David G. Himelrick, Extension Horticulturist and Professor
Problems with late winter/early spring freezes pose the greatest limiting factor to the successful annual cropping of most fruit crops in Alabama. Understanding how to manage freeze protection systems requires considerable time and experience. Growers must understand certain weather terminology to better utilize forecasts and manage their operations for consistent annual cropping. This publication is designed to assist growers in comprehending the dynamics of frosts and freezes that affect fruit crops and in utilizing available methods of freeze protection.
The cost of fruit production continues to increase and the reliability of annual cropping has become a necessity for economic viability of farming operations. Because freezes represent the number one problem in maintaining annual cropping of fruits in the state, using one or more forms of freeze protection has become a necessity most years. But the decision regarding the use of freeze protection and which forms, rests entirely with the grower. The particular method of protection chosen will depend upon the crop, the particular site, cost versus benefit and a number of other variables. A great deal of planning should be done before deciding on a particular form of protection.
The first thing a producer should do is select and implement the various forms of passive protection applicable to his farm. Except when row covers are used, the grower must next decide upon one or more forms of active protection such as heating or sprinkler irrigation. With experience, a grower will begin to master the "art" as well as the "science" of knowing just how to manage a helicopter/heating program, sprinkler irrigation or other form of active protection. And the most critical aspect of this management is always having a system ready for each freeze event and placing its operation in reliable hands. Playing catch up or having to make too many last minute decisions can be frustrating and disastrous.