach blossom from April 2020.

The impacts to this year’s apricot crop are a bit more up in the air, but a freeze Tuesday night appears to have generally spared local peach growers.

Bruce Talbott of Talbott Farms in Palisade said that fruit trees are only now breaking out of their winter dormancy, helping protect them from the impacts of Tuesday night’s freeze.

“Everything except apricots is still very durable. We can probably take 10 degrees (as a low) and still have a peach crop and we weren’t there. We weren’t close to there,” he said.

The official Grand Junction low temperature Wednesday morning was 20 degrees. Kris Sanders, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Grand Junction, said the agency received reports of low temperatures ranging from 16 degrees just north of Fruita to 29 in Palisade. However, localized temperatures in the Palisade area can vary widely based on factors such as topography, and Talbott said Talbott Farms recorded a low of 18 degrees at one of its orchard locations.

He said wind machines were used on apricot trees Tuesday night as a precautionary measure to fight the freeze’s effects but other fruit trees weren’t far enough along in their growing season to be susceptible. He said he hadn’t heard of any damage to apricot trees.

JoAnne Colby of Fruit Basket Orchards has concerns about that farm’s apricot trees.

“We think apricots were damaged but it’s too early to tell,” she said. “We’re hoping to have about 50% of our (apricot)crop.”

She said Fruit Basket Orchards turns on a wind machine when the temperature drops to 28 degrees, to move warm air down toward the fruit.

Colby said Fruit Basket Orchards lost its entire crop last year, and loses it every three or four years.

A spring freeze a year ago resulted in heavy losses in local fruit production, including production of peaches, the mainstay of the Grand Valley fruit-growing industry.

Brant Harrison of Kokopelli Farms said he was concerned about Tuesday night’s freeze, but mainly just for the apricots, adding that “peaches aren’t blooming yet and can take a lot lower temperature than apricots can right now.”

He said the temperature fell to around 30 degrees that night and Kokopelli Farms ran a wind machine for its apricots for a few hours in the middle of the night “and then the canyon breeze picked up and we shut down.”

Kokopelli Farms’ location lets it benefit from a breeze that comes out of De Beque Canyon, which functions akin to a wind machine in mixing warmer and cooler air and keeping cold air from settling in orchards.

“The breeze is what saves our bacon so often and why there is fruit at this end of the valley,” Harrison said.

He said he doesn’t think Kokopelli Farms has suffered any damage from spring frost so far this year.

David Sterle, a researcher at Colorado State University’s Western Colorado Research Center Orchard Mesa site, said that from what he’s seen, the impact from this week’s freeze to fruit trees at the site “was not close to economically damaging levels.”

When it comes to the chances of avoiding a crop-killing frost, Talbott compares the timing of a bloom to the cards someone gets while playing poker.

“The later the bloom the better your hand. You can still lose, but your chances are much better. If you bloom early, oh, it’s going to be a long way till the end of frost season,” he said.

He said that as peach buds advance further out of dormancy, they’ll become susceptible to ever-milder freezes. With 80-degree days on the horizon in coming days, he said he’d worry if nighttime lows dip to 25 or 26 degrees several days from now.

“In 10 days if it gets to 30 we’ll run” wind machines in peach orchards, he said.

Sanders said he expects things to green up in town a lot with the warmth and sunshine in the forecast. “I don’t know for sure, but just based on driving through town and seeing all the buds, they’re really probably going to go nuts here in the next couple days,” he said.

He said a forecasted weather system coming out of the Pacific Northwest next week is expected to cause temperatures to drop, but only to closer-to-normal temperatures rather than abnormally cold ones.

“Nothing’s really a strong signal suggesting that there would be a widespread, really bad freeze as of now,” he said.

While Talbott Farms has avoided impacts of any spring frost so far this season, it already is projecting a less-than-100% crop this year thanks to the impacts of a crippling freeze that hit local growers in the fall. Talbott said Talbott Farms will lose about 10 to 15% of this year’s crop due to the fall freeze.

“That October storm did hurt us. … We’re starting the season with a lot lower bud counts and some trees that are pretty beat up,” he said.

Reporter James Burky contributed to this story.