Feelin’ The Heat: Local Farmers Impacted by Warm Weather

Photo by Nate Sheidlower.

Right now, workers at Dressel Farms are sorting fruit and bottling cider at a steady pace. The store is stocked, neat, organized and the smell is sweet like that of a freshly cut apple. Out in the field, however, there is a different story: confusion.

The over 300 acres of apple trees at the New Paltz farm on Route 208 don’t know what to make of the abnormally mild winter the Hudson Valley has seen in the past couple months. Tim Dressel, the farm’s manager, said this has certainly not been an ideal winter but it is too early to tell what full effect the warmth may have on his crops.

Just after the new year, The Weather Channel reported that almost 12,000 daily high temperature records were tied or broken across the country throughout December 2015. The Hudson Valley itself saw multiple records toppled and temperatures that reached almost 70 degrees at times.

This extreme warmth combined with fluctuating temperatures around now and later in the season can cause trees to mix-up their timing and bud too early, according to Dressel. And if the buds begin to flower too soon in the season, one very cold week could see them gone for the year.

“Trees react to the weather that is around them,” Dressel said. “They have no forecast. When it is warm, they wake up and are then weaker and the cold can do more damage.”

Another factor that could harm the Dressel crops in the coming season is the possibility of a late frost. Fruits like strawberries and blueberries grow horizontally along the ground instead of vertically on a tree. This means that if the warm weather starts early, causing the buds to open and is followed by a cold frost, the buds are at risk to fall off.

SUNY New Paltz professor of biology Eric Keeling explained that this occurs because as the buds begin to flower, they slowly lose their protective shell and become susceptible to damage from the cold.

According to Dressel, this is the case for most fruit because they are perennials, meaning they live for more than two years as opposed to annuals that must be replanted each season.

Pete Taliaferro works with his family at Taliaferro Farms in New Paltz and he is not particularly worried about the upcoming season. This is because the majority of his crops are vegetables and most vegetables are annuals.

“Not a lot of vegetable growers in the area over winter a lot of (crops), so it’s not much of a problem,” Taliaferro said.

Over wintering is the process of covering your crops over the winter instead of re-planting next year.

Taliaferro added that the farm’s small strawberry patch and young blueberry patch both could be harmed by a late frost.

Down the road in Gardiner, the tasting room manager at Whitecliff Vineyard and Winery, Matt Student, is praising the winter that has kept the temperature above that which kills his grapes. Whitecliff grows vitis vinifera, which is a common grape grown for making wine but can be seriously hurt by extreme cold. Student said that while the viniferous grapes could be in trouble if the temperature drops below negative five degrees, the hybrids that Whitecliff and many other vineyards in the area grow can tough it out.

“So far this year has been much better than the last two years because as cold as it got a lot of our grapes just didn’t bud and we lost a lot of yield because of that,” Student said. “Once it buds, if we get a frost after that in the Spring we might lose some fruit and that wouldn’t be good.”

For now it looks as though the mild winter has had no devastating impact on local agriculture as of yet. One positive side Dressel did point out is that the lack of snow makes more food available for local deer and keeps them off of the apple trees.