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Eastern Iowa farmers assess damage after late spring cold snap

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GARBER, Iowa (KWWL)- Eastern Iowa farmers are assessing damage to their crops after last week's cold snap.

Between April 20 and 22, temperatures dipped into the 20's, destroying some crops and sparring others.

At Buffalo Ridge Orchard, just outside of Central City, they lost between 30 and 50% of their apple crop. They are planting others crops like carrots and potatoes to offset some of the losses.

It is a feeling Will Lorentzen and Adrian White, who run Jupiter Ridge Farm near Garber know well.

"Last year, we had no Apple crop because of that weather pattern," Lorentzen said.

Lorentzen calls it the fools spring.

"When you think everything is ready and all the home gardeners start setting out all their tomatoes, everyone gets too excited too soon," he said. "Then you get the late frost."

After last year, Lorentzen and White did not take any chances this year. Executing what is known as a "hard pick," harvesting around 80 pounds of rhubarb early to get it out of the cold.

"We picked it hard as a means of hedging our bets," he said. "

Rhubarb can tolerate the cold, but it is not as desirable to sell if the frost damages it.

"I don't think even grandma can make a nice jam out of that," Lorentzen joked.

"People don't want to buy rhubarb that looks like that," White said. "Before that happens, we need to think ahead and take most everything good out here without taxing the plant too much."

Lorentzen and White expected most of the Rhubarb they left out in the cold to be destroyed, but most of it survived, suffering only a little damage on the outside of the patch.

They expect to lose about 10% of their overall crop. The damage is primarily to their rhubarb since their fruit, apple, and pear trees are expected with barely any damage.

"They, fortunately, held off and waited to open until after the frost fully," White said.

As the climate changes, the late spring cold snaps are becoming the new normal. Lorentzen said it was typical every five years when he was growing up, but now it is a yearly threat.

"The weather can change at the drop of a dime, especially now with climate changing, and we have to be on our toes all the time," Lorentzen said.

Dealing with the threat of cold snaps every year has made them rethink their planting and harvesting strategy.

They have forgone some early spring planting in favor of focusing on rhubarb and mushroom production. They are doing some experiments to look at ways to ensure their crops survive the temperature swings.

Lorentzen and White have started removing the ruined rhubarb leaves to allow the plants to grow back. They expect about 50% of their next harvest will be ruined.

The 80 pounds they picked early will be on sale at the farmers market in Dubuque this weekend.

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Daniel Perreault

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