Intense spring frosts affecting South America’s fruit industry

A reminder for Michigan’s fruit growers to prepare their frost protection plan for next spring.

Spring frosts are always a present risk for fruit growers in northern latitudes. In Michigan, we have a long history of dealing with those weather-related events. In 2012, we had one of the worst situations due to a combination of a mild winter and early spring that caused tremendous damage to the entire fruit industry, including the blueberry industry.

Similar events have just taken place in South America affecting growers in both Argentina and Chile. Between Sept. 17-26, 2013, Chile suffered some of the most intense and extensive spring frosts in many years. Many crops were affected by these events with blueberries being one of the least affected. Recent estimates from the Chilean industry are putting the damage to blueberries at 16 percent of the estimated crop for the 2013-2014 season.

On the other hand, Argentina had a similar situation with blueberries affected by both spring frost and hailstorms. However, the most extensive damage occurred at the end of the second week of October when an intense hailstorm affected the main blueberry growing region of Argentina, Concordia, in the province of Entre Rios. According to estimates from the APAMA (Blueberry Growers Association of Argentinian Mesopotamia), growers lost around 4.4 million pounds of fruit in a 20-minute hailstorm.

According to Michigan State University Extension, these two events will have some effect on the blueberry market because both Argentina and Chile are the main suppliers of berries to the northern hemisphere, including markets in the United States.

The importance of these meteorological events resides in their long-lasting impact on the economy of the affected region. They are also a reminder for our industry that it is never too early to start preparing a frost protection program for the next spring season.

As the Great Lakes Fruit and Vegetable Expo approaches on Dec. 10-12, 2013, blueberry growers may have the opportunity to talk about irrigation equipment and systems with individuals attending the trade show. Also, growers can attend some of the educational sessions, including one presented by MSU’s Jim Flore at the fruit session on Tuesday, Dec. 10. Flore will present a bloom delay method for frost protection with an overhead canopy mist cooling system that can be adapted for frost protection in blueberries.

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