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Farmer worries a late frost may damage crop

2:34 PM, Apr 29, 2013   |    comments
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Written by Nicole Young, The Tennessean

Every time the temperature drops in the spring, Sumner County strawberry farmer Mike Bradley watches the weather forecast and hopes for the best.

Recent cold nighttime temperatures and overnight frost advisories had him worried. And he knows there's the possibility of more cold snaps on the horizon.

"We're just going to have to hope that luck will be with us," he said. "This time of year, usually we get frost before daylight and it doesn't stay very long, but nothing's set in concrete. A killing frost can happen at any time."

Bradley's Cottontown farm has about 51/2 acres dedicated to strawberry patches. It's one of 130 strawberry farms in Tennessee, according to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.

"Strawberries kick off the spring and summer crop season," said Pam Bartholomew, a farmers' market specialist with the department. "Most of the other crops aren't planted yet."

Strawberries generally are available in Middle Tennessee from mid-April to about the end of May. In East Tennessee, the season ends in early June. Blueberries and blackberries are next, coming in June and early July.

According to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Tennessee ranked 44th of 50 states in 2011 in the production of fruits, tree nuts and berries, with 2,552 units harvested.

The early season here puts many berries at risk, Bartholomew said.

Normal lows for April are around 50 degrees, but recently they were in the 30s and 40s, said Brittney Coleman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. The forecast through Thursday calls for low temperatures in the 50s, she said.

Cold snap coming

Sam Herron, another meteorologist with the service, said another cold snap is expected in Middle Tennessee as early as Friday.

"Spring is known for its variability in weather ... through April and even into May," Herron said. The latest spring freeze on record at the service happened on April 25, 1910. But record lows in the 30s have been recorded well into late May.

"We can have frost with air temperatures as warm as 37 or 38 degrees," Herron said. "It's tough to say when we're absolutely out of the woods on any of it. I don't want to say the weather is totally unpredictable, but proceed with caution."

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