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Mississippi fruit escaped freeze, nuts may not

Many Mississippi fruit and nut growers are waiting to see what impact Easter weekend’s freezing temperatures had on their crops.

Blueberries and pecans were at a vulnerable stage when temperatures dropped the first weekend in April. Strawberries were already being harvested and were mostly unharmed, and the new growth on muscadine grapes appears unhindered by the cold.

David Ingram, plant pathologist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service at the Central Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Raymond, Miss., said time will tell if pecan orchards across the state will have a crop this year.

“We’re all in the wait-and-see game right now,” Ingram said.

Ingram said pecan trees that were flowering or that had set tiny nutlets were most susceptible to the cold. Whether or not a tree will have yield losses will depend on how cold it got in that orchard and on which pecan variety it is, as some varieties bloom and set nuts earlier than others.

“Freeze injury could have killed the female flower during pollination, it could have damaged the nutlet, or injured the catkins, the male pecan flowers, before the pollen was shed,” Ingram said.

Mississippi has 2,500 acres of pecan orchards, with the majority located north of Interstate 20. Growers harvest pecans from early October through December depending on weather conditions. The average yield in Mississippi is about 600 pounds per acre.

John Braswell, Extension horticulture specialist at the South Mississippi Branch Experiment Station in Poplarville, Miss., said much of the fruit crop escaped the early April freezing weather. Most of the state’s blueberries and muscadines are located south of Interstate 20, and strawberries were already maturing when the cold came.

“About 85 percent of the state’s blueberries are in south Mississippi, and I think the majority of them were OK. Most of the muscadines had only just started leafing out, and the cold weather didn’t burn off their new growth,” Braswell said.

Braswell said temperatures in most places were not cold enough to hurt the fruit crops. The unseasonably warm temperatures in March actually helped some of the crops.

“The warm weather was good for the blueberry crop because it encouraged the bloom and helped get the fruit set,” Braswell said.

Assuming the majority of blueberries survived the cold weather undamaged and conditions remain favorable, Braswell expects a bumper blueberry crop this year. The state has about 2,500 acres of blueberries, and in 2005 harvested a total of 5.73 million pounds of blueberries.

There are 35 acres of strawberries in the state, and the 2005 harvest was 525,000 pounds.

Mississippi has 400 acres of muscadines. Braswell said a good harvest would be 10 tons per acre, for a total harvest of 4,000 tons.

“A lot of our muscadines go to juice, but more and more of the newer acreage is planted in fresh market varieties for fresh consumption,” he said.

Mississippi growers pick blueberries from the end of May through mid-July, muscadines from mid-August to mid-September and strawberries from February to the end of May.


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