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Big chill threatens area orchards

March 10, 1998

Big chill threatens area orchards

SMITHSBURG - With fragile fruit tree buds developing about three weeks early, local orchardists will keep an eye on temperatures that are forecast to dip into the teens this week.

Frost damage is a remote possibility, orchardists said.

Apples and peaches, the area's most abundant fruits, have barely begun to bud and are hearty enough to withstand low temperatures, they said.

"It'll be a nip and tuck situation, I'm sure," said Smithsburg orchardist Ben Clopper.

Some early plums at his Smithsburg orchard are a little more fragile, he said.

An unusually warm winter has pushed up the development of fruit trees, said Rick Heflebower, regional extension specialist for fruit crops.

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Judging by the premature arrival of insects on his pear trees, Clopper estimated fruit development is about three weeks early.

Cooler temperatures could slow things down, but prolonged and deep cold could cause damage.

Freezing temperatures will be a bigger threat next month, when buds begin to bloom, orchardists said.

After an overnight freeze last April, apple and peach farmers expected a near total loss. But the crop bounced back to produce a respectable yield.

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