Apple growers turn to heaters to save crops from late frost
The heavy frosts forecast for this week could wreak havoc in Ireland’s orchards, according to Co. Tipperary apple grower Cornelius Traas.
“I have already heard of a pear grower losing his entire crop for the year, as a result of the heavy frost which affected the North Dublin area at the weekend,” he said.
“Apple trees tend to come into blossom that little bit later. But we have already had some frost damage to contend with in our own apple orchard.”
The Cahir man has 37 acres of orchards with the bulk of the fruit sold as either eaters in his own retail outlet or sent for processing.
“Growers work on the basis they they will be hit by heavy, late frost once in every 10 years. The last time this happened was in 2012 when up to 90% of blossoms were damaged by frost I large numbers of Irish orchards. This served to reduce yields by up to 80% that year,” he said.
“Growers can accept losses of up to 40% at blossom time. But if the figure goes above this level, substantial yield drops can be expected.”
Traas confirmed that apple producers can take a number of steps to reduce the impact of late frosts in their orchards.
“Putting out heaters is one option,” he said.
“Each will cover up to two acres of trees. We are already taking this approach. But the reality is that we do not have enough heaters to meet our all our needs. So they are put out in those low lying fields that are most predisposed to frost attack.
“A wind machine is the second option. This works by drawing down the warmer air that lies directly above the frost layer. It is called an inversion effect. To my knowledge the Hewitt family in Co. Armagh have the only wind machine that is operational the island of Ireland at the present time.
“The final approach is to use an overhead irrigation system. This system acts to form a protectant coating of ice crystals around the blossom. It is a technology that is used quite widely on the continent, but not in Ireland, as it requires an almost inexhaustible supply of water.”